First of all, rent a Kia Sorrento. It was the perfect vehicle for exploring Iceland. Secondly, pack hiking gear, comfortable walking shoes and rain coats. Special items I wish I had: a roll of painter’s tape to fully close the blackout curtains during summer solstice, a water bottle to collect fresh glacier water on our glacier hike (and clean beautiful water everywhere in Iceland) and an extra duffle for purchases. I should’ve packed less dresses and more leggings. Also coming from me this is crazy, but pack a skimpier bathing suit so your skin has plenty of contact with the yummy silica-enriched salt water in the Blue Lagoon. You also need it for the body scrubs and masks during “the ritual” at the Retreat. Everyone speaks English brilliantly so communicating couldn’t be easier. We made friends for life on our cover photo shoot. Great people, Icelanders.
We rented a car (said Kia Sorrento) at the airport and spent one night in the capitol city, Reykjavik. The next day, we drove east for a two-night stay at Skalakot Luxury Manor. Last, we headed back west (near the airport) for two nights at The *incredible* Retreat at the Blue Lagoon. I think it was perfect. If we had planned to stay longer, we would have gone from Skalakot to stay somewhere in Vik, which is another three hours or so east. But our trip couldn’t have been more perfect, so here are all of my travel notes. Please use and enjoy – as always, reach out with questions firstname.lastname@example.org. xoxo
We loved the Sand Hotel in Reykjavik. It had the most comfortable cloud-like bed and a great shower. It was in a fantastic location right on the main drag in the capitol city.
The Skalakot Manor was amazingly charming. It only has 14 rooms and is a seventh-generation working farm. The location is incredible - right near two major waterfalls, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, and the Sólheimajökull glacier. There is a precious church next door that would be perfect for a small wedding.
The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon was magical – completely otherworldly. It’s a “not to be missed” stay. The rooms are modern and gorgeous with rain showers, comfy beds and a bathtub and balcony that overlook a private milky turquoise lagoon surrounded by moss-covered lava rocks. The rooms have everything you could desire, from complimentary champagne, wine and beer to q-tips, eye masks, face wash and a hair straightener. Staying at the Retreat gives you access to the private lagoon which has very few people in it at any given time. And there’s nothing better than enjoying after dinner drinks while listening to music in big mid-century modern chairs behind your own private lagoon balcony.
Reykjavik Street Food has the best lobster soup I've ever had. Wayne loved the beef noodle soup. Apparently, their fish and chips are really good too. For dinner, we went to Kol in Reykjavik and loved it. They serve fresh Icelandic food and lots of drinks- we had amazing scallops and cod with truffle polenta. The famous church, Hallgrímskirkja, is right up the block. It is one of the tallest buildings in the country and made in the Expressionist architecture style.
When we left Reykjavik, we drove up to an amazing tomato farm, Friðheimar. I recommend making a lunch reservation in advance – they are great on email. They grow tomatoes and basil in their greenhouse hydroponically all year using "fake sunlight" and bumblebees. Lunch was wonderful. The tomato soup bar is everything you hoped it would be.
At Skalakot, the home-cooked style food is wonderful. They serve their own lamb and fish from the farm, true farm-to-table style. The vegetable soup is thick and incredible.
The sushi at the Retreat Spa (Blue Lagoon) restaurant was fresh and delicious. The Icelandic iced tea was flavorful and special. The restaurants in the hotel are both amazing – especially the fine dining one, Moss. We tried the five-course tasting menu and loved everything from the soft interior/crusty exterior bread baked in their in-house bakery served with Icelandic skyr whipped butter to the succulent lamb that was presented smoking on an individual wooden grill of sorts surrounded by a garden of pine branches.
See & Do:
In Reykjavik we walked over to the Harpa Concert Hall and watched a short video piece about Iceland. Harpa was designed by the Danish firm Henning Larson in co-operation with artist Olafur Eliasson. The structure consists of a steel framework clad with geometric shaped glass panels of different colors.
On the way from the tomato farm to Skalakot, we drove through part of the Golden Circle and got to see all three sites: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir hot spring area and Gullfoss waterfall. They were all amazing. The Strokkur geyser in the hot springs area spouts water up 100 feet in to the air every few minutes.
The first full day after arriving at Skalakot, we booked a glacier tour (hike) through Arcanum. Google maps finds the parking lot easily. They have coffee, water, restrooms and hiking boots for you to use there if you don't want to pack your own. You also get crampons (ice cleats) and ice axes for the journey. There is about a 20-minute walk to the bottom of the glacier. You hike up the glacier to the plateau then back down. It takes around 2.5 hours total and is completely breathtaking. I wasn't very cold but had on two layers of leggings, a long-sleeved t-shirt, sweatshirt and raincoat. I never really needed my hat or gloves. I was glad we went on the glacier hike during the summer when the ground gets a bit chunkier than solid sheets of ice with snow on top during the winter.
Just near the glacier is one of the most magnificent waterfalls, Skogofoss. It's right off the gorgeous two-lane highway. And just beyond Skogofoss are two man-made caves built into the moss-covered rock. They are magical - you need to pull over and take a closer look. Then google the tales surrounding them – quite interesting.
The next day, we drove east to Reynisfjara Black Beach, and it was breathtaking. The black volcanic sand and the towering basalt columns were like nothing we had seen before. There are incredible rock formations surrounding the beach, and apparently the waves are so strong that they have been known to carry picture-snapping tourists away in a blink (yikes).
The spa at the Blue Lagoon Retreat offers wonderful in-water massages that are like nothing we had ever done before. They also have a special area for “the ritual” where you shower, steam and scrub with their natural salt then apply an earthly silica mask over your entire body then shower again and apply an active algae mask over your entire body. It was dreamy. I could tell a massive difference in my skin immediately. I am forever ruined for spas after this – it is the very best of the best.
There are amazing hand-knitted wool sweaters and blankets everywhere. I got a zip-up cardigan style but loved them all. They also sell rolls of yarn everywhere. Wool is obviously a major industry in Iceland. There are sheep dotting the entire countryside - sheep and Icelandic horses. Reykjavik has tons of tourist shops with t-shirts, snow caps that say “Iceland” and stuffed toy puffins. They have these items at gas stations too and for the same price. I ended up buying some at the gas station along with some rubber boots and wool socks.
At Blue Lagoon you get 15% off all of their amazing products so I bought two mask sets. Hopefully they last until I can get back there next. I googled the price and you can buy them from the States but they are about $350 versus $200 on the ground (what a deal). I am counting on the Earth’s natural anti-aging properties. That plus cover swim of course.