Peace & Warmth at Hotel Ranga, Iceland
My journey to Iceland was for professional reasons, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find time to explore and enjoy where we travel; life is too short to not take advantage of every second. Before leaving Marseilles, France, for my first Icelandic experience, I was invited by Hotel Rangá, near the Golden Circle, to stay one night at their four-star hotel. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to discover the countryside, and the reality of this entire adventure turned out much better than my pre-travel dreams.
It was March 2017 and I went to Iceland to write a features on designMarch, a yearly event that takes place in Reykjavik. I’d also planned to put together a piece for our In Time collection, which offers several interviews with designers and architects in a specific place, at a specific time. Every day offered me unique moments and reasons for reflection. Only a few days in the city and I had already had the chance to experience an abundance of sunshine, rain, hail and snow. A guide from Pink Iceland provided a tour of the city and pointed out the main attractions, such as the Harpa, built by Henning Larsen Architects & Batteriid Architects.
Photo courtesy of Harpa
As I stared at the building’s beautiful facade, whose blue shimmer recalls glaciers and icebergs, our guide explained its architectural phenomenon: a two-layered structure in which the exterior top could act like the lid of a pastry stand.
It looked incredible, and sounded delicious. I’d previously gone to the Harpa for a full day of conferences that kickstarted the design event so I already knew how fantastic it was. Our nice guide led us around the city under a rain that fell faster and faster until we ended up rushing into a delightful café book store. We, a group of ten, spent the rest of our time in the café getting to know one another. Later in the evening the rain ceased and I continued on to a talk between designers Inga Sempé (French) and Sigríður Sigurjónsdóttir (Icelandic).
The next day I rented a car so that I could get to Hotel Ranga easily. It was the best option and the price was reasonable. Since I’d planned on leaving early in the morning, I picked up the car from Hertz the night before my departure. No rest for the weary, I refused to waste a second of my time in this amazing country. The night was young, so I researched online for a quaint restaurant where I could have dinner along the southern coast. Route 34 crosses over the Ölfusá river like a bridge, except it’s strictly a long, thin stretch of land. It looked fun to me. I’m one of the biggest fans of all bodies of water and while I also love the mountains, I’d sooner choose to be close to the sea or a lake. During this trip I got to see almost everything, including the mountains and the most incredible lake I’ve ever seen.
I got in my rented car and headed towards route 34. I planned on dining at Hafið Bláa, a restaurant situated at the center of my alleged “bridge”.The GPS read it would only take me half an hour from Reykjavik, and only one way to actually get there: Route 1, to 39, to 38, to 34. It sounds like a lot is involved, when really it’s the most simple avenue ever. What a breath-taking path to get there. I went through the mountains where snow covered the land and the air contained a thick snow-like layer of gray. The wind was high and it moved my car around quite a bit. The worst was, of course, when I got closer to the restaurant. The wind hit harder there because of the location between the ocean and the river. By the time I got to the restaurant, a silence of inspiration and amazement had taken over my soul. Only one other car took up residence in the parking lot, so I parked next to them.
I fought against the extreme wind with a smile and entered Hafið Bláa, where I saw a small family seated near the windows. A lovely blonde German girl came to greet me, then she ushered me to a table on the other side of the restaurant from the small family. I, too, sat near windows. All sides of the restaurant, excluding the entrance facade, have window after window so that guests can absorb the one aspect of Iceland they came to see: natural wonders.
Although the meal didn’t satisfy my culinary desires, the calm environment of the restaurant with stunning views of its surroundings made my dining experience one of the best. It filled my evening with the right touch of peace and warmth, which would become the theme of my whole journey.
I went back to the city, to my Airbnb apartment, where I ran into my host Jakob. He asked me if I’d go out to party that night, like he’d asked every night during my stay. It wouldn’t be until recently that I’d learn how Reykjavik is party centered. I opted to stay in and continue a documentary I’d started called The Truth About Cancer. Every night during my trip I watched the episode that Ty put available online.
The next morning I felt nostalgic, probably because I’d gotten used to Jakob and his cat, not to mention the big punching-bag dummy that stands near the bathroom door that nearly gave me a heart attack the first night. Though I’d be coming back to the city for my last night in Iceland, I wouldn’t stay with Jakob.
I packed my things and left in the small car I’d rented. The GPS had me on route 1 again, but this time I’d stay on route 1 until reaching my destination, located an hour and 15 minutes from the city. Hotel Rangá is the only four star hotel in South Iceland and the highest starred hotel near the Golden Circle. All around the hotel are amazing sites to explore: glaciers, the Westman Islands, Mount Hekla volcano and the black beach.
Since I’d arrived at the hotel in the morning, I got myself comfortable in the room and headed back to the receptionist who introduced me to Fridrik Pálsson, the owner of the hotel, and the astronomer Sævar Helgi Bragason who’s in charge of leading the stargazing on evenings when the sky is clear. Today, though, the thick gray sky gave little hope for a bright evening.
I had the chance to interview the astronomer and near the end of the interview, a bit of blue shot through slits in the gray clouds. We looked at each other with a similar excitement of “maybe, just maybe.” Later, I went back to the car for a drive to the Black Beach restaurant. As I drove, the sky cleared little by little and by the time I made it to the black beach, the sky was nearly all blue. At the beach I succeeded in taking several fantastic shots of the sea, the landscape and the restaurant, where I ate the saltiest burger of all time.
As the editor in chief for ArchiExpo e-Magazine, I’d learned that Hotel Rangá uses geothermal water for its heating system and all the electricity in the hotel comes from a renewable hydroelectric energy source. Fridrik Pálsson takes humbled pride in the fact that at his hotel they sort and recycle all consumable waste, and all cleaning and hygiene products carry either the Nordic Ecolabel or the EU Ecolabel.
Here’s an interview with Fridrik Pálsson in The Report Company in which he said, “My experience from working in the fishing industry taught me that there is nothing as important as the sustainability of your fish stocks. In a way you can say the same about your customers. As long as you understand their needs and constantly aim at giving them a first-class service, they will hopefully appreciate your work and become repeat customers.”
As I said earlier, I also had the pleasure of meeting him during my stay, so did most of all his other guests. He seems to always be there, talking to guests or performing tasks. He’s very involved, and that’s great. He even did the dining service along with the other servers, presenting special dishes to guests and explaining all about the meal and the chef behind its artistic delight.
Call me ignorant, but I didn’t know what a puffin was or what it looked like. Fridrik explained to me that a puffin is an icelandic bird, so that much became clear. I occasionally eat chicken and other types of poultry, but always with no remorse. However, after marveling over a plate of smoked puffin, I later went to the receptionist to purchase a few postcards and saw the photo of a puffin on one of them. It’s the most beautiful bird I’ve ever seen, and suddenly I felt rather sad to have eaten one. Poor puffin.
Still the restaurant experience at the hotel, with its incredible views and ever-so-tasty dishes, makes it an ideal destination for travelers. After a day of wandering around the glaciers, beaches and mountains, comfortably settling into the hotel and dining in their luxurious restaurant will offer any guest a sense of rest and appreciation.
Fridrik wanted me to try nearly everything and when he told me that he’d have the head chef work up something for me, I thought he meant he’d have the chef put together an assortment of different dishes they offer. I was wrong. He served me several starters and entrées, all deliciously prepared by their head chef Karl Jóhann Unnarsson and his team, including creative and skilled chefs such as Sous Chef Bragi Þór Hanson.
I learned they create seasonal dishes, and honestly not one dish made me think of something I’d already had previously. It was all fantastic: cured salmon with trout roe and dill oil, smoked puffin with beer bread and pickled beetroot, cured goose with Icelandic Cheddar cheese and wild lamb with mushroom puree and redcurrant glaze.
So I wasn’t surprised when I heard the hotel, now a member of Great Hotels of the World, receives a number of celebrities. It’s log-cabin style architecture mingles beautifully with its surroundings, including the Rangá river. They even have two outdoor saunas overlooking the river. You can easily let yourself slip away into a new world, so far and foreign to the one in which you live daily.
I also learned about the seven suites, themed to suit the world’s continents, in an article on iescape which rated the hotel 9/10, but never had the chance to tour them. The hotel has a total of 51 rooms and suites. It would have been impossible to tour the rooms since the hotel had a high occupancy the evening of my stay. However, I had the most fantastic night with some of the other guests stargazing at the hotel’s observatory. Ever since the interview with Sævar Helgi Bragason, I’d hoped for a starry night. I was so excited that the evening cleared up for us. That night Sævar Helgi Bragason educated us on everything found in the clear sky. Believe it or not, because I’m not a photographer and didn’t catch a proper photo, I even saw the Northern lights. What luck!
Sævar Helgi Bragason has already published a few books, and he has several others on his mind to write, one being “How Do We Know That?” This will explain how we know all of the facts written in science books usually published with no background description. Instead of believing a fact on a whim or out of too much blind trust, we’ll learn how the fact was found and proven. Although, he did say, “The universe might come out of nothing and we don’t have to understand it.” I love that.
Click on Souldcloud Image to listen to the exclusive interview
As an exemplary country whose many traits provide a guideline for successful living, Iceland touches the hearts and souls of those who visit. Here we learn how to construct in the most eco-friendly way. We rediscover a well-rooted love for nature at its finest and suddenly become very, very small. It’s as though we no longer hold as much importance as we seem to in our daily lives, in our society. We go through our lives as if our tasks are so utterly important that without us “things” couldn’t carry on; the individual self being so substantial. In Iceland, surrounded by such wild land, mostly untouched by the human hand, all of that pretentious importance melts away and we’re left raw to the core.
Before leaving the hotel, the receptionist booked me a two-hour horseback ride near Hella. The morning sun shone, yet the air iced over the fields. I would still go. I arrived rather early at the farm Hestheimar and was offered coffee. We had to wait for a family who’d be coming along, so I drank two coffees to warm my blood.
Icelandic horses are all rather small, but so sweet, and here at Hestheimar there was no exception. Hestheimar is a family-owned guest house and horse farm run by Lea Helga Ólafsdóttir, her husband Marteinn Hjaltested with their three children, Ísak Freyr, Sunneva Eik and Hákon Snær.
I admit that after only half an hour riding, we were all ready to return to the barn. It was freezing. Last I felt that cold while riding, I was 12 years old. At that time I stayed outside riding for hours without complaining, then would press my little hands against the heater of my mom’s car, feel the extreme pain of a thawing effect and think, “awesome.” Here in Iceland I felt 12 again. All of us were thinking the same thing, “My God I’ve never been so frozen. I might die today,” but none of us said anything. The kids didn’t complain, we didn’t either. We were still thrilled to reach the barn at the end of our ride.
I left the horses behind and headed back towards Reykjavik. West of Hotel Rangá and in the Golden Circle, the ION hotel also boasts of an architecture and services that are sustainable and eco-friendly. The ION hotel won the 2014 World Boutique Hotel Award for Europe’s best sustainable boutique hotel, among many other awards. This hotel is located near the Þingvallavatn lake where I fell completely in love, with the lake and then the hotel, and just recently the owner had a new ION hotel built in the city center of Reykjavik. It’s also worth a visit.
I could talk to you about the lake and how I ended up off-roading in my little rented car; how my journey took me into mountainous terrain where the snow had built up so much that I couldn’t turn onto the road indicated by the GPS because it was blocked off, so I just kept going straight. I could tell you that when I finally made it back to Reykjavik the only thing I really wanted to do was return to the organic juice shop where, when I did, I saw the same woman who made my juice the other days I’d come. She spent so much time talking and listening to me; I told her about the documentary on cancer and that I’m finally back to understanding what organic even means. This emotional and sincere moment, though, of when she asked me if I myself was suffering from cancer and her tender expression that nearly made me break down into tears, could be misunderstood and that would make me sad.
I wish you a wonderful experience in Iceland and, as we each have our own, I look forward to reading about it.
The Luxe By CTW highly recommends a stay at the Hotel Ranga in Iceland. Book your next trip through their website
Photos courtesy of Erin Tallman and Hotel Ranga