by LUCAS RAVEN
In 2018, Blue Lagoon completed a significant expansion, opening the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland. Encompassing a subterranean spa, a geothermal lagoon, a restaurant that re-imagines Iceland’s culinary traditions, and a 62-suite hotel encircled by the Blue Lagoon’s mineral-rich waters, the Retreat is a place where guests can leave the world behind and enter a timeless realm of relaxation, rejuvenation, and exploration.
Chosen in 2012 as one of National Geographic’s 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a place where the interplay of architecture, design, and geothermal seawater brings forth a world of unparalleled well-being.
The water’s unique beneficial powers were first discovered in the early 1980s when local residents began to bathe in the warm blue reservoir that had formed in the lava field beside the Svartsengi Resource Park.
Engineers at the facility had expected the water to seep through the lava and return to the earth’s volcanic aquifers. However, owing to the fluid’s high concentration of silica, proper drainage did not occur and a beautiful body of water took shape.
Some people came to the water for healing. Others for pleasure. But all who came left with a profound sense of wonder.
The lagoon eventually became the focus of intense scientific study, giving birth in 1992 to Blue Lagoon Limited, a company dedicated to the research and development of the water’s primary elements: silica, algae, and minerals.
In 1995, with research confirming the healing properties of geothermal seawater, Blue Lagoon Ltd. launched a renowned line of skin care. This was followed in 1999 with the opening of the modern-day spa facility and, in 2005, a clinic hotel for the treatment of psoriasis.
Today, many decades after the first inquisitive souls began venturing into the water, the Blue Lagoon has blossomed from a humble curiosity into a wonder of the world. Indeed, the story of the Blue Lagoon continues to be written with every guest who enters the water.
The Blue Lagoon’s geothermal seawater is born in volcanic aquifers 2000 meters within the earth where freshwater and ocean water converge in a tectonic realm of searing heat and immense pressure.
This water is unlike any other water on the planet.
Once considered an unusable byproduct of geothermal energy production at the Svartsengi Resource Park, it is endowed with powers all its own, powers derived from the mineral and organic properties of the volcanic earth. It cleanses, heals, rejuvenates, and undoes the effects of time—bringing radiance, in all its forms, to the mind and body.
It is also the foundation of the Retreat. It flows through the spa, fills the lava corridors of the Retreat lagoon, encircles the suites, and ultimately creates the umbilical connection with the original and enduring source of wonder: the Blue Lagoon.
The Founder and Entrepreneur
Born in 1955, Grímur Sæmundsen is a Doctor of Medicine (MD) by education. As the founder and CEO of Blue Lagoon Iceland, he has led the company’s growth and development since 1992, orchestrating its transformation from an entity focused on health and wellness into a dynamic enterprise that also encompasses travel, leisure, skin care, research & development, and sustainability.
With the opening of the Retreat in 2018, Grímur’s original vision for the Blue Lagoon as an epicentre of health and well-being galvanised by the riches of geothermal seawater will take on an extraordinary new dimension.
A UNESCO Global Geopark
In 2015, Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula was officially given the status of UNESCO Global Geopark. Home of Blue Lagoon Iceland, the Reykjanes Peninsula straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—the tectonic boundary where the North American and Eurasian plates converge. Owing to its volcanic provenance, the peninsula is a wonderland of geothermal phenomena. The terrain is alive with craters, fissures, mud pools, steam vents, hot springs, and endless moss-covered lava fields.
A Place on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Simultaneously remote and easily accessible—Blue Lagoon is just 20 minutes from Keflavík International Airport and 45 minutes from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík.
The unity of man and nature.
Contracted in 1998 to conceive of a spa complex and new location for the Blue Lagoon, architect Sigríður Sigþórsdóttir spent many hours exploring the Svartsengi lava fields, trying to determine the best site for the lagoon. Based on her discoveries about the lava, the modern-day Blue Lagoon was brought to life in its current location.
Two decades later, she remains close to the lava in both spirit and practice. As the founder and lead architect of Basalt Architects, lava is the hallmark of her work. It is her tool and inspiration. It is also the fulcrum of her other structures at Blue Lagoon: Silica Hotel and Lava Restaurant. But she is acutely aware that working with lava often means that there is an improvisational dance between the will of the architects and the will of nature. This bit of wisdom was of paramount importance when she and her team embarked on the creation of the Retreat.
The complex that has risen from the lava plain on the south bank of the Blue Lagoon was designed and sited according to the natural formations of the once-molten, 800-year-old flow, but there was no way of knowing how the lava would behave when construction began.
In some cases, features mandated by the design were not supported by the type of lava laid bare by the construction. Conversely, some lava was so unique and captivating that it compelled Sigríður and her team to halt work and devise a strategy for incorporating it into the design.
Indeed, preserving the bond between man and nature was the foundational mandate of the Retreat’s construction process. The architects were guided by the principle that building and geology should become one—unified by the convergence of form, function, and the volcanic earth.
Interior and Design
The Retreat’s interior and experiential design, conceived and created by Basalt Architects and Milan-based Design Group Italia (DGI), is predicated on two ideas: timelessness and sophistication.
The Retreat experience should be one of timelessness. But the atmosphere should be endowed with sophistication. The union of these two ideas thus produces the Retreat’s guiding aesthetic principle: timeless sophistication. Channelling the shapes, colours, patterns, textures, and materials of the surrounding frontier, the Retreat’s design framework is liberated from transitory trends yet remains intrinsically bound to the land.
“What does ‘timeless sophistication’ mean?” asks Sigurður Thorsteinsson, Chief Creative Officer of DGI. “It means simple shapes. It means colours that are tone-to- tone. It means high quality in terms of the materials and the finishing. It means extreme attention to detail. But it should also convey a sense of warmth and a reassuring atmosphere. You should feel cocooned.”
At heart, timeless sophistication strives to establish a human connection to an extraordinary environment. When you enter the Retreat, you do not exit nature. Rather, you go deeper into nature.
A human-centric approach.
The Retreat’s lighting design, conceived by Liska/Verkis and spearheaded by Guðjón L. Sigurðsson, preserves the enchantments of Iceland’s natural light while creating artificial light that is nourishing, relaxing, functional, engaging, and sustainable. This approach is called human-centric lighting.
The foremost example of human-centric lighting is the innovative luminaire that serves as the central light fixture in each suite. Encompassing the light spectrum of dawn to dusk, the luminaire modulates through the phases of the sun—fulfilling our biological need for light. In a land where darkness predominates for much of the year, nourishing radiance is a fundamental aspect of well-being.
Renowned Icelandic artist Ragna Róbertsdóttir created a lava-based wall installation for Moss Restaurant, as well as salt-based topographical “mindscapes” for the five large suites at the Retreat Hotel.
Inspired by Iceland’s volcanic, tectonic, and oceanic provenance, her work often blurs the distinction between nature and architecture, with chaos giving way to contemplation. Rocks, seashells, salt—these are the materials that catalyze her imagination and form the basis of her visual lexicon.
A spa of the volcanic earth. Built into an 800-year-old lava flow on the south shore of the Blue Lagoon, the 4000 sqm Retreat Spa embodies the harmonic convergence of nature, architecture, and the radiant powers of geothermal seawater. Conceived and created to transport your mind and body to new dimensions of peace and rejuvenation, the spa journey moves through volcanic realms of luxurious heat, enchanting geology, and inspiring conceptual design. You proceed ever deeper through an extraordinary concourse of lava encompassing many possibilities: dry heat, steam heat, massage, fire, lounging, relaxation, a panoramic viewing deck, the Blue Lagoon Ritual, and the mineral-rich warmth of the Retreat Lagoon.
The Retreat Lagoon
A place of intimacy, warmth, and enchantment, this stunning, 900 sqm waterscape creates majestic vistas of pleasure and well-being. Flowing from the same wellspring of geothermal seawater as the Blue Lagoon, its terraced plateaus and lava ravines invite discovery, enable serenity, and provide shelter from the wind and storms that move across Iceland. Ultimately, the Retreat Lagoon unlocks a more secluded way to commune with the storied waters of the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon Ritual
The spa journey culminates with the Blue Lagoon Ritual, an exhilarating cycle of well-being where you experience the treasures of the Blue Lagoon’s geothermal seawater: Silica, algae, and minerals. Each element unlocks a dynamic array of benefits: Silica strengthens the skin’s barrier function, providing a healthy, radiant appearance; Blue Lagoon algae increases collagen production, leaving the skin nourished and youthful; minerals stimulate circulation and have revitalising effects on both the mind and body.
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon is a sensory journey of healing, bliss and above all, peace. A must-experience.