For the past decade, travel to Iceland has meant sleeping in an unremarkable Reykjavik hotel and day-tripping to the Golden Circle, that 186-mile circuit of waterfalls and geysers outside of town, and then capping your trip with a predeparture soak in the Blue Lagoon in Grindavfk before heading back to the airport in Keflavik.
All done alongside everyone else stopping over between the U.S. and Europe.
But newly opened luxury-design lodges—ION Adventure Hotel, Deplar Farm (pictured), and the Retreat at the Blue Lagoon Iceland—are restoring the fantasy of an Icelandic lunar frontier worthy of exploration beyond a weekend.
You could helicopter between properties, but consider going by car, driving from Reykjavik up to the Trollaskagi peninsula in the more rugged north, then looping backdown to the Blue Lagoon.
If you spread out the 568-mile drive over four or five days, spending a night or two at each hotel, you’ll have time to take in the haunting volcanic fields, fjords, and vast plains reminiscent of Scotland.
Out here, you’ll see more feral horses than people.
Once you land, you don’t have to drive too far to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. The concrete-and-glass ION Adventure Hotel in Nesjavellir is just 40 minutes from Reykjavik but seems a world away.
Close to Thingvellir National Park, it has an outdoor hot tub that looks out onto moss-covered lava fields.
There is no artificial light and no noise of any kind (you won’t even hear a bird chirp, since just a few trees grow in the volcanic soil).
The only break from the silence is the gentle hiss of geothermal steam escaping the natural hot springs.
It’s particularly spectacular during a soak at dusk, in the fading northern sunlight (and even more surreal when you consider you were at JFK a mere seven hours prior).
From here, continue north to Fljot Valley’s Deplar Farm for two nights.
Route 1 cuts through mile after mile of grassland, but the only traffic you’ll encounter is packs of wild Icelandic horses galloping next to your car.
The drive to Deplar Farm is nearly five hours, so plan to stop at Reykholt, a two-steeple town about one hour in, for lunch at Fridheimar farm (they make a hearty tomato soup), and the mighty Hraunfossar, a series of turquoise waterfalls, big and small, streaming out of lava fields, just 15 minutes east of Reykholt.
You’ll know you’ve hit the Trollaskagi peninsula when the flat grasslands morph into jagged mountains and fjords cut into glacial valleys, the result of many millennia of tectonic grind.
The 18-month-old Deplar Farm, from Colorado’s Eleven Experience, is nearly invisible in the landscape thanks to its low-slung grassy roof topping a converted sheep station.
With its fireside dinners of local sous vide lamb; thermal baths where aperitifs are served as you soak; and saltwater flotation tanks for meditation, Deplar seems to trade in bragging rights.
That it’s the only truly luxury property on the peninsula from which you can surf the thrashing, gray Arctic and heli-ski down cliffs that plunge into the sea makes it an ideal base camp for explorers.
A nighttime dip at nearby Hofsos, an electric-blue thermal pool carved into a mountain above the Skagafjordur fjord, maybe the real clincher, as the neon Northern Lights spill like laser-green ink across the eternal black sides.
For the drive back south, take Route 1 toward Keflavik airport, past the mighty geyser of the Golden Circle, to the sleek Retreat at the Blue Lagoon Iceland, which opens in late winter on a private inlet of the Blue Lagoon (if you’re going sooner, the modern minimalist Silica Hotel is within walking distance and has a guests-only soaking pool).
At this property, rooms have terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows, and those on the ground floor have direct access to the lagoon, which means you can spend your last night soaking up, and in, the silence.