For many, a trip to Iceland is nothing more than a two- or three-day stopover in Reykjavik for a small but memorable sampling of an emerging hot spot.
For those in the know, however, Iceland is a big and beautiful place, and to truly understand the grandeur of glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, and the Northern Lights, one must venture away from the city. While there are indeed many options for serious isolation, one of the most spectacular lodges for upscale adventure is Hotel Rangá. Recently designated a Small Luxury Hotel of the World, it is just a short hour from Reykjavik.
Yes, this is the place for stargazing and exposure to the Northern Lights. This celebrated four-star hotel understands why travelers flock here, and it takes its responsibility seriously. Upon entering, you’ll see dozens of onesies hanging near the entrance. They’re on hand so that guests can hop out of bed without fuss and plop into an outdoor gazing lounger. Rangá offers a complimentary Northern Lights “alert” service — no matter the time of night — that the lights are shimmering.
That’s just one reason why the elite are seeking out this option for adventure. Another? Authenticity. The resort is built in log-cabin style and through the years has acquired a reputation for its gourmet food, accommodations, and service. In addition to being a celebrity hot spot, it serves as a perfect “wow” destination for weddings, honeymoons, or a jumping-off spot for attractions such as the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, the Golden Circle route, and the Glacier Lagoon (Jökulsárlón).
First thing’s first: request one of the exclusive suites, each themed and designed after one of the seven continents. In addition to luxury appointments, the décor is perfectly described by the hotel itself as “a world apart.”
While Rangá amenities are superb across the board, its trump card is its location. It’s the perfect home base to explore the Icelandic highlands, glaciers, volcanoes, black sand beaches, fishing villages, magnificent waterfalls, and hot springs.
Not to be missed is a Golden Circle tour. It can be customized by Rangá to your timeframe and interests, but be sure to plan at least a full day so you can take in the spectacular Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the famous Gullfoss waterfall.
Along the way, be sure to make a pit stop at the incomparable Fridheimar Farm where many of Iceland’s tomatoes are grown in greenhouses as far as the eye can see. The onsite restaurant features all things tomato. Everything is outstanding: from Bloody Marys to Fridheimar tomato soup, this destination is an absolute must.
After a couple of Bloodies, you’ll be ready to return to Rangá to take in a soak before dinner.
And later, if you’re fortunate enough to get the call, you’ll take in an unobstructed view of the Northern Lights.
Social Life Extra: KARL JOHANN UNNARSSON – THE HEAD CHEF AT HOTEL RANGÁ
More and more, Iceland is becoming a destination for foodies. One explanation for the appeal is that most chefs prefer an uncomplicated but decidedly original approach to preparing traditional Icelandic fare. Karl Johann Unnarsson, the head chef at Hotel Rangá, was born and raised on a farm in south Iceland, from where he derives inspiration. “I know it was the nature and the closeness to the farm and the animals that got me interested in cooking,” he says. Having trained in Copenhagen, Unnarsson is now making waves at one of the most remote — and delectable — restaurants in the world.
In what way does the restaurant uphold a modern Nordic philosophy?
Local, fresh ingredients and clean cooking. I mix fermenting, smoking, and curing — an Icelandic tradition of following the season — with modern techniques.
What is the one dish, or local specialty that a visitor should never miss?
Puffin would be in first place as it is very Icelandic and hard to find anywhere else in the world.
What one restaurant are you dying to visit?
Eleven Madison Park is still my number one — I’ve been three times. I want to try Alinea in Chicago next.