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(2023 - Winter/Spring Issue)


Steaming fumaroles dot the barren landscape all along the trail to Reykjadalur Hot Spring in southwestern Iceland. The valley’s volcanic activity makes it feel Mordor-esque like in the J.R.R. Tolkien classic, Lord of the Rings and my swim bag seems to take on the weight of Frodo’s ring (a Tolkien character) as I trek uphill for four kilometres.

After an hour, the geothermal river appears, sided by raised wooden boardwalks and partitioned changing areas. Toque-wearing bathers cluster in the warm water; segments of the creek have been partially dammed with rocks to create deeper pools for soaking. My husband and I quickly don our swimsuits and get into the piping water.

This blissful soak is more than worth the effort to get here. Not only are we tapping into one of Iceland’s geological marvels, but we’re also participating in a cultural tradition: bathing. Icelanders have been taking the waters since at least the 12th century. They seek the circulatory and anti-inflammatory health benefits of the hot mineral water along with its social perks—natural springs and public pools are places for the community to gather, connect and relax.

The best part? Hot springs hopping is just one wellness activity in the land of fire and ice.

Rejuvenate at Sky Lagoon

Like most travellers to Iceland, we began our trip in Reykjavík. We headed straight for the Sky Lagoon, a new thermal spa near downtown that’s operated by Canadian company Pursuit. The showstopper here is the 70-metre-long infinity lagoon that makes it look like you can swim right into the North Atlantic Ocean. Flute of bubbles in hand, courtesy of the swim-up bar, I stared out into the twilight and listened to the crashing waves below.

Unwinding in the lagoon’s warm waters is the first step in The Ritual, the spa’s signature seven-step wellness program. It continues with a cold plunge, cedar sauna bake, cool mist spritz, body scrub, steam room sweat and, finally, a cleansing rinse. I ended the evening with baby-soft skin and revived muscles ready to hike to the country’s natural wonders.

Chase Adventure Around the Golden Circle

The next day we began a popular driving route called the Golden Circle that passes some of the country’s impressive geological sights. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, the historic site of Iceland’s first parliament. It also marks a spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart.

This rift is responsible for the country’s geothermal activity, which we see first-hand at Geysir. Here, Strokkur geyser erupts faithfully every four to 10 minutes, spraying the crowd with sulphurous water heated from the earth.

After getting wet by accident, we sought out an intentional soaking at Hrunalaug Hot Spring.  Located on a farmer’s land, it’s a short hike to this natural pool, which has a small, turf-roofed croft adjacent to it that doubles as a change room. We soaked away the day’s cares while chatting with other bathers and watching golden hour light up the surrounding hills.

Be Awestruck bycthe Northern Lights

We based ourselves at Hotel Rangá to explore the region’s hot springs, hikes and waterfalls, including spectacular Seljalandsfoss, whose curtain of water you can hike behind. The boutique hotel is also famous for the aurora borealis, thanks to its location far from any light pollution.

We were enjoying a welcome drink in the bar when a hotel employee announced that the Northern Lights were already on display. Everyone rushed outside and saw what appeared to be a white, ghostly shroud overhead. Along its edges, the trademark green palette shimmered and danced like a solar shapeshifter. It was mesmerizing. Thrust into the moment, my mind was instantly cleared of clutter as I watched the curtain of lights swirl and change.

The next day, after hiking to Sólheimajökull Glacier and its emerald lagoon bobbing with ancient icebergs, we returned to Hotel Rangá where a geothermal hot tub was just the ticket after more active adventures in the fresh air. We watched the sky fade to pink and orange before the Northern Lights appeared after dark, as if on cue.

Now, soaking in the Reykjadalur Hot Springs on our final day in Iceland, I’m convinced the land of volcanoes and glaciers knows how to do wellness. Bracing waterfalls, invigorating hikes, warm soaks, and the dancing Northern Lights have completely topped up my tank.

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For travel ideas and inspiration, visiticeland.com

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