I arrive at The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon somewhere around 6 am. It’s the tail end of winter and the culmination of Iceland’s rainy season. The sun won’t rise for another three hours, and yet I can already see the thick layer of fog that blankets the moss-covered lava rock under the faint glow of the moonlight. I’m here to experience The Ritual, a hallmark spa experience offered by the luxury resort, which draws on the potency of the lagoon’s minerals. In fact, this is the only place in the world where all three elements used in the treatment coexist.
By design, the hotel’s soaring ceilings, serene atmosphere, and massive windows—established to frame the landscape as an alternative to artwork—instantly put me into a much-needed state of R&R. The architecture of the hotel is meant to transport its visitors and induce them into a state of exploration and discovery. Designer Sigurður Þorsteinsson of Design Group Italia, in collaboration with Reykjavik-based Basalt Architects, made certain of that.
A woman named Maria leads me down an ambient hallway, outfitted with only a sliver of windows, toward the hotel’s subterranean spa. I catch snippets of the landscape framed by the steam rising from the lagoon, which weaves around the resort like a pulsing vein. At the end of the corridor, a set of heavy wooden doors leads to the geothermal seawater where I’ll take a quick dip before my treatment begins.
The Retreat has private access to the lagoon, a safe distance away from the bar-lined public section eager travelers make a beeline for mere hours after stepping off the plane in Reykjavik. Here, it’s all about solitude and withdrawing from everyday stresses—a true luxury, given the rising popularity of the destination.
I wade through the water, soaking up the warmth, which offers a pleasant reprieve from the freezing temperatures outside and an antidote to the hail-like precipitation that has begun. Once I’ve had my fill, I make my way back into the main body of the spa for the treatment.
The area where the ritual takes place is housed in a cave-like clearance partitioned into three interconnected chambers, which house the respective components of the treatment. I quickly come to realize that here I will be in charge of my own experience, a refreshing change from being blindly guided by an esthetician. As a self-proclaimed DIY enthusiast, I’m instantly down with this laissez-faire approach.
I hesitantly approach the main counter—an enlarged, lava rock-esque formation outfitted with a simple tray holding a set of rolled towels. I greet the ambivalent spa technician who matter-of-factly directs me to a cove with a massive rainshower head. I wash off the remnants of the lagoon and head over to the first station: minerals. Here, it’s all about exfoliation utilizing the rich mineral salt and lava, harvested in its purest form—a natural alternative that prevents emitting plastic microbeads into the environment, which are sometimes in spa exfoliants. I pour a mixture of the salt and finely grated lava rock into a rubber bowl and begin to scrub the entirety of my body. I wash off the remainder and promptly make my way to station two: silica.
Silica, predominantly found in crystal-form, is the iconic white mineral that coats the walls of the Blue Lagoon. It’s one of the main draws of the destination, serving as a natural cleanser with acne-fighting properties meant to strengthen skin. In the ’80s, when Iceland’s thermal waters first came into existence, it was the power of silica and its competence in treating eczema and psoriasis that launched the lagoon into popularity. By day, the geothermal spa, which had naturally formed in the reservoir, functioned as a medical healing post and by night, it served as the local gathering spot for pleasure—a dual purpose that remains relevant today.
At the silica station, I ladle the white substance into another rubber bowl and slather it on myself. I retreat to one of the built-in benches against the lava rock walls, ice-cold water in hand, and rest for 10 or so minutes, while the mineral dries on my skin. The crowd is mostly composed of variously aged couples, who wander through the stations, taking advantage of the surplus of the minerals. It’s time to rinse off the silica and make my way toward the third and final station: algae.
Undoubtedly the most pungent treatment, the gooey, brown-green algae possesses extraordinary properties meant to instantly renew and hydrate skin. Dubbed “the lung of the world” and even utilized as an alternative food source, the benefits of the organism are seemingly endless. After having come off a six-hour plane ride, I blissfully welcomed it.
“Start with the toes and work your way up,” the esthetician advises, “the algae runs.” And so I begin, meticulously covering every exposed inch of myself in the thick substance. It instantly dries, and I allow it to linger for a few minutes before washing it off.
My experience culminates back at the lava rock counter, where Maria awaits with a cold towel and algae oil, which I promptly apply to my face. It leaves me with an unmistakable glow, which I will happily ride out for the remainder of the day. To say that I feel renewed would be an understatement. I leave with a surprising sense of achievement, a byproduct of being in charge of an experience in learning to let go and unwinding—the irony here does not escape me. It’s a lesson that stays with me long after I’ve left the lagoon and its mystical powers.