This Icelandic Retreat Is Reminiscent of a Bond Villain’s Lair
When you enter the Retreat Hotel, the first things you notice are the bathrobes. After the long wind down a dark driveway, the property emerges, modern and angular, from the craggy black volcanic landscape, like a Bond villain lair.
Inside, a small gaggle of guests mill around the lobby in fluffy white robes. It feels a little weird and incongruous, like fuzzy ducklings swimming in a shark tank. But they look relaxed in the sleek, sprawling space, with its wall-to-wall windows that frame volcanic terrain and vivid, creamy blue water.
Though it’s just a few hundred yards from the Blue Lagoon—one of Iceland’s most visited tourist destinations—the property feels isolated and peaceful.
As tourism to Iceland has swelled in the last decade from less than a half million visitors in 2010, to over 2 million, according to the country’s tourism board, the Blue Lagoon is one of the top destinations. Situated on the Reykjanes Peninsula, a 20 minute drive from Keflavik Airport, the man-made geothermal spa opened to the public in the 1980s, and for the last few decades, options to visit have been limited to a day pass. In 2018, the Blue Lagoon opened The Retreat, offering visitors the opportunity to experience one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations—with far fewer crowds.
In the planning stages since 2014, the luxury property opened its doors in 2018 with 62 suites, a fine dining restaurant, and a spa, with access to both the Blue Lagoon and the private Retreat Lagoon. Designed by Basalt Architects, the firm leaned heavily on the black and gray volcanic rock, green moss, and vivid blue water in the surrounding landscape for inspiration, and used wood, raw concrete, and lava that was unearthed from the site in the design. (The front desk inside the lobby is made with quarried lava, as is the chef’s table inside the hotel’s restaurant.)
The dark, modern interior design, envisioned by Milan-based Design Group Italia, infuses thoughtful elements that cleverly draw on the surrounding landscape, like carpets with a mottled pattern that looks vaguely familiar—it’s based off of aerial views of the volcanic rocky terrain that surrounds the hotel. Walls throughout the property are built to resemble the rocks outside, with perforated patterns.
Rooms and suites have floor to ceiling windows that overlook the lagoons, with enormous stand-alone tubs that are perfectly positioned to take in the landscape while soaking. (Rooms are outfitted with an extensive collection of Blue Lagoon beauty products, including a silica mud mask and other skincare amenities.)
Upon arrival to the property, guests are greeted by a personal host, who will arrange those spa appointments, plus help plan meals and remind you of the included daily yoga sessions and group hikes.
For a soak in the lagoon, guests can get access through the 13,500-square foot, subterranean spa. Tucked into the volcanic rocks, the space has a terrace, steam room and sauna, a lava spring, cold plunge pool, and private treatment rooms. For a not-so-private, but uniquely relaxing experience, wellness seekers can book an in-lagoon massage, which entails floating on a squishy raft with a cool wet towel covering your eyes, while a masseuse works out the tension in your back and shoulders.
Also inside the spa, a series of underground chambers are home to the Retreat Ritual, a complimentary, self-administered service combining a series of three elements: silica, algae, and minerals—all naturally found in the region. Scoop up a handful of to scrub, soften, and sooth skin, and rinse each off with interim showers and soaks.
Besides the complimentary breakfast and afternoon Icelandic coffee (in lieu of traditional tea service, accompanied by chef-made treats), the property is home to Moss, a restaurant featuring a tasting menu that showcases Icelandic seafood, meat, and produce, including foraged ingredients native to the country.
One wall of the restaurant is windows, which also overlooks the moss-covered, jagged landscape, and a wood-burning fireplace sets the tone for a cozy, intimate meal.
Before sitting down for courses of fresh fish crudo with horseradish granita, raspberries with skyr ice cream, and some of the world’s best butter, though, ask for a tour of the wine cellar first. Set in 800-year-old volcanic rock, take the elevator down into the subterranean space for a view of hundreds of wine bottles, with vintages from all over the world.
With a few exceptions, most of your Retreat visit will probably involve wearing a bathrobe. Hooks line the rocky walls of the spa, so you can leave it behind before plunging through a submerged door that separates an indoor geothermal pool from a larger one outside. A few hours into the visit, you’ll be in that bathrobe, tucking into a plate of local, house-smoked salmon, and, watching new (fully clothed) visitors enter the property. They’re probably judging you a little, but they’ll understand soon enough.
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