Check in for elegance and escapades in Iceland's first 'adventure hotel'

Hotel ION delivers sleek design inside, plus the great outdoors, as Sarah Baxter discovers

Face down in the frigid blue, I dangled between continents. The water, which seemed to grip my brain like an ice-cream headache, was crystal, allowing clear views of the fissure below. I flippered forwards, cresting a sub-aqua ridge where, suddenly, the turquoise plunged to a more ominous navy, hinting at a fathomless abyss. I was so startled I spat out my snorkel and lost all form; my buoyant dry-suit spun me round, and returned me to the real world. Bobbing helplessly with my back to the bowels of the Earth, I was glad to see Iceland – mountainous, treeless and surreal – was still there.

Everything about this escapade was absurd. The air temperature in Thingvellir National Park hovered around 5C, the waters of its Silfra Rift 2C – natural, then, to don a padded onesie and neoprene babygrow, and jump right in ...

Thingvellir, in Iceland's south-west and less than an hour's drive from Reykjavik, is the country's most important cultural site. Parliament was established here in AD930. But it is also where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet and I had just snorkelled in the chilly limbo in the middle.

My base was the recently revamped Hotel ION, just south of the national park, and plum inside the "Golden Circle" tourist circuit. Unveiled in February, not only is ION heavy on style – walls of wood and smoothed concrete, Scandi-chic furniture, big murals, an Icelandic soundtrack – it also claims to be the country's first adventure hotel. If swimming between continents was anything to go by, I wasn't about to argue.

"It's mainly our location," the receptionist replied, when I asked what an "adventure hotel" might be. Certainly, ION has quite a spot: so accessible from the capital, yet away from light pollution; out in the wilds, amid lava fields and snow-streaked mountains; wonderfully isolated – save one unusual neighbour ...

"It's great to be by the geothermal power station," she continued. "It provides our energy."

Before it was a hotel, the older part of ION was built to house the employees of Nesjavellir Power Station, whose steaming turbines came as a shock when I arrived in this otherwise pristine wilderness. But, actually, the plant is a source of pride – Iceland leads the world in geothermal technology. And it is Nesjavellir's workers who mapped out the hiking trails that lead right from the hotel's door.

The power station doesn't intrude on the hotel's Northern Lights Bar either. Although one side of this dimly lit glass-walled den overlooks an access road, station staff will turn off their streetlamps should the aurora start to dance. Sadly, despite me keeping vigil in the bar, as well as in the hotel's al fresco hot tub, the Northern Lights didn't come out to play on my visit. Still, it's a good excuse to return this autumn, which Nasa has predicted will see solar activity peak.

And there was plenty more entertainment. Iceland is a geologic pleasuredome. This youthful island, only about 20 million years old, is constantly spewing, simmering, changing and creating natural features that lend themselves to thrilling pursuits. In this region alone, there are waterfalls to walk behind, slopes to snowmobile, caves to probe, volcanoes to climb and rivers to raft, kayak, or ford in SuperJeeps.

My next adventure was to take a stroll on Solheimajokull. "In 2000, it used to reach to the car park," my guide, Gulli, explained as we now had to walk 500m or so to the glacier's terminal edge. Helmets and harnesses on, we stamped onto the ice, walking like bow-legged cowboys so as not to stab ourselves with our own crampons. It was a dreary day but, like Scotland or New Zealand, there's a drama to Iceland that's almost enhanced by bad weather. The glacier, marbled with ash deposits and scored with crevasses, twisted up into its broody mother mountains; to the side, green valleys dripped with waterfalls, empowered by recent rain.

Gulli kept me safe and informed as we crunched about on Solheimajokull's surface. He pointed out moulins (circular shafts) at varied stages of formation and led me into a sheltered bowl of sparkling blue-white that looked gouged by an ice-cream scoop. A good guide adds so much more than protection. But part of Iceland's appeal is the refreshing lack of health and safety mania. There are no ugly barriers to nature: the rules of common sense prevail.

I certainly wouldn't have attempted my final tour alone. As twilight descended over the troll-like knobbles of Stora-Bollahraun lava field, I followed guide Ingo into the centre of the Earth . Leidarendi (End of the Journey Cave) is a 2,000-year-old subterranean lava tube. Exploring with only Ingo, three Swedes and the odd plink of water for company, it felt like another world.

Our headtorches helped us to find safe passage amid a vulcanologist's rapture of formations. Lava teats dimpled the roof; a silica-flecked ceiling glittered like a canopy of stars; fragile stalagmites grew from the rubble, and rocks came in purple, black, yellow and rich red. At one point the cave narrowed to about 50cm high, forcing us to crawl like Indiana Jones escaping a boulder (only with less panache and harder hats). Then we sat in a chamber and turned off our lights for a moment's silent contemplation of the complete darkness.

I remembered this moment back at ION, my body cosy, my ears soothed by Icelandic folksters Of Monsters and Men, a delicious Arctic char, plucked from nearby Lake Thingvellir, on my plate. I pressed my face to the window: mountains, lava fields but, alas, no Northern Lights. An adventure for another night, perhaps.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Iceland specialist Discover the World (01737 214291; discover-the-world.co.uk) offers three-night Hotel ION packages from £781 per person, including return flights from Heathrow to Reykjavik with Icelandair, accommodation with breakfast and entrance to the Blue Lagoon; also included is either a Northern Lights Safari by SuperJeep (October-March) or SuperJeep Midnight Sun Safari (April-September), both of which also involve lava-caving and a lobster dinner. Additional excursion options include the Golden Circle Safari with Snorkelling (from £200pp) and the South Shore Safari with Glacier Walk (from £195pp).

Icelandair (0844 811 1190; icelandair.co.uk) flies to Reykjavik from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, and Glasgow; returns from £238. Reykjavik is also served by Wow Air (0118-321 8384; wowiceland.co.uk) from Gatwick and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) from Luton, Manchester and Edinburgh.

More information

visiticeland.com

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?