photo by John Araki
The average person gets more than 120 emails per day, sends and receives over 50 texts, and sits in front of a screen 11 hours out of 24! The cumulative effect of all this connectivity is often stress, and an overwhelming desire to unplug and hide. When your body and brain are screaming for a drastic digital detox, it’s time for Iceland.
Known for spectacular scenery and the Northern Lights, Iceland is also a place to get away from it all. As the most sparsely populated country in Europe, there is both quiet and space to stop the modern chaos and enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty.
Thanks to direct flights from many U.S. cities to Reykjavik on Iceland Air, getting to the island is easy and often doesn’t take much longer than many domestic flights.
While tourists flock to the “Golden Circle,” it pays to not follow the beaten path. Rent a car, and by car we mean 4×4 vehicle, and head to Western Iceland.
The journey itself is an opportunity to unplug, as you’ll often be the only car meandering the narrow roads. Valleys and snow-tipped mountains rising on one side and the Atlantic Ocean brushing up on another will keep you company, naturally giving way to contemplation.
Hraunfossar Waterfalls / Courtesy of Hotel Husafell
Heading towards Husafell, stop at the Hraunfossar Waterfalls. The impressive falls are a result of cold springs of subterranean water seeping through lava and finally cascading over the falls into the Hvita River.
Just a bit further up the road is your base for the night, the Hotel Husafell, one of only four National Geographic Lodges in Europe, and the only one in Iceland. The 33-room hotel is a family business spanning several generations. Built sustainably, before sustainability was trendy, the hotel exudes both a modern and cozy aesthetic. It’s furnished with custom case goods fashioned from the birch forests surrounding the lodge and decorated with paintings created from volcanic rock and ash by artist Pall Guðmundsson.
Lobby and Northern Lights / Courtesy of Hotel Husafell
If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll have a decent shot at seeing the Aurora Borealis. During the summer’s all-day daylight, you’ll have the opportunity to golf at midnight.
A short drive away is Iceland’s largest lava cave, Viogelmir. The cave is accessible via group tour or by calling ahead to arrange a private guided visit. Unlike limestone caverns, in a lava cave the stalactites and stalagmites stop growing when the lava cools to a certain point, making its formations even more fragile.
Krauma Nature Baths / Courtesy of Hotel Husafell
There are hot springs everywhere in Iceland including nearby Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring. Luxury travelers wanting a more exclusive experience will love Krauma, a newly-opened geothermal bath and spa. Open year-round, Krauma offers five geothermal baths, one cold tub, steam baths, and relaxation room. The hot spring water comes out of the ground at 212 degrees and is mixed with cold water from the Raudsgil glacier to create tubs ranging from 100-107 degrees. Unlike the Blue Lagoon, here you may have the luxury of being the only one in the bath, drinking in the view and sipping a glass of wine served poolside.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula / Courtesy of Hotel Husafell
With the body nourished by the rich minerals from the water and the mind relaxed from the peaceful setting, it’s a good time to drive 90 minutes west to the 55-mile Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The area was called the best winter destination in Europe by Travel +Leisure Magazine. Don’t miss the mystical Snaefellskokull glacier and other outdoor activities like hiking mountain trails, coastal walks along the sea, and more.
Hotel Budir on Snaefellsnes Peninsula / Courtesy of Hotel Budir
Check into the remote but elegant Hotel Budir, a favorite of locals and considered one of Iceland’s top hotels. Rooms are simply-furnished and boast views of the coast, lava fields, and one of the oldest wooden churches in Iceland. When the weather cooperates with a cloudless night, the Northern Lights can often be viewed right from your bed.
The following day, drive about an hour to Stykkisholmur, on the north side of the peninsula. With 1,168 residents, it’s one of the largest towns in the entire country! Book the Viking Sushi Tour to sail around Breidafjordur’s numerous islands, enjoying the fjord’s scenery. The crew will cast their nets during the sail and offer up a bounty of shellfish, including the sweetest, most buttery scallops you’ve ever tried.
Don’t miss the mystical Snaefellskokull glacier and other outdoor activities like hiking mountain trails, coastal walks along the sea, and more.
In town, visit the Volcanic Museum and the quirky Library of Water. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in “the big city” after a few days of solitude, climb Helgafell. While the hill isn’t a challenging trek, the first settlers in the area in 844 A.D. considered it a sacred mountain. Local lore has it that hikers are awarded with three wishes at the top if they climb in silence without looking back at any point and keep their wishes secret.
Spend the night back in town at the boutique Hotel Egilsen, a 10-room charmer in Stykkisholmur’s oldest building. The furnishings are uniquely Icelandic, from the custom-made blankets in the room, to sketches throughout the house from famous Icelandic artist, Tolli. Rooms feature Coco-Mat beds, which are handcrafted from all- natural materials and promise the weary traveler sweet dreams.
Lagoon Suite / Courtesy of The Retreat at Blue Lagoon
While the Blue Lagoon will be filled with tourists, it does merit a stop before you head back to the airport since The Retreat at Blue Lagoon just opened its doors on April 1. The 62-suite retreat is the first five-star property at the Blue Lagoon, and the first five-star outside of Reykjavik. The rooms feature minimalist décor and floor-to-ceiling windows to best enjoy the breathtaking views.
The Retreat Spa is built into an 800-year-old lava flow on the south side of the lagoon and features steam rooms, cold plunge, standard spa treatments, and even in-water massages. Exclusive to The Retreat Spa is the Blue Lagoon Ritual, a series of interconnected chambers of geothermal seawater rich in silica, minerals, and algae. Guests of The Retreat can also partake in yoga classes or guided hikes through the UNESCO Global Geopark.
Moss Restaurant / Courtesy of The Retreat at Blue Lagoon
Dinner at the hotel’s Moss Restaurant is a must. Book a seat at the 10-top Chef’s table made of lava rock that was quarried on site and explore the wine cellar built into a cavern of lava that was created from a volcanic eruption in 1226.
The Retreat is undoubtedly the most traditional luxury experience on your adventure. However, in Iceland, one realizes that true luxury isn’t just about thread counts or private butlers, but instead about having space, peace, quiet and solitude to reconnect. It’s an invaluable opportunity to find balance and calm, and that is priceless.