A long considered Iceland itch has been scratched. Worth the hype? Ohhh yesss. What a place. Land of fire and ice? Yep. Land of ‘card melting? Ditto.
May is apparently a good time to go: lots of daylight and temperatures that range from a high of okay down to “crikey that’s chilly, fancy a coffee?” It was light from 04.00 to 23.00 so nada northern lights. Instead of a focus upon – the first and name giving – geysers, then waterfalls, sliding around on glaciers, forlornly looking for whales and imagining you can out-drink Vikings might I draw your attention to summit else?
Icelanders simply love a swim.
No really, they do.
You aren’t getting the vibe? What’s that? Brrrrr, too chilly you reckon?
Ah. Mmm. What might make this work for you?
Aha! Here’s the thing: consider that their land is equipped with lashings of geothermal springs. IE: there’s a lot of v hot water to luxuriate in which immediately makes a dip more appealing. Not only that, but they give it a certain cleanliness twist that somehow makes it all the better. Let me draw your attention to 3 pools so that your visit might become a pool-a-day-athon. That and a guaranteed collection of wrinkly fingertips.
Morning one day one: The Blue Lagoon.
Summary: D’uh, obvs. Expensive. Totally bloody marvellous.
For starters the BL is 20 minutes from your entry point into Iceland: sleet lashed ex NATO Keflavik airport. You book ahead with a choice of packages priced from stinging to credit card melting to eye watering to immediate heart failure. If you show up sans booking you might well not get in. Odd for a waste water pond pelted by hail.
The approach is across alien jagged black lava fields framed by driving rain from a leaden sky. You spy mahousive plumes of pale steam against dark cloud arising from the geothermal power-plant long before you arrive. What’s that? Not a natural phenomenon? Ha! You foolish mortal: it’s a 100% man made gig. Albeit one with an environmental twist. The pools of the ‘Lagoon are salt water effluent from the power station. Somewhere beneath our feet volcanicity is at work boiling sea water up in a spring. The clever locals put this fluid through a heat exchanger and extract electricity from it. Then they dump the waste water onto the local moonscape. It didn’t work out. It just so happened that the silica and algae in the water “heals” the lava rock and accidentally created pools that were a bit lovely. Firstly locals started to sneak in and then some enterprising type made it all official.
Now they have Scandikool facilities and once you have thoroughly washed – more of this later – you are ready to dip. I confess I was smarting from the queuing and the crowds (with too many self-consciously hip-to-be -square Americans). Then approximately 7 seconds after easing into the pool….. aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.
Worldly worries reset to a big fat zero.
The lagoon is big. The steamy, soothing, milky loveliness means allcomers mellow and – mostly – shush. You bob around and find a deep heated inner peace. It’s difficult to overemphasise the splendiferousness of serenity that elective people poaching offers.
Then you get a facemask. (Not a hockey mask or respirator fellas, I mean a girly facial. But it’s okay, everyone is doing it.) The first stage of goo does one good thing to your skin and then the second stage does other stuff. A little complimentary lip balm from the swimming facial goo waitress/beautician and you’re good. Deeply good.
At one point I was considering spending the rest of my days in the pool. Then I got thirsty and got beer from the swim-up bar. Now I am deffo never leaving.
Timeline: we left home at 04.00 for our flight* and now it’s mid-Sunday morning: we’re floating in a soporific mineral rich multinational volcanic soup. It’s raining and a cold, cold breeze comes in. Who cares, it’s just lovely: pop yourself under that near-scalding waterfall and work out those knotted shoulder muscles baby, yeah!
Afternoon Day Two: 107 Reykjavik pool
Summary: Not a tourist trap. A local after work thing. Brilliant.
A small outdoor swimming pool in residential western Reykjavik with several hot tubs – capacity for cooking dozens of humans – and a steam room. There are fit folk ploughing some lane action, but many more languorous locals chatting in the other hot pools. Different pools have different temperature labels for human cookery and there is a 5-8C plunge pool which redefines the term invigorating.
(Only ½ of the visiting team can confirm this was the temperature, despite jibes, dares and such. Believe me, after you’ve pot-boiled in a 40C pool then plunged into a frigid one… The slow, manly amble back to a 36C hot tub? Y’know: strolling like it was no biggie. Only then might you know what your own blood circulation actually feels like. IE: a near death experience. Bloody hell them Vikings is tough.)
The changing rooms have strict codes of practice. Naked soapy showers before swimming please. An Icelandic rule. (Similar to the Ryokan of Japan and with a touch of Hamam discipline.) We Brits might blanch, but the locals just crack on. This discipline contributes to splendid changing facilitates with no shoes, no dirt, no fuss, no grubby under/overtones. Practical, equalising, hygenic. (No they are not mixed sex affairs: Icelanders are not hippies.) Fully clean = ready to bathe. Keeps the “euurgh” factor as near zero as possible for all concerned. I have never felt so clean.
Back in the water, the wanderings of mind were very much along the lines of “what if I never emerge from this pool?” Locals chat and it’s a generally lovely thing.
Day 3, mid morning, Pool 3: The Secret Lagoon.
Summary: Not so Secret. Get there early to avoid the tours and be oh-so-soporific.
Secret? no. The Oldest Lagoon? Yes. Iceland’s oldest geothermal pool they say. (Who cares? No, that’s not the attitude: these guys have been into this hot pool business for years: it matters.)
Same rules of cleanliness, but this pool is in the Icelandic equivalent to the Welsh Black Mountains. IE: Quite remote. You bob in a metre deep gravelly pond surrounded by barren mountains.
Bleak. Washed out ground hugging, vegetation, forbidding, cold.
As we drive down the gravel road to the place in silent “where the hell are we?” anticipation, is that a…. greenhouse? Closer inspection: Tomatoes. Geothermal heat and power means year round veg. How cool is that? But fresh veg does not make for a swim.
By now I am more accepting of the comedically expensive entrance fees. How else do you make a living out here in the North Atlantic? When we ease into the pool it’s now familiar all round aaaaahhhhhhh-ing. And in the blink of an eye we have the place to ourselves.
Unlike a normal “spa” the waters have currents of scalding hot fresh fluid that can take your breath away. Indeed, this one is fed by a geyser only a few feet away from the water which bubbles merrily and splutters into a spectator friendly 3m mini-eruption every few minutes. It is constantly topping up the bath with dreamy hot water every second of the day. The proprietors throw in those swimming pool noodles: colourful floaty strings that you fashion into your own support raft and off you drift.
This is the life. The air is so fresh that you don’t mind the occasional stink of rotten eggs that accompany geysers. The sky is clear. The landscape rugged and raw. Again the changing rooms scrupulously are clean and the whole thing works. Free wifi too.
Next time we go, I promise we’ll do outlandish trips to ice-caves and snorkel in frozen lakes. But I’d highly recommend going to Iceland just to float and bob.
My skin feels fabulous dahling.
Oh, and there are loads more pools. Heaps.
Here are the ones just in town: https://guidetoiceland.is/reykjavik-guide/best-swimming-pools-in-reykjavik
*Answer me this. How can a flight on a 21st century Airbus across almost ½ of the Atlantic (£29 one way) cost LESS than a dip in a pool of power station effluent (£42)? It’s a mad, topsy-turvy world.