Iceland isn’t exactly a hot spot for gourmands, but The Retreat at Blue Lagoon is helping to change that.
The elegant all-suite hotel, which opened on a private inlet of the UNESCO Global Geopark in 2018, recently launched a new culinary series at its fine-dining restaurant Moss. I was invited to a dinner spotlighting top-tier Burgundy producer Bonneau du Martray in mid-February that proved Icelandic cuisine could become as much of a driving factor for tourism as the country’s prevalent natural beauty. There are three more events scheduled for this year if you want to put that theory to the test.
Executing high-end fare in Iceland is no easy feat, either. The island’s harsh climate means that restaurants have to be extra inventive when it comes to produce. Ingi Friðriksson, who was the executive chef at Moss before becoming Blue Lagoon’s food and beverage director, discusses the provenance of the ingredients at the five-course dinner with a sense of pride, and it’s not long before I see why. The Icelandic wasabi that accompanies the tuna, for example, packs a heat that pairs perfectly with the 2018 Corton Charlemagne. Wasabi is notoriously difficult to grow, but Iceland’s farmers sustainably cultivate it and other vegetables in high-tech geothermal greenhouses. Similarly, the Icelandic lamb, which was slathered in a moreish mustard to complement the 2018 Corton, was sourced from one of the country’s small but many sheep farms. (There were about 1,429 operating in 2020, according to Statistics Iceland.)
Friðriksson does point out that some ingredients hail from Iceland’s Nordic neighbors, such as the Norwegian King Crab that is served alongside the 2011 Corton Charlemagne. He also acknowledges the influence that French and Danish chefs have had on the industry at large. I can certainly see a bit of René Redzepi in Moss’ creative Noma-like plating. Still, the five courses feel authentically Icelandic and further illustrate the culinary strides the country has made over the past few years. Indeed, Dill earned Iceland its very first Michelin star in 2017, then Óx gained the nation’s second in 2022. Moss appears to be heading on that same trajectory after scoring a recommendation in the guide last year.
It would be remiss not to mention the spectacular wine cellar hidden beneath the restaurant. Set within a cavern of lava rock dating back to 1226, the subterranean space is stocked with more than 4,000 bottles that have been arranged to look like they are floating frozen in time. The cellar houses predominantly old world wines—with a wall dedicated to Bordeaux and Burgundy, respectively—though there is also a selection of new world plonk from the Americas and Australia. You can sample the goods with a private wine tasting in the cellar ($350 for two) or even a Champagne and caviar pairing (from $360).
In the leadup to each culinary event, chef Agnar Sverrisson works with Moss’ sommeliers, the guest chef and/or chosen winery to ensure harmony between sips and bites. In this instance, Bonneau du Martray provided the powerful yet precise vino. The estate produces exclusively grand crus; one white from Chardonnay grapes (Corton Charlemagne) and one red from Pinot Noir (Corton), though head winemaker Thibault Jacquet told me a third is in the pipeline. It’s this kind of insider knowledge you can expect to glean from one of these evenings at Moss. Upcoming events include dinners by Michelin-star chef Claude Bosi and Dom Pérignon on May 26, noted London chef Ollie Dabbous on August 26 and another big name on November 11.
The Retreat offers less formal dining options, too. The aptly named Lava Restaurant, which is built into a historic lava cliff right by the lagoon, again highlights indigenous ingredients such as fish from the nearby harbor in Grindavík. It’s also a great place to savor a brightly hued Blue Lagoon cocktail or sip on a local gin like Marberg. Spa Restaurant is more relaxed still, as you can enjoy light, seasonal fare in your plush white robe and matching slippers. You seldom have to take this comfy ensemble off, in fact, save for dinners at Moss and Lava. You can even eat breakfast and afternoon tea in the lobby in the extra roomy attire.
Perhaps the best thing about The Retreat is the fact that you can balance any indulgence with healthier activities. The morning after too much Corton, for instance, I oscillate between the icy cold well and sauna until I feel so revitalized that I end up doing group yoga in a studio overlooking the snow-covered landscape. Another day I sweat out the chocolate truffles from turndown in the hotel’s swish gym.
Then, there’s the restorative lagoon itself. Over the past 30 years, the healing properties of the geothermal seawater have been detailed in a myriad of peer-reviewed studies. Essentially, the supercharged H20 contains silica, minerals and microalgae that together work wonders on the skin. In fact, the bioactive water has been used as a natural psoriasis treatment at Blue Lagoon’s medical clinic since the ‘90s, and the nearby research and development center continues to pioneer innovative new skincare products. (You’ll find a few in your suite and can also order the range online.)
The water in the hotel’s private lagoon sits between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit and is instantly soothing. You can order a glass of French Champagne from a secret window near the spa—it’s like a more sophisticated version of a swim-up bar—then make your way down the cascading pools. The main lagoon is a short stroll away, but it’s now one of Iceland’s top tourist attractions so be prepared for a chat. (It welcomed around 800,000 guests in 2022 and is expected to greet 1 million this year.)
The spa’s signature “Ritual” is another way to experience the power of the mineral-rich water. The self-guided treatment, which takes place in three dimly lit underground chambers, involves rubbing a lava salt scrub all over your skin to exfoliate the dead top layer. You then lather yourself in silica to draw out any impurities and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, before you marinate in a microalgae extract that generates collagen and leaves your body feeling smoother and more refreshed.
If you’d rather relax and let someone else do the work, opt for a 60-minute in-water massage. As you lie on a floating mattress in a secluded section of the lagoon, a masseuse will work out every knot while regularly submerging your body to keep you cozy. It’s difficult to put the transformative experience into words, but the chap who awoke next to me aptly described it as a sort of “baptism.” You can also book the Lava Cove (from $900) for a more exclusive spa experience; it’s equipped with a private lagoon, a couple of heated chaises for treatments and a kitchen in which a private chef can prepare meals.
In a similar vein, the hotel’s preeminent Blue Lagoon Suite (from $12,600 per night) is a secret sanctuary that offers privacy in spades. Spanning just shy of 2,500 square feet, the suite features two generous bedrooms, a spacious living room and a large kitchen, along with a private lagoon and spa. It even has its own helipad to facilitate discreet comings and goings. Like the rest of The Retreat, the decor is the epitome of Scandi chic—minimalist yet warm—with swathes of polished concrete juxtaposed by rich woods and intricate light fixtures. Guests of the suite will also enjoy a dedicated butler and private chef.
Speaking of staff, the service throughout the hotel is top-notch. The affable gents in the lobby know you by name and always seem to have a glass of bubbly at the ready. The front desk will happily organize a Northern Lights wake-up call or arrange a guided hike through the otherworldly terrain. If that’s not enough action for you, however, the Blue Lagoon team is opening a new hotel in the central highlands of Iceland this summer that will be geared toward adventure buffs. Highland Base in Kerlingarfjöll won’t be as swanky as The Retreat, but it will give you a chance to explore the deep wilderness.
Most excitingly, the group is eyeing a site for a fourth hotel as it sees Iceland’s luxury travel market far from saturated. (For the unacquainted, the group also helms the 35-room Silica hotel in Grindavík.) Sounds like you’ll soon have even more reasons to journey north.