We streak out of Reykjavík along Route 41, escaping snarls of Saturday morning traffic and shooting into the snowy wilderness of Reykjanes. Soon enough, the city is far behind us. It’s midday but the sky is still tinged with pink—daytime never really arrives in Icelandic December. To the left, snow drapes the rich, verdant moss that itself drapes the jagged lava fields of the peninsula, and to the right, the serpentine coastline meets the freezing ocean.
This picturesque route will be familiar to anyone who has arrived at Keflavík Airport. The road that links the airport to the city is quite an amazing drive in itself, but it’s easy to become numb to its beauty during tired and grouchy early morning and late night Flybus journeys, coming or going from Iceland.
Today, however, we’re doing something different. We coast past the airport turnoff, leaving the traffic behind, and peel off to the right, into the heart of Keflavík town.
There are no two ways about it—Keflavík feels like a backwater. As we crawl down the main drag, stuck behind a slow-moving tractor, it feels like the town expanded over time in a forced or inorganic fashion, resulting in a layout that feels almost uncomfortable. An office building stands backed up against an unappealing minimall; rusting industrial plots and weathered car workshops lurk by the roadside behind deteriorating wire fences. Some of the units on the high street are closed down and boarded up, and several storefronts bear ghosts of the logos that once adorned them. One café that’s highly rated on Google is under renovation, and we peer through the dusty windows at piles of cardboard boxes and coils of electric wire.
Keflavík’s town centre, though, is not the reason for our visit. We’ve come for a night away at Hotel Berg, a smart boutique hotel that sits on a hill behind the old harbour. Indeed, from this advantageous spot, the hotel looks down toward the town over grassy knolls, old stone walls and boats bobbing in the ocean. You could, but for the planes passing overhead, be in any fishing town in Iceland.
Crisp and modern
The hotel feels immediately welcoming. The lobby is airy and spacious, with crisp white walls, a smattering of fancy design chairs and comfortable sofas, a small bar, and some bookshelves breaking up the space. As we check in, the friendly receptionist chats with us. The hotel has been booked out all summer, she says, and is still busy even now, deep into the off season.
As we’re shown to our rooms, it’s easy to see why. Everything about Hotel Berg is crisp and modern, from the floor lighting in the corridors, to the floor-to-ceiling windows that cast geometric shadows on the walls at different times of the day, to the cosy details that set off the bright, minimal rooms.
After sinking into the soft cloud of the bed for a while, we decide to head for a dip in the rooftop pool. It’s a small hot pot with iridescent tiles; long struts cross the water diagonally, and transparent dividers keep the wind away whilst allowing bathers to take in the view. Even on this chilly afternoon, the pot is a steady and comfortable 38°. We linger for an hour, watching the light fade from bright orange evening, to a burning pink sunset, and then into inky darkness.
Venturing out into the cold, most of the dinner spots in Keflavík are either off-puttingly empty or closed for the winter. A huge maritime-themed restaurant called Rain is deserted except for some locals playing on gambling machines in the bar area. Two Thai places are occupied only by sole staff members hunched behind the counters on their phones. The only place showing signs of life is a neighbourhood café-bar called Fernando’s, so we have a quick dinner before picking up some snacks from a local candy shop and heading back to the plush comfort of the hotel, only wishing that it had an in-house restaurant to enjoy.
In the morning, we have a filling buffet breakfast—which can be booked from 3am for those with early flights—then rest as the sun creeps coldly into the sky, enjoying the comfortable rooms right up until checkout. The hotel is a relaxing place to stay, and while Keflavík itself isn’t a top destination, for anyone coming off a long road trip around Iceland seeking a cosy final stop before a homeward flight, Hotel Berg certainly is.