Carved into an 800-year-old lava field less than an hour from Reykjavík, The Retreat at Blue Lagoon delivers the heady double hit of an otherworldly landscape coupled with serene Scandinavian design. The interiors show a stylistic handshake between what’s outside and in, borrowing the slate grey of the rocks and the earthy tones from the moss that covers them. And as for those funnel-like fireplaces in the restaurant – well, they’re nothing short of volcanic. After spending your days bathing in the lagoon’s mineral-rich water or undoing Time’s work in the underground spa, you’ll feel you’ve earned the right to indulge at Moss restaurant, where Icelandic tasting menus and a world-class wine list await. If you’re lucky, your meal might even be capped by the Northern Lights dancing over the lagoon.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £1260.30 (ISK220,000), including tax at 11 per cent.
Rates include an à la carte breakfast in the lounge or spa restaurant; a welcome drink; the soft drinks and Icelandic beer in your minibar; a daily guided hike and group yoga session; afternoon Icelandic coffee in the lounge; and valet parking.
All of the common areas are wheelchair accessible; the building only spans two floors, and has lifts. Some Junior Suites are wheelchair-adapted, too.
At the hotel
Spa, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: tablet; Bang & Olufsen Bluetooth speaker; minibar; Illy coffee machine; tea-making kit; free bottled water; underfloor heating; Blue Lagoon Iceland bath and skincare products.
Our favourite rooms
All of the Junior Suites are the same size and style, with wooden panelling, floor-to-ceiling windows and a freestanding bath tub in the room. What differs is the view – choose from solidified lava, moss-covered rock or the blue water of the lagoon. If you’re after something really special, it has to be the two-room Lagoon Suite, which has a terrace with direct access to your very own mineral-rich pool.
The term 'swimming pool' is a bit of an understatement when it comes to describing the mineral-rich water that circles the hotel. Bounded by volcanic rock and often shrouded in steam, the bright-blue geothermal lagoons offer a particularly atmospheric soak – especially if you manage to be out there when the Northern Lights appear. The lagoon around the hotel is separate from the public Blue Lagoon, ensuring peace and privacy.
Reaching deep under the 800-year-old lava flow, the underground Retreat spa is about as atmospheric as they come (and a phone/camera-free zone, obviously). Walls of exposed lava merge with broody but beautiful Scandinavian design to create a space that not only feels blissfully disconnected from the outside world, but fits perfectly with the dramatic, lunar-like landscape. Before your treatment, you can lounge in nest-like chairs overlooking the lagoon’s blue waters, warm yourself by the fire, or climb the stairs to the top of the lava flow, where a viewing platform promises pacifying views for miles around. There’s an in-water massage area; a cold well; lava-walled steam room; sauna; and two treatment rooms, where you can have Silica salt rubs, hot stone massages and facials using products by Blue Lagoon Iceland. There’s also a spa restaurant, serving à la carte breakfasts and a healthy all-day menu.
Load up your phone with ethereal tracks to play over the Bluetooth speakers in your suite – there’s no better companion to the mystical landscape outside.
The hotel also recommend pre-booking all activities, meals and treatments due to high demand. Because of their direct access to the water, children under nine can’t stay in the Lava View or Lagoon Suites.
All ages are welcome, but the hotel is best suited to children 12 and over, who can swim in the private lagoons and enjoy the spa. Because of the direct access to the water, children under nine can’t stay in the Lava View or Lagoon Suites.
All electricity, heating and hot water used at the Retreat is powered by geothermal sources. Everything possible is recycled, eco-friendly bath and spa products are used and Moss restaurant uses local, organic and seasonal ingredients. The Retreat also supports philanthropic community, arts and eco efforts, including local sports and youth clubs and Icelandic student research projects.
You can’t beat the chef’s table, where you’ll be served the seven-course tasting menu in full view of the kitchen.
Take inspiration from the landscape, opting for something dark but arresting. No pressure.
The rugged landscape takes pride of place at Moss, where every table has a clear line of sight through the floor-to-ceiling windows. That’s not to say the designers have any need to hide behind the landscape, however – the interiors are sumptous, scattered with dark-wood tables and chairs in mossy tones, all of it lit be golden pendant lights that dangle down from the ceiling. Head chef Ingi Thorarinn Fridriksson and his team work from an open kitchen in the midst of it all, creating modern Icelandic dishes that take diners on a culinary tour of the island. Rigorous about sourcing local and organic ingredients, the kitchen team ensure everything can be traced back to its origins in the local mountains, farms and Icelandic waters. Diners choose either from the à la carte menu (the catch of the day is a very safe bet), or the five- and seven-course tasting menus.
Breakfast is served in the lounge and the spa restaurant from 7.30am to 11am, and an all-day menu from 11.30am to 10pm. Dinner at Moss is served from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.
Breakfast can be served in-room from 7.30am to 11am, and there’s an all-day menu from then until 10pm, seafood dishes, beef tataki and chicken with quinoa. A reduced menu is available overnight, including paninis and gravlax.
The hotel is on the edge of the Blue Lagoon in a Unesco-protected area of Grindavik.
International visitors usually fly into Keflavík International Airport, which can be reached direct from many European destinations and some larger US airports. It’s only 20 kilometres from the lagoon, taking as many minutes to get there by car.
If you’re already in Reykjavik, it’s a 50-minute drive from there to the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
There’s nothing quite like a hotel that gets the balance between wellness and extravagance just right, leaving you feeling like indulgence can be wholly justified. At the Retreat, you can start your day in the spa, where they’ll serve you a lavish à la carte breakfast – just the primer for a long day of treatments and lagoon immersions. If you want to take things up a notch, you can join one of the morning yoga classes or guided hikes, both free for guests. Beyond the hotel, you’ve got Reykjavik, the country’s compact but spirited capital, just 50 minutes away by car. First timers will enjoy a stroll around the old town and a trip to the soaring Hallgrimskirkja; those who’ve been before will no doubt want to return for another round of the city’s enticing restaurants and bars. The hotel also organises tours of the Golden Circle, a 300-kilometre route containing several of the country's iconic natural wonders. The big three are Unesco-protected Thingvellir National Park, the geysers in Haukadalur valley, and the Gullfoss waterfall. Thrill seekers shouldn't pass up a tour of dormant volcano Thrihnukagigur, which isn’t plugged at the top, allowing access to its enormous magma chamber. Visitors can now abseil down into its heart, where the rocks range from canary yellow to ruby red.
The moment I fell for Iceland was probably the same time as you – when its ethereal landscapes (including the mystical Blue Lagoon) flooded Instagram feeds circa 2014. The very same year, I made friends with an Icelandic colleague who regaled me with so many stories about the country that I often felt compelled to buy a ticket there and then.
As life would have it, I didn’t make it to Iceland until five years later. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise as had I travelled earlier, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stay at the Retreat. I’ll put that down to luck and impeccable timing because this hotel, in Michelin parlance, is definitely ‘worth a special journey’.
Flying into Reykjavik over the spectacular landscape brought my Icelandic friend’s tales back to mind. A more immediate point of reference for Mr Smith and I was Game of Thrones, which had just aired its divisive final season at the time of our visit. As we drove past the endless lava fields from Keflavík Airport to the Retreat, it was impossible not to be immediately charmed by the real-life Land of Fire and Ice.
As our car turned into a discreet road and the building’s stark architecture came into view, it was evident that a strong vision and Herculean effort had gone into creating a hotel in the middle of a lava field. As we entered the bright, soaring lobby, I was impressed at how successfully they were able to execute it. Fashioned from cement, stone and wood, the decor is a picture of elegant restraint with clean-lined furniture dotting the mostly minimalist space. The modern interiors were stunning but it was the view that really stole the show – gigantic windows spanning the height and length of the lobby framed a panorama of pastel-blue pools, cascading lava, lush moss, verdant peaks and a clear, cloudless sky. If a Sigur Rós song were a view, this would be it.
Enthralled by our surroundings, Mr Smith and I settled on a leather sofa while Rolf, our host, arrived with our welcome drink of organic fruit juices. While checking us in, he told us all about the on-the-house activities we could enjoy: yoga at 8am, hiking at 2pm, afternoon tea from 3pm, cocktail hour from 5pm and so on. It appeared we’d be getting to know the hotel and its environs very well over the next few days.
But Iceland beckons. Both Mr Smith and I love a good walk after a long-haul flight, so we decided to join the guided hike. About an hour and a half later, we were on top of the very hill we saw from the hotel and all the wiser about the history of the Blue Lagoon itself. After a break of hot chocolate and several pieces of kleina (an utterly addictive traditional Icelandic pastry), we made our way back to our room where we found a note from Rolf next to the hotel’s own foot and leg gel, which, he wrote, was meant ‘to help rejuvenate our tired legs’.
Before coming to the Retreat, I was somewhat torn about which room to choose – the Moss Suite or the Lava Suite. Both looked enticing but as I wanted to be as close to the lagoon as I could, I chose the Lava Suite thinking I could just bathe anytime (much like jumping from an overwater villa into the sea as you do in Maldives). Turns out, they’re decorative water features but that doesn’t take away from how mesmerising it is to be surrounded by light blue pools, which looked especially beautiful under the midnight sun.
It’s clear that the spa is the heart and soul here, given that the default guest attire is the hotel robe, something we were fully on board with by the end of the first day. Coming from Asia, I thought I had seen it all when it comes to superlative spas but theirs is on a whole new level. It’s expansive yet cavernous, cocooning you in its warm embrace the moment you walk in. And there’s every facility imaginable – an outdoor sauna and steam bath carved into a rock, a rooftop that offers a 360-degree panorama, dozens of nooks for one to relax, and of course, a private mineral-rich lagoon carefully designed to fit the natural formation made by the volcanic earth.
One of the things I loved most was being able to walk into the lagoon from inside the spa. Down a short flight of stairs, into the water, leads one out into the open to enjoy the rising steam and the cool Arctic air. To keep hydrated, they’ve installed taps flowing with fresh Icelandic water outside. They’ve literally thought of everything. The most ingenious idea, however, is their signature in-water massage. It’s the only massage I’ve experienced lying on a yoga mat, floating on water, and having my entire body – back included – massaged. It’s sublime.
But the true testament of the Retreat’s transformative power is how they’ve converted Mr Smith. In just two days, the sceptic became a believer so much so that he woke up extra early on our last day just so we could squeeze in ‘the Ritual’ – a do-it-yourself treatment involving silica, algae and minerals, and is a luxe take on the quintessential practice at the Blue Lagoon. By the end of it, we were hanging out with our mud masks on, mostly silent save for the sound of the turning of the pages of our books. It was glorious to have a few days immersed in such a serene, otherworldly escape. But the greatest pleasure? I guess it’s that we’ll be booking couples massages from now on.