Stracta Hotel, Hella, Iceland: Room service
Make this Icelandic retreat your goal
Saturday 26 July 2014
Curiously, Iceland – with a population of just 325,670 – has two hotels part-owned by professional footballers. The first, Kex Hostel, was opened by former Chelsea player Eidur Gudjohnsen in an old biscuit factory in the capital, Reykjavik, in 2011. And now there's Stracta Hella, the first hotel from Hermann Hreidarsson, in association with his Portsmouth and IBV team-mate, former England goalkeeper David James.
Hermann was born in the remote Vestmannaey Islands off Iceland's south coast and returned to his homeland in 2013 after 315 appearances for English Premier League clubs over 15 years. In partnership with his father, he has earmarked sites for a portfolio of 10 hotels in Iceland's prime scenic regions that will put visitors in prime position for exploring this vast natural playground. The Stracta, which opened earlier this month, has spectacular views of the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull, the ash-cloud villain that paralysed Europe's air routes when it erupted in April 2010, and the explosive Hekla, dubbed "Gateway to Hell" by pioneering Danish colonisers in the Middle Ages.
Built on two storeys, the central part of the hotel stands out in a region where most construction hugs the land. The ground floor includes a reception desk imprinted with the legend "Next Door to Nature", an island bar and the Gardur Restaurant which serves snacks and buffet breakfasts and dinners in low season. Valdis Braadottir, a young chef who made her name in the Hotel Natura in Reykjavik, masterminds high-quality meat, fish and vegetarian dishes of the day.
Wood work: Nordicminimalist decor at the Stracta Hotel Helga Sigurbjorndottir, the Hreidarsson family's favourite designer, is responsible for a striking modern concept, with eight single-storey accommodation blocks radiating out from the central building. They're made from white and grey corrugated metal, a practical design in a very uncertain climate and much more stylish than it sounds. The terrace outside the bar overlooks lawns, three open-air hot tubs and a sauna. The linked spaces on the ground floor and the welcoming young staff create a relaxed ambiance, with hikers chatting easily to strangers over their beer.
The Stracta is 60 miles south-east of Reykjavik, just beyond the village of Hella on Route 1, the road that loops around southern Iceland. The hotel shop has a desk manned by South Iceland Adventures (siadv.is) whose bestseller is a day excursion by 4x4 to Thorsmork, a valley with a wide range of hiking routes offering the chance to see glaciers and volcanos at close quarters. They can also arrange longer trips that will include camping overnight.
Hella Horse Rental (hellahorserental.is) is next door to the hotel and offers three short group rides a day to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, with stops to photograph volcanos along the way, plus longer excursions on demand. Iceland's horses are a breed apart, as imports are forbidden and any animals that leave the country can never return. They are exceptionally forward-going, so riding them is exhilarating.
For a hot water soak in the wilderness, try the nature pool at Seljavallalaug, a 40-minute drive and 10-minute hike from the hotel. In winter, when it's dark around the clock, Stracta will be excellent for viewing the Northern Lights. Expect to compete for hot tub space on clear nights.
The hotel has 122 rooms, the majority of which offer basic comfort, with free Wi-Fi throughout. However, the 16 superior rooms are more spacious, with larger bathrooms and wider doors, and bathrooms that feature wet-room-style showers.
The decor in my room was Nordic-minimalist, with twin beds, a single chair and a wall of shelving and hanging space without doors. The surrounding silence combined with immaculate white sheets and jade or moss green throws knitted from local sheep's wool invited deep sleep. Two dozen studios provide greater versatility, with twin beds and a double pullout sofa, plus sink, fridge and microwave for basic self-catering.
Top of the range means a spacious suite or an apartment in one of three houses.
Gaddstadaflatir 4, Hella, Iceland (00 354 531 8010; stractahotels.is)
Doubles from Kr25,500 (£131) with breakfast .Regent (020 7666 1290; regent-holidays.co.uk). has four-nights' B&B from £799pp, with flights from London and 4x4 hire.
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