By John O’Ceallaigh
It seems strange that the capital of a country so beloved by tourists has never had a major luxury hotel of its own, but when you get to Reykjavik you soon understand why. I last visited in August, on my return from an incredible cruise around the isolated Westfjords with EYOS Expeditions and Nansen Polar Expeditions (I’ll share more on that later), and the city felt sparse and sleepy despite Iceland as a whole being in the midst of a post-lockdown tourism boom.
The few clusters of tourists I did see were all dressed in North Face jackets and other expedition gear. The place attracts a hardy crowd seemingly all there to explore Iceland’s dramatic landscapes (and with good reason, as I discovered during my recent stay at Torfhús). A typical Mandarin Oriental or St. Regis definitely wouldn’t fit in here…
Still, EDITION Hotels’ is hoping its more casual approach to high-end hospitality will resonate here, and I was able to tour the near-complete property before its opening this month.
On the harbour and right by the Olafur Eliasson-designed concert hall and concert centre Harpa (to which it is also connected by an underground tunnel for use in bad weather), it seems rather demure at first look. Its ebony facade of shou sugi ban timber has been charred and blackened steel frames bind the building – the scorched, muted exterior is a subtle nod to the craggy darkened lava fields that sweep over much of the country.
I find EDITION Hotels muted and aesthetically restrained generally, but there’s some liveliness to be found when guests check in here. Beyond the lobby, with its central bar and lava-stone sculpture, there’s a more discreet drinking den called Tolt, named after the unique fifth gait of the Icelandic horse. It could well be the most beautiful cocktail spot in Reykjavik, partitioned as it is into cosy nooks and finished with teak tambour walls, burnt orange banquettes, rich walnut ceiling panels and a walnut chandelier. The bar is topped in green marble and its shelves are a dusty bronze. Guest snugs radiate around a central fireplace.
Just around the corner, signature restaurant Tides is helmed by Gunnar Karl Gísason, the local hotshot behind Reykjavik’s New Nordic Michelin-starred Dill. With floor-to-ceiling windows looking towards the water (albeit occasionally with a trawler blocking the view), its centrepiece is a hexagonal-shaped bar over which hangs a custom-made bronze and alabaster chandelier.
Breakfast will be a standard-international affair, mostly (though you can have proper Icelandic skyr with your granola instead of yoghurt), but lunch and dinner sound interesting. Gíslason will serve modern Icelandic cuisine, sometimes incorporating age-old local cooking techniques and preserving methods, and with many of the ingredients cooked over an open fire. Dishes might include whole Arctic char stuffed with lemon, dill and garlic butter, or slow-cooked lamb shoulder with pickled onions, mint and apples. For something slightly fancier, for three nights each week up to 10 people at a time can reserve a seat at a counter overlooking the open kitchen where they’ll enjoy a more elaborate eight-course tasting menu.
The menu will be significantly less complex at The Roof, but on certain nights there’ll be no more popular place in town than the hotel’s 7th floor bar and events space. In diminutive Reykjavik this is a high rise, and its patrons will enjoy more or less unimpeded views of the sea and surrounding mountains, while also having prime position on those hoped-for nights when the Northern Lights are on display.
Although nowhere else in the property will provide such complete views, guests on its upper levels could also get lucky. Every bed faces a window – how amazing it would be to fall asleep with the Aureola Borealis dancing in front of you. Among the hotel’s 253 bedrooms, the star suite is the one-bed penthouse, which has its own terrace that faces the harbour, Harpa and mountains, and includes its own central fireplace. More generally, rooms feature a muted palette of ash wood and pale grey oak, Italian custom-made furniture, copper bed light sconces, faux fur rugs, and locally made artwork. I was surprised when touring one suite to see a pale-cream couch, freshly unwrapped and pristine – a brave colour choice in a place where tired guests might return to their abode wet and muddy.
It’ll probably be locals or visiting concert goers who make most use of basement venue Sunset, one of the few properly late-night venues in the city (I was told Icelandic labour laws mean wages jump massively when staff work unsocial hours). It’s clearly angling to be a preferred after-party venue when big-name acts perform in Reykjavik.
But the spa should appeal to everybody. A beautiful, social space that features a hammam, steam room, sauna and hydrotherapy plunge pool, it also incorporates a central lounge with a spa bar, which complements an expected menu of post-workout shakes and juices with champagnes and vodka cocktails. While Iceland’s most impressive luxury spa will remain The Retreat at Blue Lagoon resort set on the edge of that eponymous attraction and located about an hour’s drive away, given Reykjavik’s frequent bad weather that beauty-and-bar offering should prove a hugely popular rainy-day hideaway.
Rates at The Reykjavik EDITION start at ISK53,438 (£300) per night.
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