The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - JENN HAR­RIS

ON 50-MINUTE THE DRIVE from Ice­land’s Ke­flavik In­ter­na­tional Air­port to down­town Reyk­javik, the land­scape switched from long, flat stretches of dirt to patches of grass stud­ded with rocks.

It was early Au­gust, and it was cold and as I looked around, I couldn’t quite fig­ure out why this place was at the top of my friends’ travel wish lists.

One thing is clear: Ice­land is trend­ing. The num­ber of peo­ple trav­el­ling here has more than dou­bled in the last six years, ac­cord­ing to the Ice­landic Tourist Board, and that num­ber con­tin­ues to in­crease by more than 20 per cent a year.

For this we can prob­a­bly thank, in part, Wow Air­lines, the ul­tra-low­cost Ice­landic car­rier that tempts with the oc­ca­sional sub-$100 US oneway fare. And I’d also credit so­cial me­dia, which brim with self­ies taken at and in the Blue La­goon, Ice­land’s best-known hot spring.

But Ice­land wasn’t re­ally on my list. A story on low-cost air­lines (I flew Wow) landed me in the cap­i­tal city, which I could use as a base to ex­plore the hot springs. Not my idea of par­adise, but it helped when my sis­ter Jes­sica, who was in need of a va­ca­tion, vol­un­teered to ex­plore with me.

The plan was to stay in Reyk­javik, then drive to as many hot springs as we could with­out hav­ing to join a tour group or get on a bus.

Of course, plans are made for chang­ing, which is what hap­pened when the car rental com­pany failed to pro­duce the four-wheel-drive I had re­served and paid for.

That meant we had to skip some of the springs on our list that were off the main roads. But our tiny red Toy­ota Yaris did make it to the Blue La­goon and three other mem­o­rable geo­ther­mal spots, all within driv­ing dis­tance of Reyk­javik.

It is pop­u­lar, so reser­va­tions are re­quired be­cause space is lim­ited, en­sur­ing enough sparkling wa­ter for ev­ery­one. (The la­goon can hold hun­dreds of peo­ple.)

The wa­ter, a com­bi­na­tion of fresh and sea­wa­ter from the nearby geo­ther­mal plant, is about 98 de­grees, slightly cooler than your av­er­age hot tub.

Ticket pack­ages range from about $48 to $200 US. The pre­mium pack­age, around $85, is all you’ll need to feel like a king or queen. It in­cludes mud and al­gae masks, towel, drink of your choice, bathrobe, slip­pers and a reser­va­tion and com­pli­men­tary glass of sparkling wine at Lava, a restau­rant at the Blue La­goon.

Sil­ica, the Blue La­goon’s 35-room

ho­tel, is a 10-minute walk. (It is clos­ing in April and will re­open later this year as a 60-room lux­ury ho­tel with a new restau­rant.)

Jes­sica and I spent hours walk­ing on the la­goon’s smooth rock floor. We even­tu­ally re­laxed, although we had to dodge tourists who splashed through the wa­ter in search of the per­fect selfie back­drop.

One of the la­goon’s best fea­tures is its swim-up bar, where you can buy smooth­ies, wine, beer and wa­ter. We also tried the in-wa­ter mas­sage (about $80 for 30 min­utes, but you can skip it un­less you like the sen­sa­tion of sink­ing), had lunch at Lava (some of the best food in Ice­land) and re­turned to the la­goon for sev­eral more hours.

The warm wa­ter is ad­dic­tive, so we were glad to have al­lot­ted an en­tire day for the visit. FOR MORE IN­FOR­MA­TION: Blue La­goon, 011-354-420-8800,­la­


A 42-MINUTE DRIVE north of Reyk­javik took us through lush green val­leys, across bridges over rocky streams and down a pot­hole-rid­dled dirt road to one of the most mag­i­cal spots I have ever vis­ited.

We were sure we were in the wrong place, so we parked our car to avoid block­ing the road, then made our way down a dirt path.

When we reached the peb­ble­lined shore of the Hvalfjor­dur fiord, we turned left and walked about eight min­utes (our ho­tel concierge had pro­vided us with in­struc­tions) un­til we came to a tiny man-made pool sur­rounded by rocks. The hot wa­ter is piped in from a nearby spring.

The fiord’s deep blue wa­ter and green moun­tains are the back­drop for the small hot tub, which fits two peo­ple com­fort­ably.

Bird­song and the sound of wa­ter lap­ping lazily at the shore­line pro­vided the sound­track for the af­ter­noon.

As we sat alone in the warm pool, we felt as though we had dropped into some­one’s “Wish you were here” post­card. We alone en­joyed the soli­tude; we hadn’t seen an­other hu­man be­ing in miles. ut iso­la­tion isn’t guar­an­teed. If some­one hap­pens to be in the pool when you ar­rive, you’ll have to wait your turn. FOR MORE IN­FOR­MA­TION: Go to­jar­dar­laug for di­rec­tions, then write them down be­fore you start the drive. Google Maps does not work once you leave Reyk­javik, and there is no In­ter­net con­nec­tion. Free.

Se­cret La­goon

THE NAME may stem from the dif­fi­culty in find­ing this place. Af­ter our map app failed us, we had to stop at a gas sta­tion for di­rec­tions.

The Se­cret La­goon, cre­ated in 1891, is one of the old­est swim­ming pools in Ice­land. It’s in the small town of Fludir, a lit­tle more than an hour’s drive east of Reyk­javik.

It’s a pop­u­lar stop on the 186mile Golden Cir­cle tour, which also in­cludes the Geysir geyser, the Gull­foss wa­ter­fall and the Kerid Crater Lake.

We ar­rived in the morning, which was smart be­cause ac­cess is lim­ited to control crowd­ing. (The web­site lists des­ig­nated times for tour groups, so plan to ar­rive be­fore or af­ter them.)

The Se­cret La­goon is be­hind a small build­ing, where you check in and pay about $25 to en­ter.

It is about the size of a large backyard swim­ming pool and is sur­rounded by dense for­est in one di­rec­tion and rolling green hills in the other. Steam rose from the ground, cre­at­ing a dense fog over the wa­ter. A walk­ing path al­lowed us to ex­plore the spurt­ing, bub­bling hot springs with­out get­ting too close. We spent a cou­ple of hours in the la­goon, which was am­ple time to re­lax and work up an ap­petite for lunch. FOR MORE IN­FOR­MA­TION: 845 Hvammsve­gur, Fludir; 011-354 853-3033, se­cret­la­

Lau­gar­vatn Fon­tana

LAU­GAR­VATN FON­TANA looks more like a heated pub­lic swim­ming pool than a hot spring, with shal­low geo­ther­mal baths with tile walls and floors.

Not only is geo­ther­mal heat used to warm the baths, but it’s also used to bake bread un­der­ground.

The rye cre­ated in its geo­ther­mal bak­ery is de­li­cious. You may want to stop for lunch rather than a soak in the pool. FOR MORE IN­FOR­MA­TION: 1 Hverabraut, Lau­gar­braut, 840 Lau­gar­vatn; 011-354-486-1400, www.fon­


The Hvalf­jar­dar­laug geo­ther­mal pool.

The Lau­gar­vatn Fon­tana ther­mal baths.

The Se­cret La­goon.

The Frid­heimar farm and restau­rant.

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