No trip to Iceland would be complete without a few hours enjoying the mineral rich waters of the Blue Lagoon
Ask anyone to come up with one thing that they would associate with visiting Iceland and it is more than likely that the Blue Lagoon (http://www.bluelagoon.com/) will be that thing. For many this is the reason to come to Iceland. They want that unique experience of floating in aqua-marine water that is heated at 40 degrees from a geothermal plant, surrounded by a moon-like landscape and snow capped mountains. Read on if you have ever wondered what it is like to be there.
“When you get there put conditioner in your hair and LEAVE it in otherwise your hair will turn into barbed wire!” This was the advice of the driver of the bus going from the airport to the Blue Lagoon and certainly not something I had seen in any of the glossy tourist brochures.
If your flight arrives at a respectable time then go straight to the Blue Lagoon. Don’t even think about your hotel, get to the Lagoon! It is the best possible way to be introduced to Iceland because it so encapsulates what this country is all about. It is only a 20 minute drive from the airport and the facilities are well endowed with large lockers to store whatever you are hauling with you.
The road journey to the Blue Lagoon will leave you wondering if you are still on planet earth as the landscape is so unlike anywhere else, with lava craters that make you think of sci-fi film sets. In the distance you will see this strange futuristic building, of aluminium and pipes with steam funnelling around it, that could be what a human settlement on the moon might look like.
After getting ready in the sleek changing rooms (remembering to leave in the conditioner) you have two ways to enter the Lagoon. If it is winter time then option one could be considered either adventurous or plain stupid; a short walk outside to reach the water, which will tease the onset of frost bite. The second option, boring but sensible, is to enter the warm water indoors and then push open a door to the outside.
This is bliss. It is a place for serious relaxation and any attempt to perform Olympic style swimming manoeuvres will not be welcome. Try lying right back in the water so that your ears are submerged and block out all sounds and you will soon understand how peaceful this place can be. There is plenty to explore during your floating: a waterfall, cave, bridges, steam baths and sauna.
The steam coming off from the water gives you plenty of privacy and sometimes you can’t see anybody through it. I almost screamed when a ghost like face with bits dripping off suddenly emerged from the mist heading straight for me! If I hadn’t watched a zombie film the previous night I would have realised sooner that this person was taking advantage of the free silica face mask that can be scooped out of buckets placed around the Lagoon. Leaving the mask on for five minutes and then rinsing off will exfoliate and leave skin nice and soft.
Be warned that towel theft goes on here! With so many people choosing to hire a branded Blue Lagoon towel and hanging them on the communal pegs the risk of losing yours is high. I ended up having to dry naturally sitting on a lounger in the relaxation area after a couple of failed attempts to covertly snatch someone else’s towel. Bringing a colourful beach towel would have avoided this and saved the 945 ISK hire fee.
The Blue Lagoon is a destination in its own right. There is a 15 room hotel, restaurant, bar and cafeteria. The Lava Restaurant, with its natural lava wall, is a good place to sample Icelandic cuisine with reindeer, lobster, duck and lamb on the menu. Main courses start at 3000 ISK. If these prices induce terror then the cafeteria is perfectly adequate for soup and sandwiches. Plus it has a cracking view of the Lagoon with floor-to-ceiling windows.
The onsite spa provides exclusive in-water treatments where massages are given on a mattress in the lagoon. A 30 minute silica back massage will cost 7600 ISK. A classy shop sells a variety of skin care products featuring the Blue Lagoon geothermal water. There is even a Blue Lagoon soundtrack CD, mixed by DJ legend Margeir Ingolfsson. The downtempo music perfectly evokes the Blue Lagoon experience. When you get home run a bath with the algae and mineral salts, stick on the CD, and you might just come close to recreating the fond memories.
Getting there and where to stay
One of the best ways to visit the Blue Lagoon is with an Icelandair (http://www.icelandair.com) three night hotel, tour and flight package, costing less than €300. All you have to do is purchase the combined bus and Blue Lagoon entry ticket for 5900 ISK from Reykjavik Excursions (http://www.re.is). This takes you from the airport to the Lagoon and then on to your hotel.
The Icelandair package usually offers the Hotel Loftleidir, classed as 4-star. I stayed here and found the rooms to be perfectly comfortable. If you enjoy 1970s modernism then you will love this place, particularly the retro spiral staircase. The hotel boasts that it has the only hotel swimming pool in Reykjavik, but it’s not something to get overly excited about. It is tiny and too shallow to do more than float around, but it is heated and this can be pleasant in the winter months. The hotel is a twenty minute walk from the city centre, but there is a shuttle bus. The times of this service are infrequent, so it will require careful planning to get the best from it. If you book this hotel independently prices can start as low as 9700 ISK for a double room in winter, rising to 27500 ISK in summer.
Rooms at the Blue Lagoon's own hotel, Blue Lagoon Clinic, are Ikea-like Scandinavian design with a small balcony that has views of the lava fields. The highlight of staying here is an exclusive private lagoon for hotel guests only, open from 8am to 10am and 8pm to 10pm. Guests also have free entry to the main Lagoon. The cost of a double room varies according to time of year, from 25000 to 42000 ISK
Where to eat
It is worth breaking the budget for at least one gourmet Icelandic meal. There are some fantastic restaurants in Reykjavik. My meal at Lækjarbrekka (http://laekjarbrekka.is/) was something my taste buds will reminisce about for years to come. I chose the three course Icelandic fish menu at 6680 ISK. This began with a selection of four seafood appetisers, the highlight being the miniature cup of Lobster soup, so smooth and creamy. I was then presented with a ramekin dish of something “compliments of the chef”. This turned out to be horse fillet, not something I would ordinarily choose, but with blueberries and balsamic vinegar it was a delicious little morsel. The main course was a generous portion of cod on a bed of mashed potato, Lobster sauce and two giant langoustines. Rhubarb crumble was not like mum used to make, but delicate, perfectly square and very light. This took place in a 1830s traditional wooden house with tapestries, paintings and ornaments.
Perlan (http://www.perlan.is/) is another gourmet favourite with its revolving floor and impressive city views, but there is somewhat of a secret one floor beneath, for the budget conscious. There is a perfectly adequate canteen that provides unlimited soup and salad refills and nice home baking. You get to be in the same architecturally outstanding building and have the same view as the ritzy people upstairs.