The illuminating, ever-moving, sea-green heavens are a big attraction for so many coming to Iceland. To glimpse, for themselves, the magical Aurora Borealis dancing across the skyline is something many people have added to their bucket lists. So when we decided to head out to this Nordic Island for a weekend escape, unsurprisingly, we too had high expectations.
If you are lucky enough, and the weather is on your side, you may catch a sighting of the lights from the capital, Reykjavík, on a clear evening. However, to increase your chances there are a few things you can do. Firstly, take note to travel during the right season – which is quite a substantial one (October to April) – when the weather is cold and the sky is clear. You then need to decide whether you are going to participate in one of the numerous Northern Light tours that head out each evening just as the sun is setting from the capital. You will travel into the Þingvellir National Park, where light pollution is at a minimum, in the hope that by spending an evening gawping up at the stars, with a group of others, you will see a flash of colour. Is a sighting guaranteed? No! Unfortunately that is the chance you take. Many companies do offer a return trip if you do not see the craved for Aurora Borealis but if you are only there for a weekend this may not be an option – no company that I could see offers a monetary refund instead.
How Can You Truly Maximise The Potential of Seeing the Northern Lights?
Instead of booking a tour, which has a 50/50 chance of seeing the lights, I wanted something slightly different. I wanted to see the emerald lights rippling across the darkness whilst sat sipping a glass of Merlot over a sumptuous meal or warming myself up after a chilly day of exploration in a steaming hot tub whilst the lights moved graciously above my head. Likewise, I knew that we too could fall short of luck and would come away without even a speck of a sighting, so if that was to be the case I still wanted each evening of our trip to be spent in luxurious surroundings.
After hours of searching only one hotel remained on our list: the impressive luxury ION Adventure Hotel.
Heading out of Reykjavík, leaving the lights of the city behind, it is not long before we plunge into total darkness. Over 60% of Iceland’s population live in the capital therefore, you can understand why there is no real need to light the roads away from the city. Having said that, at just past midnight, with the winds blowing a gale and the snow beginning to pound down on the well-worn roads, shedding a little light on our forward journey would be welcomed. We are heading to Nesjavellir, which is close to Selfoss, and home to our luxury hotel.
The Ring Road makes for a comfortable drive but turning off, the road narrows and I begin to pray that nothing comes the other way. Checking our map I know we have pockets of water on either side of us, and at this time of night we don’t know how close to the edge this road is or how high up we are – it is that dark! All we do have is the occasional post on the side of the road, emblazoned by our headlights, marking the depth of the snow and reflective bollards but no barrier.
Winding along, the twists and turns get sharper the closer we come to Nesjavellir and the pools of water get larger. After about an hour of my heart jumping up into my mouth every few moments we finally see columns of smoke and lights ahead – the luxury ION Adventure Hotel sits completely alone apart from having a power station for a neighbour – whilst this may sound ghastly and unappealing for some reason it actually adds to the skyline.
The hotel itself has been designed to be hidden, therefore it is embedded within the valley below the hilltops meaning that if you blink you will miss it and end up driving into the power station as we did.
Tips for the road:
During the winter months only a 4×4 will reach this hotel
You need to be a competent driver, especially if you intend to drive in the dark.
It takes just over an hour from Reykjavík to get to the hotel.
The long driveway threads through the surrounding landscape, up a gentle incline, towards a striking modern, rectangular, cuboid creation. Jumping out of our 4×4 I land knee-deep in snow; this is definitely an area less roamed by others. Walking in through the front door and I feel like we have wandered into someone’s home – there is a cosy, warm feel about it – soft furnishings of neutral colouring complemented with bright furry cushions, a scattering of books and a large bay window looking out over the darkness; a perfect viewing platform for the Aurora Borealis. At this late hour nothing is too much trouble, long after the restaurant has closed, they are still happy to offer us a selection of different food platters to choose from if we are peckish and after a late night snack.
After being shown to our Deluxe Room, we take in the small, self-indulgent features. From the natural Icelandic products, fluffy extra-thick white towels and the large rain-type shower head in the bathroom to the extravagant gold coffee maker and the unencumbered view out of the floor-to-ceiling window that stretches the length of the bedroom we feel completely spoilt. The window and view is the main reason for booking this hotel; people have said that they could lay in bed with the curtains open and watch the Northern Lights float across the sky – what a perfect way to unwind at the end of the day. Alternatively, if you fancy watching the light show whilst enjoying a nightcap or two you could always head down and relax in the Northern Lights Bar which has a full wall of glass to stare out of.
Tips for the room:
If you would prefer a room with full exposure to the elements book into a Deluxe room.
Tips for the bar:
Happy hour is from 4pm – 6pm.
Even the restaurant has been designed with the Northern Lights in mind; one wall having large glass windows. Seating is arranged so that most couplings would be able to experience a light show should it appear.
During our stay we dined in the restaurant one evening and enjoyed the Seafood Soup Starter which was a lovely thick consistency and full of flavour plus it came served with homemade seeded bread.
We both followed this with the Scallop and Lemon Risotto which was rich and delightful to taste. The portion was sizable coming with more scallops than I could physically eat however.
When exploring Iceland, yes you could look elsewhere whilst out and about, but the menu was vast and we both thoroughly enjoyed our seafood medley after a day exploring the south of the island.
The Spa (open 8am – 10pm daily)
Star-gazing in an outdoor hot tub was another draw to this hotel for us, especially as many guests say that often they were the only ones tempted by the hot waters when the weather was so bleak. Staring out over the continuous miles of hilly landscape, blotted only occasionally with a tree or shrub, this is the ideal spot to relax with waters the temperature of a hot bath. Add to this a sauna or a massage and you can see why many have added a stop off at this hotel for a blissful day or two of pampering.
Our Final Tip for your stay at the ION Adventure Hotel:
To make sure you don’t miss the Northern Lights – ask reception to add you to their call list. If the magical lights appear they will wake you up. It means that you don’t have to stay awake all night in the hope of seeing them.
If you are after a hotel that mixes adventure with indulgence this is one to add to your list. Situated close to both Selfoss and Þingvellir National Park it is an ideal location if you have you own transportation for exploring Iceland with the added bonus that you might just be lucky enough to catch a sighting of the coveted Aurora Borealis whilst you are here.
For those of you looking for ideas of how to spend your time in Iceland then check out this ultimate Iceland road trip itinerary by Follow Me Away.
Have you been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights? We would love to hear about your sightings.