Nesjavellir, Iceland

Photo: ION Luxury Adventure Hotel
Photo: ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

The Golden Circle is a must-visit in Iceland. Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Geysir—really Strokkur—are three of the most-spectacular sites in the country. Since they’re right outside of Reykjavik, they’re easy to see during a day trip. But instead of rushing around the 300-kilometer loop, you should ditch the tour group and spend at least one night at new design hotel in the area.

The ION Luxury Adventure Hotel is a striking hotel. It juts out of Hengill—an active volcano. Moss-covered lava fields surround the pillars of the glass, steel, and concrete building. While Thingvellir, where Iceland first established its Parliament, is in the distance.

After spending the day in the Golden Circle, not rushing like so many others seem to be doing, you can’t control your curiosity any longer. It’s time to check out the hotel. Floor-to-ceiling windows are absolutely everywhere. A huge photographic mural, salvaged driftwood, and a sheepskin throw are set up in your bedroom. The bath products are made with Icelandic herbs. Silfra Restaurant focuses on the view and the food, of course, instead of the decor. The Northern Lights Bar stocks new Icelandic beers and spirits. Plus the Lava Spa has a gas fireplace, leather throw pillows, and a long hot tub that runs toward the mountains.

Photo: ION Luxury Adventure Hotel
Photo: ION Luxury Adventure Hotel

Since the sun won’t set until midnight right now, there’s no hurry to do everything before it gets dark. Sit in the sauna and then move outside to the hot tub. Between the volcanic rocks and the barren landscape, you feel like you’re on the moon. Sip an Einstök Toasted Porter, made just south of the Arctic Circle, at the bar. Then settle in for a feast at Silfra. Snack on traditional smoked trout with crème fraîche. Try glazed cod cheeks and a braised lamb shank. But discover that your favorite course is dessert: Skyr mousse with birch-scented sorbet.

The next morning, choose your activity based on your favorite element: earth, fire, ice, or water. Go horseback riding (earth) along a black-sand beach. Ride a methane-powered Super Jeep to Hekla (fire), the volcano once believed to be the entrance to hell. Hike into an ice cave at the Langjökull glacier (ice). Or go whitewater rafting (water) on the Hvítá River. There will be no lines, tour buses, or selfie sticks whatever you decide to do. Those are all back on the three Golden Circle sites that everyone is trying to fit into one afternoon.

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