Four hours of driving unkept gravel roads, over mountains, across fjords, will take you from Reykjavík to Iceland’s other Reykjanes peninsula, the one that’s happily free of international airports, chav culture and naval bases. This peninsula’s claim to fame is an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool (hot tub, really) filled with geothermal water and other pleasantness that, when at its best, really doesn’t compare to anything else Iceland has to offer. Add to that the fact that at certain times (around midnight, for instance) Reykjanes and its charmingly rustic hotel/campsite offer the kind of peace and quiet most tourists will happily travel across continents to reach and you start wondering why the resort is one of Icelandic tourism’s best kept secrets.
No amount of words or pictures could possibly capture the Reykjanes pool in optimal conditions. Its raw concrete structure fits surprisingly well with the area’s rugged geography, underwater wooden benches provide a place to rest and contemplate the fact that while the wooden fencing blocks a potentially great view, it does provide convenient shelter from the wind. Plus, one side is unfenced and thus allows one to imagine the warm water blending in with the clear, clean sky, the sometimes-angry ocean or even the mountains looming afar.
Floating in the pool during sunlit summer nights invites many a curiosity; some whippoorwills and ducks may decide to lounge there with you or a drunk French tourist will choose to inform you of his nation’s immigrant policy. Or, on crisp winter evenings, clear, starlit skies may suddenly transform into a bright canvas displaying the amazingly vivid aurora borealis that, reflected in the water’s shiny black surface, seems to envelope you completely. You may of course encounter none of those things, but still leave satisfied due to some nice company and a few drinks kept poolside. Most folks tend to soak themselves for several hours at a time.
The pool was built in 1934 to replace the older 1889 rock-and-dirt-based model (although there are references to swimming lessons being given there as early as the beginning of the 19th century – an Icelandic anomaly), remnants of which are still visible. It was, until early last year, Iceland’s ‘longest’ swimming pool; although it was originally meant to be a modest 25-metre length the carpenters apparently got confused with their measurements. As previously noted, it, much like the rest of the area’s structures, is geothermally heated, resulting in a comfortably inconsistent average temperature and a warning sign gracing its banks: pool may be extremely hot, patrons enter at their own risk.
Reykjanes is actually one of the few geothermally active regions on the West Fjord peninsula, Iceland’s oldest geological area. Its potency has long been known; it was the site of Iceland’s first professional salt refinery, which was in operation from 1770-90. It even saw a successfully operated, geothermally powered greenhouse (much like the ones in Hveragerði) for half a decade in the 1930s, until its progenitor lost interest in the project for whatever reason. Reykjanes also hosted a spa-like resort some 50 years ago, but among Icelanders, it is best known for the boarding school operated there for the greater part of the 20th century (whose buildings now house the hotel).
Accommodation at the Reykjanes hotel is of the standard Icelandic former-boarding school variety, both in terms of pricing and comfort. There are a number of double rooms available along with four fully functional apartments, ideal for families or smaller groups. Budget travellers may seek refuge in sleeping bag accommodations or the accompanying campsite, although that is not a feasible option for fall or wintertime visits. The hotel’s restaurant and bar are also reasonably priced, offering breakfast and cake buffets along with standard Icelandic road fare such as cheeseburgers and fries. Bringing alcohol and food to consume at the premises seems to be generally tolerated, although the usual civil rules apply, the resort being a private enterprise. The fabled swimming pool is luckily free of charge and open ‘round the clock.
While the joys of the Reykjanes pool can’t be overemphasised, there are of course other things to do while staying there. The area boasts a varied (for Iceland, anyway) fauna, and is therefore an ideal retreat for bird-watchers and other nature enthusiasts. A five-minute walk to the nearby shore may expose one to overtly friendly baby seals that are known to follow tourists around in the hope of making friends (a bad idea: although baby seals are indeed beautiful, taking care of them can be a real bother. And they get pretty big when they quit being babies). Hiking paths around the peninsula and the nearby mountains are numerous and meticulously marked and mapped out (information can for instance be acquired at the hotel reception).
Another point of interest for the average aqua enthusiast is the fact that the surrounding fjords boast some of Iceland’s more excellent ‘hidden’ geothermal hot tubs popular among in-the-know locals who like to relax there, drink in hand, occasionally taking dips in the cold North Atlantic to stay awake longer in the hot water. As they are in essence ‘hidden’, a widely read publication such as the Grapevine can’t really divulge their location, although most locals will be happy to give directions when approached.
Although the accompanying photo provides an accurate portrayal of how Reykjanes looked when the Grapevine paid its visit in late October, the surrounding scenery and conditions changed many times that day. Among other things, the West Fjords are famous for rapidly changing weather and Reykjanes is no exception. During the day we spent there, we experienced bouts of sunshine, interspersed with rain, sleet, a calm and a storm – every hour the area’s appearance changed dramatically. Worse luck was the fact that the much-hyped pool was in the process of being re-filled after cleaning (as no chlorine is used, the water needs to be drained occasionally), which unfortunately rendered it useless for the duration of our stay. We made do with the homely sauna-shack and the numerous secret pools, vowing to one day return for the full experience that has thus far failed to disappoint.
More information on Reykjanes can be found at www.rnes.is or by calling 456-4844.