I am and always have been a curmudgeon, just one of my many quirks that I think make me a good reviewer of places and services. One thing that has annoyed me lately is the predilection towards calling everything luxury. Backpackers who stay in a decent 3-star hotel somewhere proudly proclaim their luxury travel experience. Once I was driving through rural Tanzania and written on a wooden plank was the word “Luxury hotel” with an arrow pointing the way. Obviously, neither of these experiences were luxurious. Luxury comes with a certain set of expectations and while it’s not surprising that every single hotel in the world now wants to be called luxury, few actually are. No, a true luxury hotel is something special and different, it’s the unique blend of style, comfort and service that all come together to create a perfect package of excellence. A luxury hotel doesn’t have to have crystal chandeliers or Lamborghinis parked out front to be luxurious though, no, sometimes the luxury comes from a different set of qualities, such as what I found at the rural retreat the Hotel Husafell in West Iceland.
Why West Iceland
To properly explore Iceland multiple trips are required, which is why even after four visits to what is fundamentally not a large country, I still haven’t seen everything on my Icelandic to-do list. For visitors who want to get out of the capital region without straying too far, West Iceland is one of the best choices. Home to many spectacular wonders emblazoned on thousands of Instagram accounts, it really is one of the most visually appealing parts of the country. As such, it was not my first time in West Iceland, but I was eager to return and explore even more of the region around Husafell itself. The Hotel Husafell calls as its home an area of the country well known to visitors and locals alike. The terrain and mountains figure prominently in Icelandic folklore and what I think are two of the country’s best waterfalls sit right next door to the hotel itself. That’s probably why the hotel’s owners decided to create this rural retreat here amongst the rolling and rocky fields of the countryside, for its proximity to some of the best adventures that Iceland has to offer.
Luxury travel comes in any number of forms, but in the case of the Hotel Husafell it is a more experiential form. Part of the luxury found here is the amazing location in which the hotel finds itself, offering guests access to some of the most exciting adventures in the country. That doesn’t mean that the hotel itself isn’t a luxurious experience, it certainly is. With just 48 guest rooms, the hotel has the feeling of a retreat instead of a hotel; a rural getaway to escape the stresses of modern life. Inside the design is what I’ve come to expect from great properties in Scandinavia and certainly in Iceland. Muted colors but high design in a way that is complementary to the natural environment instead of in opposition to it. Leather couches I could sink into with a cup of coffee and a book, plush rugs and plenty of windows throughout the property show off the gorgeous natural setting.
In addition to its location, the hotel has plenty of perks to offer lucky guests. One of my personal favorites was the access to the hotel’s thermal pools. Open year-round, the complex consists of four pools heated to a variety of temperatures and also includes complimentary use of the hotel’s float water therapy. In the middle of a freezing cold winter, there’s nothing better than sinking into the warm waters of the thermal pools.
The rooms are comfortable and feature heated floors and the hotel also has a first of its kind Northern Lights wake up call service that enabled us to witness the aurora without sacrificing too much sleep. Since the hotel is sort of in the middle of nowhere though, the restaurant is of extreme importance but, luckily, the fine-dining experience is amongst the best of its kind in the country. With an all-too-rare-for-Iceland included breakfast, starting the day off right is easy and convenient. But it’s the dinner service that steals the proverbial show featuring a limited but tasty menu highlighting the best ingredients of the region and time of year.
Most guests though don’t visit only for the thermal pools and the food, they’re there to enjoy the many activities of the region and thankfully, even in the middle of winter, there’s plenty to experience.
Immediately before arriving to the hotel I decided to stop off at a set of waterfalls I first visited a few years ago, but couldn’t resist seeing once again. The Lava Falls or Hraunfossar are unlike many others you’ll see, a long set of waterfalls their beauty comes from the contrast of colors between the river water and the black lava rock over which they spill. My favorite though was the smaller fall just a few paces away, Barnafossar, the Children’s Falls. A rushing torrent of water that seems to explode out of the rock, its name comes from young children who were sadly killed exploring the mysterious falls. The violence of the water is at first shocking, but there’s a beauty in that power and I found it impossible to pull myself away from just staring at them. Strangely turquoise blue water coming out of the volcanic rock, it’s gorgeous and while not as famous as some others in the south, should absolutely be seen.
An easy 10-minute drive from Husafell is one of the region’s most unique natural formations, the lava tube cave of Víðgelmir. Led by an able guide, we descended into the dark cave, formed when the volcano last erupted more than 1,000 years ago. While not a huge fan of caves, this one is unlike any other I’ve visited. Formed by molten lava streams, the resulting formations are unique to this sort of geological event. Add in the beauty of the lava fields and surrounding mountains, this is a fun and not to be missed excursion.
If you’re looking for something really adventurous, then be sure to join the snowmobile experience on Langjökull glacier. Bundling up in more layers than I thought possible, the tundra buggy took us up to the hard to reach glacier and the freezing ice sheets of Iceland. Glaciers are strange things, always cold and always inhospitable, but possessing a type of beauty that is unrivaled in nature. That was the snowmobile course for the afternoon and while I’m not really a fan of the machines themselves, I can’t deny that the experience was exciting and fun.
Into the Glacier
One reason why I wanted to return to this region of Iceland was to enjoy an experience I have wanted to try since it began, spending some time in the heart of a glacier on the special Into the Glacier tour. A few years ago, a group of intrepid folks designed and dug out the first and largest man-made ice cap glacier ice cave at the massive Langjökull glacier. Since then they’ve been taking folks from Husafell to the very top of the massive glacier for a once in a lifetime walk through glacial caves. Climbing onto the specially designed trucks at Husafell, we made the hour-long trek to the glacier on what was a surprisingly beautiful day. With clear skies we could see for miles, admiring the pinks and reds bouncing off of the snow-capped mountains. The cave experience itself was just as special as I had hoped, making it well worth the years long wait to finally enjoy what really is a once in a lifetime adventure.
Whether you want to explore the natural terrain or just relax inside with a good book, the Hotel Husafell isn’t just one of Iceland’s best hotels, it’s one of the best places to experience the beauty and power of this always impressive country.