Since it can feel like a European winter even in mid-summer in Iceland, what on earth is it like in an actual winter? The gal wanted to know. Guests come to the unforgettably great Hotel Rangá to get away from the rat-race and stress. Year-round they can go horseback riding (Icelandic horses’ hair is hollow, for insulation), they can go winter-sporting, salmon fishing in the River Rangá, 300 yards from the hotel, and so much more. Stay home, and they find three thermally-heated outdoor jacuzzis and, inside, great local art, and a games room with a taupe leather Brunswick billiards table, Ravensburger jigsaws, chess and a good library – I borrowed a really funny book by Emma Thompson’s mother Phyllida Law. Two bars are open 24/7, and, three times a day, the restaurant offers outstanding food.
Breakfast is included in the room rate. Look out through the three all-glass walls that form the only decoration in the restaurant. Tables in the centre of the area become a magnificent buffet, best international paired with truly Icelandic, J. Charpentier sparkling from France through to a bottle of Icelandic cod live oil, with tiniest shot glasses, hams alongside varieties of smoked fish, and three flavours of home-made yoghurt or the national specialty, skyr, like Russian smetana. There were home-made breads and cakes and, a real favourite with anyone under 16, white china jugs held one-portion sizes of batter to pour on to one of two griddles. Make your own waffle and then, if you are typical, cover it with chocolate sauce.
Excellent coffee is do-it-yourself, from pump pots (I had a Nespresso machine in my room, by the way, as well as a tea kettle that intriguing lit up, day-glo blue, as it reached boiling point). But alongside all this feel-good-about-doing it yourself, bespoke main courses are offered, from omelettes with any three fillings, perhaps including hot-smoked local salmon, through to porridge with blueberries. Afterwards, I was in for another treat. Come and see my observatory, said Mr Rangá, also known as Friôrik Pálsson, the genius who owns this place. Aurora borealis is already a big draw from November through to April and he decided to maximise this. Working with a professional astronomer, he built an observatory, a shed about 100 yards from the hotel.
Ah ha, but the surprise continues. Inside the shed he showed off two of the most elaborate telescopes I have been privileged to see – they are so professional that a pair of NASA scientists who saw them have booked to come and stay for an entire week, in 2020. A simple switch makes the entire roof of the observatory slide back. Every night during the season there are professionally-curated night-sky visits, free for hotel guests, at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Nearly all guests also sign up for aurora borealis wake-up. If the hotel’s night manager sees the lights beginning, you are woken and encouraged to rush out, wrapped in blankets, just as soon as you can. His observatory accounts for at least seven percent of first-time bookings, says Friôrik Pálsson, and that number is increasing with every year. See why this Small Luxury Hotel of the World is so unforgettable?