Approaching the celebrated ION Hotel on a cold and windy winter’s day after a less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik and a comfortable flight from London with Icelandair we were looking forward to still another holiday in the ‘land of ice and fire’. We found ourselves fortunate to have secured one of Lotus Car Rental most reliable vehicles, a Toyota Land Cruiser, for the often tricky or even treacherous road conditions in Iceland and owing to their good guidance and advice before our drive we were not taken by surprise by anything in our path – apart from the hotel itself!
This very unique establishment is an exercise in sustainability and recycling and while it is not hard to imagine how different materials can be used again effectively in a modern design it is a little bit harder to visualise how moderately humble dwellings of labourers previously working on nearby Nesjavellir Geothermal Energy Plant have been transformed into one of the most notable hotels in the world in its category. The result is a striking design to a backdrop of beautiful Icelandic landscape with an ever changing palette of colours to be enjoyed from all spaces and corner of this . To attest to this the hotel recently was granted the acclaimed Boutique Hotel Awards in the sustainability category.
Iceland is enjoying an unprecedented boom in tourism with two national carriers just about managing to meet demands of flights to and from the country. Of these Icelandair is the veteran, having started its trans-Atlantic flights in the late forties offering relatively cheap flights from Europe to North-America with a stopover in Iceland, a business model still very much at the heart of its operation.
A multitude of attractions guide ever increasing numbers of travellers to Iceland, a good number seeking the essential highlights, to many of which this incomparable place provides easy access. Whether you are in search of a quiet, soulful soak beneath the Northern Lights, a challenging trek across an ancient glacier or a day of fly-fishing in plentiful icy rivers – these are only a wish away. Close to Þingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the hotel location by the ‘Golden Circle’ route makes it a good base from which to explore Iceland’s rich heritage, hardy flora and fauna, and myriad opportunities for extreme adventure. Upon your return you will find this relaxing resort a perfect place to relax.
As the materials of the building of the hotel have been reshaped to serve a new function in nearly every aspect of this welcoming place so can the guest recharge with powers of Icelandic clean air, modern and very comfortable rooms, hot springs and food to every taste. Chefs Þráinn Freyr Vigfússon and Hafsteinn Ólafsson take a ‘slow food’ approach to their cooking and in fact the Nordic countries are known to have a strong regional food culture – pure, simple, fresh and seasonal. The New Nordic Cuisine combines novel ingredients with more traditional ones, often prepared in unexpected ways. Subscribing to this philosophy, Silfra Restaurant and Northern Lights Bar offer a menu of fresh local ingredients served with a twist and accompanied by an array of beers, liqueurs and spirits from Iceland’s many microbreweries. Don’t miss the delicious snack of smoked Þingvalla lake trout mousse with roe and grilled bread. In fact the delicious homemade breads are one the hotels many excellent attributes.
So despite being out of town or even because you are away from the capital you have bountiful choices for combining activity with relaxation. Our combination for the first day after a hearty breakfast was to visit the Silfra rift by Lake Þingvellir from which the restaurant’s name derives. The rift is the most popular diving site in Iceland, first of all because it is part of the larger rift between the American and Eurasian continent clearly visible here and secondly because of the crystal clear water. We didn’t dive in but marvelled at the reflection of light from coins dropped there, a tradition as rich as that exercised by the Trevi Fountain in Rome. For our activity we simply enjoyed the picturesque surroundings, walking briskly in the crisp and clean winter air, visiting the old modest church and enjoying the warden of the national park revealing to us the fascinating history of this place which hosted for centuries the oldest parliament in the world, from AD 930, hence its name, Þingvellir (Parliament Fields).
On return we knew what was waiting, our stylish and pleasantly warm room, Silfra Restaurant, the award-winning Northern Lights bar, the Lava Spa, all to a backdrop of magnificent landscape that stretches out to the horizon wherever you look, providing calm to recharge, reflect and rejoice. From the long warm outdoor pool we saw the short winter light fade and the skies transform, would they appear?