The rural area of Borgarfjörður was, until recently, a relative backwater of Iceland’s tourist trail. Known for the waterfalls of Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, the historic village of Reykholt, the Deildartunguhver hot spring, the cave-riddled Hallmundarhraun lava field, and its close proximity to the Langjökull glacier, it’s a beloved summer camping area for Icelanders, and the steady trickle of tourists making an inland detour from Route One.
In recent years, Borgarfjörður has become a must-see stop on many tourist itineraries. Langjökull’s man-made ice tunnel now brings tourists to Borgarfjörður by the busload. Fosshotel and Hotel Húsafell offer plush lodgings nearby, with the rustic Fossatún cabins as an affordable option during summer. The famous Víðgelmir lava tube has been developed into an accessible caving experience, with guided tours, easily navigable walkways, and dramatically lit rock formations.
The latest attraction to arrive in this beautiful area is Krauma—or “Simmer,” in English. It’s a luxurious geothermal spa with a stark and stylish look, featuring various steam rooms and hot pots powered by the sulphurous water of Deildartunguhver—Europe’s most powerful geothermal spring, located just a stone’s throw away. The steam from the roaring, hissing, bubbling geothermal vent pours skywards in a column that’s visible for miles around.
We arrive at Krauma on a particularly snowy afternoon. A tour bus sits in the parking lot, but we’re happy to see that the anorak-clad group are only checking out the geothermal area. Krauma opened with a “soft launch” strategy during the winter low season, giving them time to perfect the experience before welcoming the masses. All the better for us: for the duration of our visit, we have the place pretty much to ourselves.
Heat and chill
We’re welcomed by Jónas Friðrik Hjartarson, Krauma’s managing director. He walks us past the restaurant area, pointing out the five outdoor hot pots of various sizes and temperatures, a cold plunge pool, a scented sauna, a steam room, and a lounge area with an open fire that can be turned around to face a circle of reclining loungers.
Jónas explains how the boiling hot water from the spring is mixed with cold glacial water from Rauðsgil, which originates from Ok—Iceland’s smallest glacier—to create the perfect bathing temperature. As we walk around, I can’t help but admire the contrast of the jet black circular pools set against the blindingly white fresh snow that lies shovelled into heaps. The design is by DARK Studio, the Icelandic architecture and design studio that’s also currently working on a new hotel at Geysir. Their sleekly organised bathing area can apparently hold 140 people at full capacity, although that seems slightly hard to imagine as we walk around the empty deck.
Finally, it’s time to take the facilities for a test run. We step out of our soft bathrobes and meander gradually between the pots, sliding into the steaming hot water and taking in the view over to Deildartunguhver. The temperature is perfect, even in sub-zero conditions, and the hot water soothes away worries, shoulder knots and stiff muscles. The windowless steam rooms are dark and somewhat cell-like, but the hot air hangs pungent with the smell of the natural oils.
We linger for a while in the lounge, sipping cold beers and occasionally stoking the fire, before going for a final soak. When it’s finally time to dress and leave, I’m surprised to find out that we’ve been simmering for two whole hours. With rumbling stomachs, we dig into a well-presented meal of locally farmed lamb before we reluctantly hit the road, happy to have had the chance to try out this blissful new bathing spot in the peace of the frozen winter.