With its dramatic, otherworldly landscape, Iceland is one of those fascinating destinations that tops many a bucket list. So much so, the country’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, with over two million travellers flocking to its captivating, wild shores in 2019 alone. Marooned at the edge of the world, just outside of the Arctic Circle, the island is literally in the making, its constantly evolving landscape the result of belching geysers, bubbling hot springs, shifting tectonic plates and rumbling snow-covered volcanoes.
While the east and the interior of the country unfurls over a mostly uninhabitable medley of a sweeping fjord-fractured coastline, desolate moss-swathed lava fields and muscular mountains sliced by dramatic ice-blue glaciers, the southwest of the country is where most of the highlights are located.
Perched on the southern shores of a picturesque bay, Reykjavík, Iceland’s compact capital city with its charming jumble of colourful buildings, museums and excellent restaurants, is the perfect start to a journey best taken by car: cruise along the Golden Circle – a 186-mile loop anchored by spouting geysers, the Gullfoss waterfall and the volcanic craters of Thingvellir National Park – then meander along the stretch of dramatic black-sand beaches and soaring cliffs of the South Shore, and end on the wild Reykjanes Peninsula, home to the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon.
A 20-minute drive from Keflavík International Airport, the lagoon is a sprawling 8,700 sq-metre, man-made geothermal spa, its steamy silica-rich waters spread throughout a barren, mars-like moss and snow-sprinkled lava field that stretches to a dramatic frame of rugged volcanic ridges and endless horizons.
Ensconced within a private inlet of the lagoon, The Retreat smartly capitalises on these assets, with the Reykjavík-based Basalt Architects seamlessly slotting a concrete superstructure, the colour of dark-grey lava, into the otherworldly surroundings to create a serene 62-room sanctuary, lined by floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the untamed, rocky beauty outside.
Inside, interiors firm Design Group Italia has dressed the quietly rugged walnut and lava surfaces with timeless pieces by B&B Italia; specially commissioned re-editions of celebrated Icelandic furniture by the likes of Sveinn Kjarval and Gunnar H. Guðmundsson; works by local artist Ragna Róbertsdóttir; and a rotating selection of ceramics from the 1600-piece collection from the Icelandic Museum of Design & Applied Art.
Days at The Retreat unfold around the indulgent spa, with unique treatments – like the in-water massages – based on the geothermal water, guided aquatic floating, or simply just wallowing (glass of champagne in hand) in the intimacy and warmth of the cloudy blue waters.
In the evening, Moss Restaurant delivers a fresh, seasonal menu, sourced from all over the island, with dishes like Icelandic scallops served with sorrel snow or torched salmon with lemon purée and sturgeon caviar, paired with wines from the restaurant’s subterranean wine cellar. Follow this with a postprandial tipple on the roof where, if you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of the elusive northern lights.
The Retreat costs from ISK180,000 per night (just over £1,000 at the time of publishing) including an a la carte breakfast
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