Idyllic Iceland

Rarely have I been as impressed with a destination as I recently was with Iceland.  Some girlfriends and I had planned a long weekend to relax in the Blue Lagoon, but we were thrilled to find so much more during our short trip. 

There are two daily non-stop flights from New York to Reykjavik, one on Iceland Air, and one on Delta.  We opted for Delta.  Our flight was completely full, and although we booked many months ago, the tickets were very expensive.  Thankfully the flight, which departed at 11:25 pm  was on time; as soon as we took off I settled in and fell sound asleep until just before landing.  The Delta One pillow and comforter were cozy, but the seat seemed awfully narrow.  The six hour flight allowed enough time to  sleep  that we arrived in a somewhat rested state.

Keflavik airport's modern terminal  was clean and efficient, and we noticed a plethora of artwork both inside and out.  Directions, created by Steinunn Pórarinsdóttir represents the opportunity for Iceland's visitors to explore every corner of the island.

We were met at the the arrivals terminal by our guide Jon, who was cheerful and filled with useful information.  He understood the urgency in getting some good strong coffee and pastries in our systems before we embarked on any sight-seeing.
The weather at the airport, and in Reykjavik was overcast with intermittent showers, but we were not discouraged.  We fueled up at Sandholt located in the center of town.  Filled with locals and tourists alike, there was something for everyone.  The donuts were an especially big hit with our group, perfect for dunking in the tasty coffee.  I was happy to devour my yogurt compote made with the incredibly decadent Icelandic Skyr.  The bakery dates back to 1920, so we were not alone in thinking it was delicious.  
From Sandholt we explored the primary shopping streets, and made our way to the Parliament building as well as the Prime Minister's office.  Everything is very compact and accessible. 

We were a bit damp and hungry, so we loaded into the car and drove a short distance to The Coocoo’s Nest . Billed as healthy and organic it was the perfect place to warm up over a hearty bowl of soup and some salad. Here too there was delicious bread and irresistible butter that was ubiquitous wherever we dined. One thing we all found quite fascinating was the baby left outside sleeping in the rain (protected by a breathable plastic hood). This is a common occurrence in Iceland where there is virtually no crime. The baby did wake during our meal (her mom must have had a monitor) and she was brought inside the restaurant happy and cozy as can be.

Following lunch we drove to Hallgrímskirkja , the largest church in Iceland as well as one of the tallest structures in the entire country. Taking over 40 years to complete, the Church is stunning in its simplicity and features a spectacular organ. Standing proudly out front is a sculpture of Leif Eriksson , the famed Viking explorer whose journey to America came 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Interestingly, the sculpture of Erikkson was created by Alexander Stirling Calder, the father of Alexander Calder III the iconic mid century artist best known for his mobiles and colorful artwork.

Atop the Hallgrímskirkja is an observation deck that affords panoramic views of Reykjavik. We were fortunate to catch the first of several rainbows we enjoyed during our trip.

Check- in at our hotel was 3pm, so we left Reykjavik a bit after 2 pm in order to check in and make it to our afternoon massages. Not only were we visiting the Blue Lagoon, but we were staying there as well, at The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon, a luxury property which opened in 2019. With just 62 rooms/suites the hotel is small enough that the personal service really shines through. I opted for a Lagoon View Junior Suite which featured floor to ceiling windows as well as a balcony just above the unforgettably blue waters.

The room itself was understated and simple, but the quality of each and every item in it was excellent. It was impeccably clean, and the service was invisible, yet exceptional. I was so impressed with the professionalism of every single person I encountered- from reception to servers, to spa staff, to housekeeping.

I had expected a rainy few days in Iceland, but once we arrived at The Blue Lagoon the skies cleared and we enjoyed clear weather for the remainder of our stay.

I attempted on many occasions to capture the unique beauty of the Blue Lagoon, but the video, while lovely, pales in comparison to the real thing.

There is no photography allowed in the spa on the Retreat side of the Blue Lagoon. There is a public side where there are literally tour buses circling in and out of, but on the retreat side it is very quiet and zen. If you are not staying at the Retreat, you can buy a day pass to the spa and private side of the Lagoon, which I would absolutely recommend. There is also a chance to dine at one of the three outstanding Retreat restaurants if you are not a hotel guest, The Spa Restaurant, Lava and Moss. We dined at all of them, and they were all outstanding. The Spa restaurant is unique in that you are welcome to dine in your bathing suit and robe.

The first night (as well as the last) we dined at Lava which is visually impressive, and delicious as well. The bread and butter again were a highlight (this time with a fabulous gluten free option) and the Icelandic Cod was as scrumptious as you would expect! The service was friendly, and flawless.

Upon waking the next morning, I was tempted to just stay in bed and enjoy the view, but we had sights to see and adventures lined up. I availed myself to a complimentary yoga class and then headed down to the lobby for breakfast with a view. The option is there to enjoy breakfast in the room, but I alway love to people watch over breakfast. Half of the hotel guests were in their robes, everyone felt right at home.

It was recommended that a perfect way to soak up the scenery was an ATV tour, so that is just what we did. We were picked up at the hotel by a very agreeable guide who was amenable to accommodating the varying levels of speed and danger our group was willing to experience.

We decided on a 2 hour Lava Beach tour with 4X4 Adventures Iceland. Located minutes away from the hotel, we were able to maximize our adventure time after being suited up in multiple layers as well as protective equipment. The topography and landscape of Iceland is varied and fascinating, with the abundance of lava and moss providing a stunning juxtaposition. We all made it back in one piece, which we considered quite an accomplishment.

Upon returning the 4×4’s we were hosed off, which was almost as fun as the ride.

Our guide brought us back to the Retreat and we were ready for lunch and some in-water massages. The Spa Restaurant was good, but probably the least favorite of the meals we had during our stay. More bread was served, as well as gluten free crackers with avocado, and King Crab which came replete with tools to cut, crack, and pick out the meat. Eating these crabs was a workout, and I was glad I was in my robe and about to head into the lagoon, to rinse off all the crab juices. The setting was lovely, and again, the service top notch.

Following lunch we were due for massages, both indoor and in water. Having experienced a conventional massage the day prior, I opted for the Retreat’s signature floating in-water treatment. Feeling as though I was back in the womb, I floated on a raft and was continuously dunked (a little like a tea bag) to keep my blanket refreshed with warm water. This was something I was glad I tried, but might not want to repeat on a regular basis (or ever again).

Following the treatment my friends and I met up for Prosecco in the Lagoon which was a whole lot more fun.

Dinner was set for Moss, the “fanciest” restaurant at the retreat. Given the option between two 10 course set menus, I was thrilled to go with the Vegan choice. The experience at Moss was akin to any Michelin starred establishment I have dined in; the presentation was inspired, the service professional yet not serious or intimidating and the food expertly prepared. I felt somewhat virtuous given that it was “healthy”, until I was faced with the desserts. Moss was a winner, really enjoyable.

On our final full day Jon (please contact me if you would like his direct contact information) had an ambitious agenda of sights to see during our Golden Circle tour. Following a 9:00 am pick up we headed straight for a boiling beach where we learned people come to bury their dough and bake their own Icelandic Rye Bread (sometimes called Thunder Bread). Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to taste it, but but there were several loaves cooking below ground underneath these volcanic piles of sand.

We passed some waterfalls along the way to our early lunch at Fridheimar, but were told the bigger ones were yet to come. We arrived at Fridheimer, also known as the Tomato restaurant, just as they opened so we had the chance to admire the endless rows of plants before the crowds descended. The production of tomatoes in their massive greenhouse tops out at about one ton a day, which is quite a feat. A little Disney-ish, the restaurant was hokey but fascinating. The staff has their presentations down pat, and there are groups constantly cycling in and out, but we were glad to have seen it, and the greenhouse-grown soup and salad was certainly healthy and virtuous. The horses were pretty cool too!

Bellies full, we continued along the Golden Circle where we were enchanted by plenty of sheep, rock formations, endless variations of moss and beautiful clear skies.

We were thrilled to witness the reliable Strokkur geyser which erupts just about every 8-10 minutes making for a lot of photo opportunities.

One would think that if you’ve seen one waterfall you’ve seen them all, but that is not the case! The Gullfoss (Golden Falls) was a sight to behold, and we were dazzled by a stunning rainbow as well.

We needed a little pick me up during our touring, and we were not disappointed with Efstidalur, a farm conveniently located in close proximity to the Gullfoss, whose cows were happily noshing on their hay adjacent to the ice cream and coffee shop. Absolutely worth a stop!

Continuing on to Thingvellir National Park we were able to witness where the tectonic plates have drifted apart as well as the spot where the General Assembly of Iceland had convened since the year 930 AD. It is currently a UNESCO world Heritage site.

We returned to the hotel at about 6:30, filled with information and beautiful images. While we were able to experience the Iceland in just 3 days, we merely touched upon the endless activities you could participate in. We had hoped to witness the Northern Lights (the hotel has a special wake-up call you can sign up for if they show) and Winter seems like it would be an exciting time to visit (those Ice Caves are calling out to me).

Countless friends have recently visited Iceland, and if you have been considering it, I would absolutely encourage a trip. It is easy to get there, the sights are incomparable, the people welcoming and the professionalism of everyone we encountered impressive. The food too was delectable, and if you like licorice, its a slam dunk!

Many of you who follow this blog know my expectations are often unreasonably high. There was not one disappointment on this entire trip, and that is a rarity.

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