Every day, those in search of Iceland’s most perfect Instagram shot will get up at dawn, just so that they can score a photo of a deserted, pristine Blue Lagoon.
To one side of the lagoon, though, is The Retreat, which takes Iceland’s most seminal experience – bathing in its milky blue geothermal waters – and raises it to new levels.
The pools here are just as blue as the main Lagoon, the steam just as seductive, but you’re sharing it with only a handful of people. Even before Covid-19, staying here was about both social distancing and privacy.
Every day, those in search of Iceland’s most perfect Instagram shot will get up at dawn, just so that they can score a photo of a deserted, pristine Blue Lagoon
Serenity: A milky blue pool at The Retreat, a luxurious spa with 62 rooms and suites
It’s crying out to be boasted about on social media, especially when staying here costs a minimum of £1,000 a night. However, whip out your camera phone to grab a snap of this perfection and one of the staff will gently stop you. The reason: there’s a solid coating of the rich and famous at The Retreat.
During my stay, a famous television presenter and an actor with internationally acclaimed cheekbones are both in situ, sporting the same towelling dressing gowns and messy spa hair as the rest of us.
For all that it looks so elemental, the Blue Lagoon is a combination of both nature and human ingenuity. The mineral-rich seawater first came gushing out of a geothermal power plant in 1976 and locals started bathing in it, finding it helped their skin. Turnstiles for day visitors were added in 1985.
The Retreat was added only in 2018 – a spa with just 62 rooms and suites, all imbued with Icelandic serenity; leather chairs, supersized sleek slate bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows.
My suite has roughly the same proportions as my London flat but with a bonus of a vast balcony. The largest suites even have their own areas of the Blue Lagoon to bathe in. The common parts feel very uncommon; a double-height lobby with vast windows looks out on to even more of the lagoon. It feels as if I’m overwhelmed by space.
Everything about the Blue Lagoon makes me want to get out my phone and record it. Instead, I end up trying to remember it in my head; from the languorous late morning sunrises, the moss covered in frost, glinting in the sun, to the smell of the wood fire in the lobby in the evenings.
And The Retreat is adorably warm. The geothermal excess provides underfloor heating that keeps everything toasty; it’s pretty much accepted that you’ll want to pad around everywhere in your towelling dressing gown.
It costs a minimum of £1,000 a night to stay at The Retreat. Pictured is a lounge area
What stops the place from being too cloistered and calm is its sense of fun. Next to the spa restaurant is a hatch that allows those in the pools to order drinks and sip them while turning (and this is probably just me) a gentle lobster colour.
And despite the name, one of the spa’s treatments, The Ritual, is more child DIY fantasy of slathering yourself with algae and mud than any notion of spirituality.
In the rooms, the minibar is free to raid and for everything else – including going to the hatch for another glass of wine – guests get electronic wristbands that allow you to charge drinks and meals without having to sign anything.
The rest of Iceland, when you head out of The Retreat (and you really should), feels just as ingenious as the Blue Lagoon, like a super-charged geography field trip, with volcanoes, geysers and tectonic plates. You cross a Doctor Who-meets-Game Of Thrones landscape; a sea of moss-studded lava stone with added puffs of geothermal steam. As you travel around, you’ll see giant glass houses lighting up the surroundings.
‘Vast greenhouses,’ says our taxi driver. ‘We grow tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and fruit.’ Some of this food comes into The Retreat, especially to Moss, where tasting menus and wine flights combine in one of Iceland’s finest restaurants.
Not all photography is banned; only in the spa and the lagoon parts of The Retreat. Elsewhere, members of staff will take photographs of you, with The Retreat’s own phone – as long as no one else is in the shot.
Another photo opportunity comes with the possibility of witnessing the Northern Lights – and each room has a couple of stylish plaid woollen ponchos so you can keep snug as you rush out to see them, which I did just as I left Moss in the evening. What appeared white in the sky was caught, in my phone’s slow exposure, as glorious green slashes across the sky.
Treatments take place in another private section of the Lagoon as well. Lying on a float, you’re dunked, turned and twisted by a therapist while the water and the steam surround you. It was one of the most extraordinary hours of my life.
At the end, I was left to float – Viking boat-style – and feeling as if I’d had a complete factory reset but with everything stored away on my internal memory.
Four more amazing Icelandic retreats for you to choose from
The no-frills but high-style Fosshotel Myvatn (islandshotel.is/hotels-iniceland/fosshotel-myvatn) in the north west has 92 rooms, the nicest overlooking Lake Myvatn, and a restaurant with views on to lava fields. Room-only doubles cost from £87 a night.
In the east, Seydisfjordur feels like the Iceland that visitors want to find: a collection of quaint, coloured wooden houses at the mouth of a fjord, surrounded by waterfalls and mountains. The Hotel Snaefell (hotelaldan.is/hotel-snaefell), built in 1908 and once the local post office, has real charm. Double rooms cost from £163 a night.
Near the ferocious 100ft-high Gullfoss waterfall, Torfhus Retreat (torfhus.is) opened in late 2019. It’s another place that’s all about seclusion, with just 25 turf-roofed houses, each sleeping four people.
Remote: Deplar Farm (pictured) majors on mountain-biking, mountain-climbing, fly-fishing and surfing
There are individual hot tubs hewn from basalt, plus a posh restaurant and touches of design humour, including a sofa made from an old fishing boat. B&B doubles cost from £607 a night.
Posh, all-action Deplar Farm (elevenexperience.com/deplar-farm-iceland-winter) in remotest northern Iceland majors on mountain-biking, mountain-climbing, fly-fishing and surfing; with heli-pads to help make all the action happen, plus a spa and a studio with guitars and drums for downtime.
Rooms cost from £1,370pp a night including all activities, meals and non-alcoholic drinks.