In Touch with the Elements at Iceland’s Magical Blue Lagoon

The new luxury digs at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon offers an otherworldly respite.
Iceland’s exotic beauty at your fingertips. Lagoon photo courtesy of Giorgio Possenti

By Ray Rogers

Immersed in the hot, curative waters of Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon, surrounded by moss-covered, craterous black-lava terrain as far as the eye can see, one gets the sensation of being on another planet, in some steamy dream galaxy far away. But in reality, you couldn’t ask for a purer dose of “earthing” than a stay at The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon, which takes the back-to-nature concept to new levels.

The new 62-suite luxury resort, seamlessly built into the grounds encircling the Blue Lagoon’s mineral-rich waters, allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the elements, from the private outdoor geothermal seawater soaks to the signature treatment, the Blue Lagoon Ritual, at its deeply relaxing subterranean spa (built inside an 800-year-old lava flow, no less). 

A paradise amongst the vast Icelandic landscape. Photo courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Ritual, a three-step full-body exfoliation/masque process, incorporates nature’s bounty extracted from the surrounding geothermal waters and the earth below: silica, algae and minerals, delivered in their purest form every three to four days from the R&D Center across the road. Each has specific beneficial properties. Silica opens pores and strengthens the skin barrier function, providing that radiant glow; algae ramps up collagen production; and the salt and lava scrub stimulates circulation. Sip a refreshing house-made herbal tea while hitting the trio of scrubbing and applying stations, and marvel at the results after. The pièce de résistance: the algae oil—referred to as “the fountain of youth” by Ása Brynjolfsdottir, the head of R&D at the Blue Lagoon—given to me by a spa attendant to apply after the trifecta. “Due to the extreme conditions of the lagoon—it’s a very hot environment for an organism to live in—it produces a very special algae,” notes Brynjolfsdottir. Beauty aficionados will love it. 

But for me, nothing trumps the wellness ritual of simply floating outdoors in the magical blue waters of the lagoon. The water itself is healing—scientifically proven to help those with psoriasis (and adult acne/eczema), the Blue Lagoon since 2016 has offered free treatment to Icelanders who suffer from the condition. Beyond that, it’s simply a mind-blowingly beautiful experience. So much so that the first time I came to Iceland for a long weekend in Reykjavik many years ago, I fell under the spell of the Blue Lagoon, returning not once but twice over the course of four nights. 

Views from the Moss Junior Suite. Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland
A private oasis outside your bedroom window. Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

This time around I stayed right on site, at The Retreat, and I found it almost impossible to leave. The epitome of understated chic, the serene lodging features tasteful furnishings from B & B Italia mixed with Icelandic pieces, and employs soothing human-centric lighting, which both preserves the natural light and creates artificial light that mirrors the dawn-to-dusk lighting of the sun—a boon in a country where the sun only shines for five hours a day in mid-winter.

My room, with floor-to-ceiling views of a stream of cerulean water below and moss-covered lava fields with smoke rising here and there out of craters, was a marvel of comfort for the senses—not the least of which was the bed, which gave the simultaneous feeling of floating and being cradled, much like being in the lagoon for an in-water massage. As for that massive, freestanding soaking tub in my room, the Halo from Blu Bathworks, I would’ve died for it anywhere else. But my water immersion time was spent squarely on the blue waters outside my door. The Retreat has its own semi-private section of the lagoon (three suites even have their very own personal lagoon pools). There’s nothing quite like a late-night float under the stars, steam rising up from the waters, without another soul in sight.

Explore unique wellness rituals in the subterranean spa. Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

If you also like to be among the people, as I do, the main area of the lagoon is easily reachable, and certainly worthy of experiencing. I loved hearing the sounds of laughter from groups of friends and families, the mix of Irish brogues and Japanese accents of folks who’ve traveled long and short distances to luxuriate in these waters, faces caked dry with white silica mud, before rinsing off to unveil new, dewy, glowing visages. 

For those so inclined to leave the premises, there is magic and adventure in close proximity, by land and air. If you’ve never explored the dramatic vistas of the Icelandic landscapes, you really must. If you’re feeling sporty, take an ATV journey over the rugged terrain of the Reykjanes Geopark, courtesy of 4×4 Adventures. Don a padded jumpsuit and clutch the handlebars as you navigate nearby mountain trails and black-lava sandy beaches. 

No, you won’t emerge looking decades younger, like a character out of the movie “Cocoon,” but you will feel revived and relaxed like never before. Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

For a more pampered (and less bumpy) approach, a helicopter tour can be arranged from the helipad just steps away from The Retreat via HELO Helicopter Service of Iceland. The view of the Blue Lagoon from above is every bit as dazzling. On the hour-long trip I took, the pilot was named, no joke, Hawk—Haukur in Icelandic—an amiable if daredevilish shepherd, dipping and soaring over the volcanic terrain, touching down by steep cliffside waterfalls for Influencer-ready Instagram shots. (I sat next to a budding social media darling on the helicopter, a perfectly perky young woman from LA with flawless skin—she clearly spent some time indulging in “The Ritual” before takeoff—and lived in momentary fear as she captured “the jump” shot inches from the cliff’s edge.)

Any season is a great time to take in the stunning landscapes of Iceland, but why not book a trip in early November, when the Iceland Airwaves music festival takes over downtown Reykjavik between Nov. 6-9, and bookend it with a stay at The Retreat? More than 130 bands from 20 countries across the globe will be at this year’s festival. Befitting the progressive culture in Iceland, the festival has achieved 50/50 gender parity in its lineup for the second year in a row. That’s something worth raising a glass to. But music fans, a word of advice: Don’t geek out, as I did, when you see a Björk liqueur on the menu. The word means “birch” in Icelandic, and it has a sweet, somewhat syrupy quality, nothing at all like the creative dynamo who shares its name.

Nordic cuisine reimagined at Moss Restaurant. Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon dazzles under the finite winter sunlight. Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

Back at The Retreat in time for afternoon tea—green juice for me—and another quick dip in the buoyant waters before dinner at Moss, the Michelin-recommended, Nordic-chic restaurant. Here, the artful plating of a seven-course tasting menu of inventive local cuisine (such as a flavorful barley cake with rutabaga and tartly pickled apples) is a thing to behold unto itself. The smoke rising up out of a wooden dish containing a medley of root vegetables in a bed of lava stone and pine needle garnishes mirrors the steam heat wafting above the glorious waters outside the restaurant windows. And with that, I couldn’t help myself: I skipped the nightcap in favor of one last heavenly dunk under the stars.