Set in the vast open expanses of Southern Iceland’s picturesque landscape, Hotel Ranga is a luxurious, log-cabin style hotel, whose reputation for first rate service, accommodation and food sends it to the higher reaches of the must-stay places in the country.
Having landed in Reykjavík in the dark of the early evening, we proceeded on the one hour drive to our destination of the Hotel Ranga, just outside the town of Hella. Our driver was extremely informative speaking on a variety of topics from the history of Iceland and its folk-lore, to the natural wonders of the Island, to the country’s modern culture. The drive even included a stop at an ice cream parlour to sample the local selection and various combinations of sauces, nuts and sweets. In the hours’ drive, we travelled through lava fields, over a mountain range and between volcanoes, a complete world away from the scenery to which we are accustomed.
The hotel itself is set away from the main road in its own secluded location, unsullied by streetlights and the un-natural light from other buildings. On entering the Hotel, even before reaching the reception desk, you are greeted by the magnificent (and at first intimidating) sight of a 10-foot polar bear stood on its hind legs. As we discovered, this was the first of many unique and unusual decorations throughout the hotel (in particular, in their ever-popular continent-themed suites). The walk through the hotel to our room, took us along cedar-clad corridors, past guest facilities including massage room and recreation room. The room itself, stayed with the total wood interior, with king-size bed, writing desk, coffee table and sofa. The bathroom contained a large plunge bath with rain-forest shower, the water being piped in from the island’s geo-thermal natural resources, and sink with vanity mirror and unit. To round off the bedroom design, there are doors to the outside seating area, facing the East-Ranga River, which also allowed easy access to one of the hotel’s three outdoor heated jacuzzis.
Whilst the deluxe rooms had a simplistic charm to them, the continent themed suites are simply spectacular in their design and décor. Each suite represents a continent of the world and each is decorated accordingly. We spent a night in the “Africa” suite, with a zebra skin adorning the wall, a large light fitting with ostrich egg “shades”, authentic wooden furniture imported from the continent and even a set of tribal drums. The other suites were no less authentic with furnishings ranging from bear skin and surf boards to Japanese shoji walls and kayaks, all imported direct from their native countries.
Having made ourselves at home in our room, it was straight down to dinner in the Hotels 4-star restaurant. The a la carte menu has its inspiration in modern Nordic cuisine and is predominantly sourced from local suppliers, to ensure the highest quality and freshness. Over the three nights spent at the hotel we tried many of the dishes on offer. From the starter menu, we chose dishes which included wild mushroom soup and, due to not having tried it before, smoked puffin – a deep flavoured red meat combined with cream cheese. But there is also, amongst the selection, reindeer carpaccio, beef tartar, seafood soup, scallops and salads. The main courses had a sea-based feel to them with dishes containing fish such as salmon, cod, scallops and langoustine, arctic char and skate. Each was cooked to perfection and simply melted in the mouth. The meat-lovers do not miss out though. The beef tenderloin and braised cheek is a stunning dish packed full of flavour and the lamb fillet and shoulder was worth the visit on its own. The dessert menu has something for everyone, be it chocolate brownie, selection of ice creams, panna cotta, poached pear or lemon pudding – even the sweetest tooth will be left content by the fair on offer. Throughout the meal, the staff were of the highest order, ever helpful and willing to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. A particularly nice touch is provided by the owner, who spends the evening walking around the restaurant talking to his guests and getting to know them personally, going out of his way to ensure everything goes beyond expectation.
After an extremely comfortable night’s sleep, it was back to the restaurant for buffet breakfast. There was an ample selection of fruits, yoghurts, juices, cereals, meats and cheeses. In addition, there was a freshly cooked breakfast with all the traditional components and make your own waffles. All in all, it provided a truly filling start to the day – even though there was still no sign of sunlight; we had to wait until just after 10 o’clock for it to rise.
On our first full day in Iceland, the hotel had arranged a personal guide for the day. He produced a full day’s itinerary with the basis of the trip being to visit sights on the famous Icelandic Golden Circle. The trip started off in a 4 x4 out of the Hotel with our first stop being at Urridafoss –a relatively small but powerful waterfall. From here we travelled through the stunning, snow laden landscapes with signs of previous volcanic activity strewn all around.
After a tour of the local town of Hella, we journeyed onto the Fridheimar greenhouse and restaurant for lunch. The greenhouse is a prime example of how the Icelandic people make use of the natural resources at their disposal. The greenhouse houses tomato and cucumber plants, grown without the use of pesticides, pollinated using “transported in” bees and mass produced using the countries natural geothermal heat. Who knew tomato production could be so fascinating, but 1 in 10 tourists to the country visit here. To say the restaurant menu is minimal would be an understatement; however, the joy of the restaurant is its main, in fact almost only ingredient, the tomato. Whether you go for the freshly made tomato soup, the pasta with tomato sauce or grilled tortillas with tomato and mozzarella, you will not be disappointed. You can then finish off with the tomato ice-cream or green-tomato cheesecake – which honestly, tastes better than they sound.
Next stop was at a true natural wonder – Haukadalur, the home to hot springs and geysers. The most active geyser is Strokkur, which erupts every 5-10 minutes, spurting hot water upto 30 metres into the air. The ground has a green and yellow hue with the air carrying the smell of sulphur emanating from the volcanic earth. Whilst the geysers and springs were a sight to behold, our next destination was truly awe-inspiring. We ventured about 10 kilometers to the Gullfoss waterfall – a breath-taking natural phenomenon, with water powering its way over two drops into a valley. It is a sight to behold. Our trip ended with a slight detour from the planned itinerary, to the Secret Lagoon, reportedly Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. The lagoon lies in a geothermal area which keeps the water at a naturally constant 35-40 degree temperature. It provides a relaxing yet bizarre experience, swimming outdoor whilst people are walking around the lagoon in the snow, wearing thermals and thick coats. It was a day crammed with what Iceland has to offer in all its natural beauty.
Once back at the hotel, it was already dark and after another fabulous meal, it was time to experience another of the Hotel’s selling points – its observatory. A short walk from the main hotel, the observatory has a sliding roof and houses 2 powerful telescopes. The hotels location means that light pollution is at a minimum, making it perfect for star-gazing. Whilst there, we looked at constellations, hundreds of light years away and close-ups of the craters on the moon. Unfortunately, we only caught a faint glimpse of the aurora borealis, Northern Lights. In the event that they appear throughout the night, the Hotel offers a wake-up service, so you are not sat up all night waiting, a very welcome service indeed.
Our final day, again, involved a Hotel arranged tour. This consisted of a more vehicle-based tour. We took in the Seljalsandfoss waterfall. Its origins lie in the Eyjafjallajokull glacier, the site of the 2010 volcanic eruption that caused travel chaos throughout Europe. The waterfall drops 60 metres into a pool below but the highlight has to be the ability to walk behind the falls into a small cavern, to give a unique perspective of the force from the water. Next we moved onto the Skogafoss falls – at 25 metres wide and 60 metres high, it’s a truly magnificent sight, with the spray resulting in frequent rainbows above the water. Our final destination of the day was the Black Beach near Vik, the southern-most point of the island. The black sand, basalt columns and fierce tides and surf highlight nature at its creative and violent best.
When back at the hotel, we settled for an afternoon drink in their second floor lounge area, comfortable leather sofas giving spectacular views of the local volcanos, glaciers and Ranga River.
The Hotel Ranga, is a truly unique hotel in a unique location, the hotelier shows that the Hotel is not only his workplace and a job, but it is also his passion and hobby. From the outdoor hot-tubs and observatory, to the adventure activities and themed suites, to the restaurant and geothermal heating, the Hotel Ranga provides a four-star stay from where you can enjoy and experience the natural beauty of this most unique country.