Adventure Travel

Hip, Hot and Homey: Eco Aventures in Iceland

By Ryan Strauss

The name of the country may sound cold, but Iceland is super hot right now. Not just in terms of being a hip destination for cultural adventuralists and outdoor enthusiasts, but in terms of being full of heat–geothermal heat, that is. In fact, the whole nation probably has the smallest per capital carbon footprint of all the developed nations because of it: almost all the energy in the country is generated from a geo-thermal power plant, including all the power used in the hotel I stayed in, the simplistic and cool Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura Hotel in Iceland.

The clean, modernist design seems somehow suited to the eco-friendliness of this spa-hotel–Scandanavian styled furnishings are sourced from local materials; the hotel has a strict recycling program in place for all its waste; the indoor pool (the only one in all the hotels of Iceland, apparently) uses no chemicals and is sourced from thermal waters, and the spa, featuring a sauna, steam room, gym and relaxing area with fireplace, only uses organic products (by the brand Solely Organics). Reykjavik Natura is part of a chain of 8 Icelandair hotels, all of which are fully dedicated to going green by 2016, but Natura’s commitment gained it ISO 40001 eco-certification in 2012.

My host here, the kind and energetic Gulli, was eager to share a bit of Icelandic culture with me. He informed me that the house theatre of the hotel would host a documentary called Amazing Iceland at 7 in German and 8pm in English, and then an Icelandic movie called was showing there afterwards. On Thursdays, the country’s folkloric heritage was kept alive through storytelling in the late evenings. To best get to know his nation, though, Guille suggested I go  on the Golden Circle Fontana tour the day after I arrived. Curious to see the ecological delights of this northern land, I eagerly agreed.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, our small group drove for 90 minutes to see a family run greenhouse which runs year round and produces organic tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, lettuce, herbs, strawberries and fresh cut flowers. I knew that ‘organic’ means no pesticides, but what I didn’t know was that a ‘good fly/bad fly’ system was used here to combat bugs: benign flies are introduced to the greenhouses, and eat  the flies that damage plants. Two boxes of honey bees are ordered every week, in order to ensure all the plants are properly pollinated.

Sated after a delicous and organic lunch, it was time to see Iceland’s famous geysers. The most famous of these, called Strokkur, erupts every 8-10 minutes, throwing a column of water and steam to a height of 20 metres or so. This is an unforgettable sight, and it really does go off like clockwork. It’s amazing to see the power of the Earth first hand like this, and to further understand it, there is a multimedia exhibition on earthquakes and geysers in Iceland here to explain more about this phenomenon.

Our next stop was the Fontana Geo-Thermal Bath. The baths are centuries old, but in 1929 by some workers nearby who wanted a bath to themselves built a construction around the water. This gradually fell apart until 2007, when  locals banded together with a few big companies to revitalize it. The result is a clean, attractive building housing three steam rooms, collectively called GUFAN, built over a natural spring. The temperature of the waters varies from about 40-50 Celsius, and although it seems too hot to handle, you really do quickly get used to it. Listening to the mineral rich water gurgling below as you lounge in the biggest natural ‘Jacuzzi’  imagineable is a truly relaxing experience, but if you prefer something cooler, there are two other pool options, the ‘coolest’ one being 32 degrees, surprisingly refreshing.  For drier options, a Finnish style sauna next door ensures every single toxin in your bloodstream will be steamed or heated out before you leave this place.

It’s not just the water that’s baking hot, incidentally–the sands around the waters are too. Hot enough to cook bread in, as a matter of fact, and that’s exactly  what the locals do. Dough is placed in a plastic bag, which is buried in the sand for 24 hours or so, then it’s unearthed and eaten, still steaming with melting butter. This is a truly unique bread,  deliciously earthy and chewy: the minerals from the surrounding soil seep in a bit, making it healthy as well.

Returning to the hotel after an active day immersed in nature, it was wonderful to throw my body down in front of the lobby fireplace and sip a cup of hot chocolate whilst catching up with family on Skype. Iceland may sound like a cold, distant place, but a trip here is guaranteed to leave you feeling warm all over.

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