Location: On the Reykjanes Peninsula in south-western Iceland, just 40 minutes from Reykjavìk, lies an otherworldly terrain of 800-year-old 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.
Architecture: Dr Grímur Sæmundsen, Blue Lagoon’s founder and CEO, spotted the potential of the area’s healing waters decades ago. In the mid-1990s, 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 NewYork, this is the Blue Lagoon.’
Interior: 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. bluelagoon.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration May 2019