Ice­land’s most fa­mous la­goon is now even more luxe. Step in­side The Re­treat, a spa ho­tel that takes re­lax­ation to new heights

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On the Reyk­janes Penin­sula in south-western Ice­land, just 40 min­utes from Reyk­javìk, lies an oth­er­wordly ter­rain of 800-yearold lava flow, nat­u­ral steam vents, hot springs and mud pools. This unique lava field near Grin­davík is also home to the Blue La­goon, a geo­ther­mal pool known for its min­eral-rich heal­ing sea­wa­ters. The main site, which is now one of Ice­land’s top tourist at­trac­tions – with 1.3 mil­lion vis­i­tors last year – opened in 1999, fol­lowed six years later by the Lava Restau­rant and Sil­ica Ho­tel, a well­ness cen­tre that spe­cialises in com­bat­ting der­ma­to­log­i­cal com­plaints. The new­est ad­di­tion, The Re­treat, opened qui­etly in April. It is Ice­land’s first five-star ho­tel, com­pris­ing 62 lux­u­ri­ous suites, Moss restau­rant, a yoga stu­dio and a pri­vate subter­ranean spa.


Dr Grí­mur Sæ­mund­sen, Blue La­goon’s founder and CEO, spot­ted the po­ten­tial of the area’s heal­ing wa­ters decades ago. In the mid1990s, he en­listed the help of Si­gríður Sigþórs­dót­tir of Basalt Ar­chi­tects to de­sign each phase of the la­goon’s de­vel­op­ment. And while The Re­treat’s build­ing sits com­fort­ably and un­ob­tru­sively in the rugged land­scape, it’s not sur­pris­ing to learn that break­ing ground on lava was a chal­lenge for both ar­chi­tects and con­trac­tors. ‘You walk around the ground to eval­u­ate the rock for­ma­tion be­fore you start dig­ging,’ ex­plains Sigþórs­dót­tir. ‘The team es­tab­lished rules to pre­serve the nat­u­ral land­scape be­cause the liv­ing moss takes up to 100 years to grow. We had to be very care­ful.’ The re­sults are in­cred­i­ble: open, yet in­ti­mate; a lin­ear con­crete struc­ture that’s some­how warm and invit­ing. Per­haps it’s the in­tense iri­des­cence of the sur­round­ing wa­ters – the milky blue comes from sun­light re­flect­ing off the sil­ica – or the ex­ter­nal Brazil­ian wood cladding and in­te­rior wal­nut fin­ishes that lend just enough nat­u­ral tex­ture. In the ho­tel’s vast, wel­com­ing lobby and along ev­ery cor­ri­dor, large win­dows frame un­in­ter­rupted views of the lava field, a con­stant re­minder that the vol­canic land­scape is the real star of the show. ‘From the start, our con­cept was to show re­spect for the la­goon,’ says Sigþórs­dót­tir. ‘ We didn’t try and com­pete with it. We wanted to re­mind guests where they are. This is not Lux­em­bourg or New York, this is the Blue La­goon.’


Cre­ated by Mi­lan-based Ice­lander Sig­urður Thorsteins­son of De­sign Group Italia, the in­te­ri­ors are com­fort­able and el­e­gant in typ­i­cally un­der­stated Ice­landic style. Much of the uphol­stered fur­ni­ture and wooden cab­i­netry in the bed­rooms is made by B&B Italia, with pieces by An­to­nio Cit­te­rio and Pa­tri­cia Urquiola. The main area’s ter­razzo floor­ing filled with lo­cal lava rather than con­crete, a lava rock wall sur­round­ing the fire­place, and the reception desk and bar area made from rocks up­ended dur­ing the build, re­ally root the de­sign in this glo­ri­ous land­scape. The earthy palette through­out the ho­tel, as well as the tac­til­ity of the ma­te­ri­als – from the crude con­crete tex­tures to pat­terned car­pets and del­i­cate glass – all work to en­sure guests know ex­actly where in the world they are. Aside from de­sign, the em­pha­sis is on slow­ing down and re­lax­ing. Once you ac­cept that there are no tele­vi­sions to be found, you fo­cus on the spa ex­pe­ri­ence. Its se­ries of con­nected cham­bers house sev­eral treat­ment rooms, a sauna, steam room and a lounge. Guests are in­vited to try the lo­cally sourced salt scrubs, sil­ica masks and to lux­u­ri­ate in al­gae mud in the dark­ened, serene sur­round­ings. The Re­treat’s sig­na­ture treat­ment, an out­door, in-wa­ter mas­sage, is per­haps the most lux­u­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of all. ‘ We wanted to make some­thing unique,’ says Thorsteins­son. ‘This is the only place in the world where the wa­ter is like this, which makes it par­tic­u­larly spe­cial.’ From £1,029 per night ( blue­la­

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