"Did you know that John Glenn visited here to get a feel for walking on the moon?" asked Johann Helgi Gislason, a member of the host team at the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland, as he gave me the welcome tour.
Looking out at the lunarscape outside the walls of windows that adorn the property, I could easily believe it. Despite being bleary-eyed after my direct overnight Icelandair flight from New York, I was struck by the otherworldly look of the lava fields that surround the property.
I'd visited the famous Blue Lagoon before, located about 14 miles from Keflavik Airport, and experienced the wonders of the public lagoon area, but the 62-room Retreat takes that experience to another level.
Nestled close to the ground and with exclusive access to private areas of the lagoon, the boutique property puts relaxation and self-care front and center, with a hefty dose of sustainability and environmental friendliness on the side.
But while the hotel is over-the-top posh, it exudes a relaxed vibe (picture guests wandering the halls in their robes and spa slippers).
Breakfast is in the lobby lounge, where you just show up and waitstaff with perfect English instantly appear, offering buffet and a la carte options -- all complimentary for guests. Ditto complimentary afternoon coffee (a Nordic tradition, although tea and cocoa are also available), complete with tiered plates of pastries and savory snacks.
The main attraction at the Retreat, however, is the 13,500-square-foot subterranean spa, built in and among the lava formations and offering access to both the private and public geothermal lagoon areas.
For my first foray, I made a beeline for one of the private lagoon areas to soak in the warm, blue water. I then made my way to the Blue Lagoon Ritual area, where spa staff guide you through steps aimed at making the best use of the healing properties of the geothermal feature.
The subterranean spa at the Retreat. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland
Going gaga for the goo
If you've ever seen images of people at the Blue Lagoon smiling with white glop on their faces, this is the famous silica that people swear by for revitalizing the skin. At the public lagoon, visitors scoop it out of buckets and slather it on, but at the Retreat, the mud is more elegantly applied in a grotto-like setting, with relaxation areas where you can wait while the goo works its magic.
Applications of algae and minerals follow, some of which are purported to bestow medicinal as well as cosmetic benefits. Post-treatment rooms range from cozy nooks with fireplaces and lounge chairs to hanging-basket seats in the Nest, where I often found myself swinging in a spa-induced coma, gazing transfixed at the steaming blue water.
I also opted for the Retreat's newest spa offering, a float therapy treatment where you don a helmet and floatation pads for your knees that allow you to bob easily on the water while a therapist alternately moves you around in the water and offers a light massage.
For guests who want an even more exclusive spa experience or for families with young children who wouldn't normally be allowed in the lagoon, there is a rentable Lava Cove day suite that accommodates up to six, offers butler service, in-room treatments and access to its own private lagoon.
Other features at the property include daily group yoga and a fitness center as well as a library with a fireplace and honor bar. The concierge can arrange off-property excursions, like guided tours of the Reykjanes Peninsula in a chauffeur-driven sedan, a private helicopter or an ATV.
There also is a Terrace from where guests, who can opt to be woken, may view the northern lights, should they appear.
There are six suite categories at the Retreat, all with private terraces and heated floors. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland
Room with a view -- and much more
I don't usually spend a lot of time in a hotel guestroom, no matter how posh, but I did in this case, mostly because of the view of the lava fields punctuated by a stream of iridescent blue lagoon water, the massive bathtub offering the same view, the spa-centric skin care amenities and the generous minibar with complimentary beverages.
There was what Gislason referred to as a forest in the distance, although what I saw -- and only with my glasses on -- was more like a Christmas tree farm. That said, there are walking paths to the trees for those who want a little solid-ground activity.
Be aware that the guestrooms do not have TVs, a decision that property developers did not take lightly, but which adds to the charm.
As to dining at the property, bring your inner foodie. I had lunch at the Spa Restaurant, where I tucked into a massive platter of king crab legs while watching guests imbibe Champagne and smoothies at the swim-up bar.
One night we ate at the Lava Restaurant, where local ingredients like fresh fish and beef took center stage in a bistro atmosphere. The last night, however, we were treated to a dining extravaganza at the Michelin-recommended Moss Restaurant -- part of a new Guest Chef and Wine Pairing series -- spearheaded by chef Aggi Sverrisson and accompanied by guest vintner John Schwartz from the Amuse Bouche winery in Napa, who plied us with vintages from his winery.
The property's master sommelier, Clement Robert, is on hand for guests who want to enjoy a similar multicourse Chef's Table experience, and be prepared for not only beautiful menu options -- including vegan dishes -- but also eye-popping presentations.
There are six suite categories, all with private terraces and heated floors, and rates start at $1,260 for a 431-square-foot Lava View Junior Suite; the rate for the 754-square-foot, two-bedroom Blue Lagoon Suite is available on request.