Updated: Feb 22
While browsing through Tatler's January 2019 Best Spa Guide, I caught note of two new hotels opening at the Blue Lagoon geothermal baths in Iceland. I booked a room for my November birthday at the Silica Hotel, and a spa treatment at the Retreat Spa then and there. I have been to Iceland a few times before, but this time I only planned to relax in the healing blue waters of the lagoon.
My absolute dream birthday destination, as my readers will know, is Yamanouchi, Japan, sipping prosecco while bathing with the hot tub monkeys. The Blue Lagoon, while seriously short of monkeys, is in essence a very large hot tub. And, as Iceland is more sensible distance to travel for a two day trip than Japan, it is a competent second choice.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa in southwestern Iceland. Located in a 751 year old lava field, the spa is approximately 20 km (12 mi) from Keflavík International Airport, and is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland.
Shortly after the opening of the Svartsengi power plant in 1976, the runoff water made pools of milky blue water with a high silica content. A psoriasis patient bathed in the water and noted that the water alleviated his symptoms. Due to the healing properties of the water, the lagoon became popular and bathing facilities opened in 1987.
Over time, the Reykjanes Global Geopark has blossomed from a man-made curiosity into a UNESCO site, an international destination and National Geographic Wonder of the World.
Scientific studies confirmed that the lagoon has a beneficial effect on the skin. In 1995, the Blue Lagoon company began marketing skin products containing the silica, algae, and salt found in the waters.
While soaking in the geothermic-heated waters of the Blue Lagoon, guests can enjoy cocktails from the in-pool bar. Bliss. Mud from algae, silica or lava is dished out at the facial bar, and there is a roped off area offering floating massage. You don't need to ask me twice!
In 2018, the Blue Lagoon company reopened updated facilities by launching two five-star luxury hotels.
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The Silica Hotel is a short walk from the Blue Lagoon with breathtaking views of the moss covered lava fields. The style of the hotel is modern simplicity. It features light woods, stone and natural fibres.
The cafe offers a complimentary breakfast and take away meals. I ate many cheese platters from the cafe! Also at the Silica is a private geothermic pool, transfers and premium access to the Blue Lagoon.
The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon is an award winning, show-stopping exercise in understated luxury. Built into the lava flow in the heart of the geopark, The Retreat encompasses a subterranean spa, geothermal lagoon and 62-suite hotel encircled by the Blue Lagoon’s seawaters.
There are two restaurants. The Moss and the Lava restaurants offer fine dining, while the Spa restaurant is more casual.
The 62 exclusive suites use natural and local textures to create warm, comfortable and minimalist spaces. Communal spaces and lobbies employee stunning views that will take your last breath away.
A visit to the Retreat Spa is an other-worldly immersion into pure luxury. Your four hour visit starts in your private changing room. You lock up your things, including your phones, and travel down a long hallway through a subterranean maze of sensory soothing rooms.
There are resting nests, a fire room, a water room, and a product room. Outside, you find the sauna, steam cave, and cold plunge. All this culminates in the ritual room where guests indulge in the guided self-application of natural mud products.
Guests of the Retreat Spa also have access to the private thermal baths of the Retreat hotel. Floating nearly alone in the illuminated blue water, under a black sky, surrounded by the dark walls of moss and lava is a very relaxing way to finish off a day at the spa.
Photography is not permitted in the Retreat Spa. For this reason, I borrowed a few images from their website.
For my treatment I booked a 60 minute floating massage. These treatments take place in a roped off area of the public lagoon. The only thing worse for me than parading around in a bathing suit in the cold might be to be massaged by Gunnar, a rather burly man wearing a wife-beater and a knit cap, while myself wearing a bathing suit, in the cold.
Fears to rest, I was asked by Gunnar to hop up on a floating yoga mat, after which I was covered by a blanket. A wet blanket is never meant to be a good thing, but here at the Blue Lagoon it worked out just fine. Every now and again, Gunnar would push the yoga mat, with me on top, under the water to warm up.
The whole place was so peaceful and quiet that stress just floated away from my body. After a few minutes I was so relaxed that I was unaware of my body, my bathing suit, or Gunnar's wife-beater.
After the 60 minutes, I was pushed into a holding pen, where guests are encouraged to stay and enjoy the sensations of warm water and floating. One other guest, unfortunately, floated over to her personal belongings, took out her cell phone and started snapping away selfies. It is not very relaxing to try to float out of someone's photo frame, and I find this behaviour a bit rude. That said, the massage was great, Gunnar was lovely, and the experience should not be missed.
Jumping off my float and out of the frame, I paddled my way over to the bar and ordered my first prosecco of the day. It was 11:00 in the morning. There were a lot of people drinking at 11:00am. I tried not to think of what happens when people drink too much alcohol while floating in a warm swimming pool, and ordered a second. It was my birthday.
From here I flounced over to the face bar for complimentary mud masks. There are different levels of complimentary here, so be aware of what is included in your Blue Lagoon pass.
*Interesting note: An Icelander's surname is usually a combination of a baby's father's first name and either 'son' or 'daughter'. Iceland's most famous resident is Bjork Guomundsdottir, meaning that she is the daugher (dottir) of Guomunds.
THE REYKJANES PENINSULA
From the Silica Hotel, I picked up the Mt. Thorbjorn hiking trail that runs through the Reykjanes Peninsula up Mt. Thorbjorn. The Peninsula, the most southwardly in Iceland, is located at a 'drift zone' where the Eurasian and North American continental plates meet. For this reason, there is always a lot of geographic activity. Earthquakes are common and pools of bubbling water pop up everywhere. The earth is a other-worldly combination of black lava and moss. A truly stunning landscape.
The mountain is only 200 meters, and a very easy walk. From the top you have good views of Grindavik and the Blue Lagoon. The trail is well marked and very easy to follow. I wore only sneakers, and I must have been lucky with the weather because even in late November, I didn't need to wear a coat, and it was late November. I was the only one on the trail, and I loved the aloneness of the peninsula.
I had the most wonderful time on my trip to the Blue Lagoon. Reykjavik is a hip city, with great coffee and good music. The Golden Circle, with Geyser and Gullfloss and the glacier is certainly worth doing. The Northern Lights are always more hit than miss, especially if you are in the city. But for this trip, for this birthday, I craved the quiet and restful atmosphere provided to me by the Silica and Retreat Spa Resorts and their private access to the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon. I loved my time here.
As I am a whole year wiser I know that I may never get to Yamanouchi, Japan to party with the monkeys, but I will always spend my birthday sipping prosecco in a hot tub.
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