Europe Cozy, quirky charm at Iceland's Hotel Ranga By Felicity Long / March 23, 2017 Share 1 The Hotel Ranga’s remote setting improves the chances of catching a glimpse of the northern lights. -- "Does the hotel have a helipad?" I asked as we hovered over the Hotel Ranga, a boutique luxury hotel about 60 miles southeast of Reykjavik. We had just spent an hour or so flightseeing over the frozen glaciers of southern Iceland, looking at waterfalls, hot springs, isolated farms and sun-dappled rivers with Nordurflug, a helicopter company based in Reykjavik.Our pilot laughed. "Iceland is a landing pad," he replied, and indeed, all I could see below me was an expanse of white around the hotel, which comprises a low-lying series of buildings that look, from a distance, to be made of Lincoln Logs.As we touched down near the hotel's entrance, the owner, Fridrik Palsson, drove the short distance to meet us and transport our baggage from the helicopter to the lobby. It quickly became apparent that the 51-room property, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is posh Icelandic style, with a rustic elegance that seems to heighten, rather than overshadow, its surroundings.The Hotel Ranga’s lobby bar features stools made to look like women’s lower bodies. It's also quirky. A 10-foot-tall stuffed polar bear is the first thing you see entering the lobby, and it's the rare guest who can resist a selfie with him. Wooden bar stools in the lobby lounge are fashioned to look like women's skirts, legs and heels — it's more charming than it sounds — and the walls, ceilings, in fact, just about everything, are made of burnished wood. Think the inside of a cigar box and you get the idea.That said, the low-key look is deliberate. Yes, the suites are elegant enough to have enticed Kanye West and Kim Kardashian for a much-publicized stay last year, the dining is gourmet and the wine list is extensive, but families with children would be just as comfortable roaming the halls and suiting up for a day of adventure.The real stars are the surrounding vast and dramatic countryside; the Ytri-Ranga River, popular for its abundance of salmon; views of the Mount Hekla volcano; the outdoor hot tubs heated with geothermal water; and, most importantly, the northern lights, best seen from November through April.Hanging in the lobby are dozens of protective suits that guests can borrow for impromptu stargazing, and the hotel has its own astronomical observatory on property where they can look at the night sky through two 11-inch telescopes and learn about the constellations from a local astronomer, who weaves scientific explanations of stars and planets with mythological Icelandic tales of how they were formed.Of course, no one can promise that guests will see the northern lights, but because of the property's remote location, they have a better chance than they would in the more heavily populated Reykjavik, for example. During our three-night stay, we saw them every night. Activities in the daytime are also a big part of the hotel's appeal. Although guests can arrange activities on their own, we spent our days with Bjorg Arnadottir, the ebullient CEO of Midgard Adventure, and her enthusiastic guides, all local farmers.The hotel chose Midgard for our stay because of the insider experiences the guides offer that go beyond the usual touristy sites visitors typically flock to in Iceland.Our adventures included a mix of touring in a tricked-out monster Jeep — necessary to ford the glacial rivers that wend willy-nilly through the countryside — walking with crampons on icy steps at the Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui waterfalls, snowmobiling at the Myrdalsjokull glacier and literally jumping up and down on the bouncy black sand beaches near Vik.Along the way, we were regaled with stories of elves (everyone we met in Iceland has an elf story), trolls and ghosts, which, thanks to the eerie countryside, began to seem more believable with every passing day.The hotel’s Royal Suite, which overlooks Mount Hekla and the Ranga River. We visited the Eyjafjallajokull visitors center, where we saw a film evocative of the grit locals displayed during and after the famous eruption in 2010 that closed European airports and caused flooding in the region.We stopped for a rustic lunch at the charming Volcano Hut in Husadalur valley, along a popular hiking route, where we were treated to the rare sight of two arctic foxes, one dark and one white.Because our driver seemed to know everyone in the region, he was able to secure permission for us to picnic at a picturesque sheep house at Drangshlio, built directly into the craggy rock face. On the way back to the hotel, our driver pulled over by the side of the road seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The only break in the expanse of white was a narrow opening into what appeared to be a shallow cave."Um, we're good," we all said, shrinking back into our seats and looking anxiously at the opening, envisioning a claustrophobic crawl into its dank exterior.With a smile, Arnadottir urged us out of the Jeep and into the cave, which turned out to be tall enough to stand up in and to contain a roaring fire; a natural skylight; seating draped with white fur; refreshments, including hot chocolate with whipped cream and fish jerky; and most astonishingly, a bearded man in an Icelandic sweater playing the accordion. Even more astonishingly, our driver burst into song, entertaining us with an ancient, tearful number about seafaring men lost at sea.Although it would seem difficult to top that experience, Palsson, the hotel owner, seemed to take that as a challenge, for another night he invited us to the nearby Saga Center history museum, where we were invited to add a few stitches to a beautiful, huge tapestry that tells a medieval saga, reminiscent of the famous tapestry in Bayeux, France. We were then plied with Champagne, outfitted with Icelandic capes and vests and led into a long, darkened hall, a replica of a Viking house, where Palsson admonished us to look neither left nor right but to just take a seat at the long dining table in the center, lit only by candles.Once seated, two long rows of men, all in trademark Icelandic sweaters who were flanking the room in the dark, stood and began to sing in well-practiced choral harmony. Goose bumps doesn't begin to describe it.The Hotel Ranga accommodations include seven themed suites, decorated after each of the seven continents, including the Royal suite, which overlooks Mount Hekla and the Ranga River. Rates for a master suite range from about $885 per night to $1,265 depending on the season. See www.hotelranga.is.