Iceland is often dubbed "the land of fire and ice"—and not just because "Game of Thrones" chose the island nation as a frequent filming location. About the size of Kentucky, Iceland boasts some of the most starkly juxtaposed landscapes in the world. From black sand beaches to glacier fields to jagged peaks, the lava fields of otherworldly green moss to the countless active geysers, Iceland's landscape is stunning—and that's only the beginning. There's no better place to experience these extremes than the ION Hotel. Consistently awarded for both its design and sustainability, the ION's (slightly) remote location an hour east of Reykjavik makes it the ideal getaway to both relax and explore the country's extremes.
Surrounded by moss-covered lava fields on three sides with a mountain backdrop, the ION stands on its own in the landscape. A nearby geothermal power plant uses the bubbling energy just below the surface to power and heat the city of Reykjavik (as well as the hotel itself). An abundance of windows in both the common areas and rooms of the hotel mean turning on the lights in the summer months is rarely necessary. Reclaimed wood and recycled materials make up much of the decor in the hotel's interior, while renewable energy keeps the hotel running. Much of the cuisine is locally sourced, including spectacular arctic char from a lake within view from the hotel. In Iceland, eating local has a long legacy due to necessity. The New Nordic cuisine in the hotel's restaurants reflects this tradition and puts a contemporary twist on classic Icelandic dishes—and holds off on the most extreme variety of local cuisine like hákarl (fermented shark).
A relaxed luxury vibe permeates the hotel, especially in common spaces. Nordic styling runs throughout and maybe it's the isolation or perhaps it's just the Icelandic way, but the ION's lobby is a communal place where guests actually spend time. Reading in the lobby—with full views of the surrounding glacier-capped mountains and color-changing moss—counts as an activity in and of itself. The hotel staff members are true professionals and this reflects the changing nature of Iceland's economy—in recent years, tourism has continued to climb to the top as one of the top performing sectors.
With just 45 rooms, the ION has an intimate atmosphere. At any given time, it's not uncommon to have the lobby to yourself and early risers will be able to enjoy a private dip in the geothermal spa. Rooms are decorated tastefully yet simply. The focus rests largely on the scenery, with floor-to-ceiling windows in deluxe rooms and expansive views in standard rate rooms (pictured). While far from hi-tech, the room's furnishings are focused on efficiency and relaxed comfort. The point of the hotel isn't to watch TV and order room service; it's to get outside, get dirty and fall asleep early. Blackout curtains are essential in Iceland, where the sun shines late into the evening from April to September. Organic cotton sheets and natural toiletries made by hand locally with minerals contribute to the sustainability of the ION and reflect its commitment to the land.
There's a saying in Iceland that if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. It's not uncommon to go from gale force winds, to rain, to hail to relentless sunshine—it's all in a day for Iceland. When the weather turns south, the hotel's Northern Lights bar is the perfect spot to wind down. Double storey walls of windows bathe the bar in natural light and give the feeling of being outdoors—even if you're comfortably snacking on pan-fried, locally caught salmon and sipping an ice-cold aquavit. In the winter months, the Northern Lights are said to be visible from the bar and it's hard to match the oddity of having a midnight drink in brilliant sunlight in the summer.
Situated below the bar is perhaps one of the hotel's greatest assets, albeit underused by guests. A geothermal spa—heated with untreated water from the mountains—is open 24 hours and gives an uninhibited view of the mountains around the hotel. The water is untreated to ensure that the natural healing benefits of the water that leaves the skin feeling refreshed and revitalized—though it comes at the cost of layer of slime on the bottom of the pool, it contributes to the uniquely Icelandic vibe. Full spa services are also on offer for the ultimate relaxation and a glass-walled sauna offers even more exceptional views while you unwind.
While the ION itself shines for its sustainability and design, the real draw is its proximity to only-in-Iceland adventure opportunities. The hotel is situated minutes away from SCUBA diving between two continental plates. Mountain horseback riding on majestic hillsides is just a short drive and the Atlantic coast is just down the road. Activities vary by season, but it's hard to miss any time of the year. In the winter months evade sleep for the northern lights and head to the mountains for ice climbing on the glaciers. In the summer, hit the lakes for legendary fishing where pulling out trophy salmon and arctic char is within reach even for novice anglers.
Rates at the ION vary by season. Summer bookings start at around $450 for deluxe rooms and $390 for standards. Visit ION online for more information.
Photos by Hans Aschim