I am greeted by steam. I can see it in the distance, announcing itself, and it engulfs me on approach. The north wind whistles as it skips over the crags of moss-covered lava rock before slamming into double-paned windows. The sound of wind provides the score during a stay at the Retreat at Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
In the ’60s, a geothermal plant harnessed energy from the earth, and was intended to return the blue water found when drilling back into the earth through the porous lava rock, but the silica hardened and closed up the holes, forming an electric-blue hot spring with the power to heal psoriasis. Since then, a treatment clinic, a research and development centre, and two hotels have sprung up around the waters. The Retreat is the latest and most luxurious addition, having opened in 2018.
Water is at the centre of everything here. It laps at the edges of the terrace outside the Library, the closest thing the hotel has to a bar, functioning as a contemplative reading space full of books and magazines with an honesty system for a quiet nightcap.
The flying-V shaped building is two levels and designed to flow with the natural influences of the lagoon. The water forms a moat around the 62-room hotel, where wooden pathways connect the tiered private pools that cocoon the spa. Slabs of lava rock that were displaced in the construction of the hotel have been fashioned into fireplaces and tables, and the fine dining tasting menu restaurant has been dubbed Moss, harkening to the vast green outside. The cuisine spotlights ingredients local to the island and seeks to represent the mountainous, farmland, and oceanic topographies of the country. When you order sushi in the lobby lounge, it will arrive on an Iceland-shaped platter with the fish positioned in the area it was caught.
The jewel of the property is subterranean; starry automatic doors open to reveal the spa restaurant, but it is past the ramp leading downward into a warren of chambers where the magic lies: steam caves, sauna nests, cozy fire dens, and ritual rooms. The spa is cell phone-free and set apart from the rest of the world.
There are no clocks or televisions on the property. Time is marked by rituals: exfoliate with salt and lava rock, cleanse with silica, moisturize with algae, morning yoga, afternoon coffee, midnight float. There is only one word to describe lying on your back in the warm water waiting for the northern lights to dance across the onyx sky: sublime.
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