Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

We arrived to the Blue Lagoon's Silica Hotel late on a Friday evening. Excited to take a dip in the hotel's private lagoon but deterred by our growling stomachs, we dropped our bags in our room and settled down for a light dinner in the Bistro instead, assured by staff on check-in that the private lagoon would be open until midnight that evening.

The restaurant was quiet; considering there are only 35 rooms on the property (a second hotel and spa will be opening in October), this wasn't unusual, though we cherished the quiet attention from the intuitive staff, who brought us a basket of warm bread and Icelandic butter (with the promise of more on request), which we gratefully wolfed down. Scanning the menu, our eyes slightly watering at the prices, we both chose the seafood soup, which - at 2,800 Icelandic Krona - I joked roughly translated to £1 per spoonful. But oh, what glorious spoonfuls they were: a wonderful medley of fresh prawns and fish sat in a deep, earthenware bowl with the consomme poured over it. The soup had none of that artificial, overly-creamy taste that most dishes billed as "seafood soup" have. This was different: delicate, subtle yet wonderfully warming.

Our appetites satisfied, we slipped into our bathing suits and robes (helpfully provided in our room, along with flip flops emblazoned with the Blue Lagoon logo in a zen-like grey) and walked the short distance to the entrance of the private lagoon, by the reception. There was a small group of women, plus one or two couples, already in the water, but otherwise, the lagoon was empty.

I remember being caught by the surprise of the feeling of silica between my toes - a pillowy, but strange sensation, like melted taffy that doesn't quite stick (or, as I overheard another guest describe, "It's like ... it's like, butter that's been left out too long!"). We avoided the inflatables provided (rubber rings and pool noodles - in a minimalist black or white, of course), though these were a great idea later on, as they help you float effortlessly in the water, allowing for full relaxation. By the way - rain feels amazing when you're in the pool. There was a light drizzle that evening and the sensation on my skin (in contrast to the piping hot water) felt incredible.

Although we negotiated some unexpectedly rocky bits at the bottom to get there, the private lagoon extends into a wonderfully secluded corner, where the water from the lagoon itself runs into a stream. The trickling sound of the stream, plus being bathed in very warm (and, in some places, hot) water while floating on your back and looking up into the night sky - is a feeling I'd like to preserve forever. I remember floating like that next to John for a long while, without speaking, and thinking it was the most perfect moment in time.

I don't think I've ever slept better than that night. Eager to make the most of the day, we set our alarms for 7:30 a.m. and headed to breakfast soon after.

The hotel's minimalist, but sleek design can only truly be appreciated during the day. From textiles by HAY to Scandinavian-designed furniture, the hotel's architecture and interiors evoke a sense of calm in its purest form: earthy tones with an occasional blue accent, and narrow slivers of window that allow for just enough light to permeate the corridors make you feel as though you're on a wellness retreat - without the regime.

Indeed, breakfast was laden with fruit, muffins, fresh waffles made-to-order, and a hot buffet of eggs, sausages and crispy bacon. There's room for indulgence here.

Our room was a continuation of this quiet meditation: the seamless transition from the shower to the bathroom floor, from the bedroom floor to the private veranda, meant that you could close your eyes and navigate the room virtually without thinking (I hate bumping into sharp bed frames in the middle of the night!).

After one last long, luxurious swim in the private lagoon, we forced ourselves out of the water to pack up and check out.

Our stay at Silica included two premium admission tickets to the Blue Lagoon (which is just a short walk away), which we used the next day after checking out of the hotel. John had an in-water massage scheduled (a belated birthday treat!), so we headed over after packing up the car and were met with ... huge crowds. Granted, we were visiting at peak time (12 pm), but after being spoiled by the virtually empty, luxurious private lagoon at Silica, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of disappointment.

Still, we waded into the lagoon and enjoyed the experience for what it was. By now, the clouds had parted, giving way to bright blue sky and a brilliant glow from the sun. I headed to the "Mud Bar", where we applied the silica face mask (complimentary for all Blue Lagoon guests) and ventured further out into the lagoon, where the water is significantly deeper - about neck height for me (I'm 5'4").

I don't know how many photos we photo-bombed that day, but we must be in several. Tripods, selfie-sticks, and other clever waterproof solutions were abound (there were lots of phones kept in plastic Ziplock bags off to the side).

While John was whisked off (literally: in-water massages are performed on floating mats) for his treatment in the lagoon, I washed off the silica on my face and applied the algae mask (included in the Premium admission ticket), which was deliciously soothing and moisturising, particularly after the silica mask, which draws out impurities and can be pretty drying (NB remember to put loads and loads of conditioner in your hair before entering the Blue Lagoon - your hair will turn into a tangled mess of straw, no matter how long or short it is!).

Our stay at Silica Hotel was a meditative experience; there were countless opportunities for relaxation and contemplation. I thought of this as we watched the sun rise over the lava fields from the deck of our private veranda, a light acting as a natural saturation filter on the moss-covered stones. I marvelled at how something so otherworldly, so - at times, unremarkable, or even, dare I say, ugly - could evoke such beauty and peaceful serenity.

Have you ever been to Silica Hotel or the Blue Lagoon? What did you think? I'd love to know. It's been on my bucket-list for a very, very long time!

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