Enjoy rugged Icelandic scenery and the northern lights from the Hotel Ranga, a luxurious hotel easily accessible from Reykjavík
The night sky is something that we don’t see in London. Obviously, its not that there isn’t any sky, but it’s more that light pollution mean that the only thing we can really ever see other than the orange glow of street lights is the moon, and the seemingly endless procession of planes coming into Heathrow. One of the delights of staying in Iceland at a hotel in the countryside is the chance to properly look at the night sky, and, with luck, nature’s own firework show of the northern lights.
The Hotel Ranga is located about 100km/60 miles east of Reykjavik, just off the country’s main road; Route 1 – the ring road around the island (which is surprisingly un-busy) and an attractive, scenic drive. It’s a long building, with two wings of rooms spreading east and west from the central core which houses the reception, bar, private dining rooms and restaurant. It’s a cosy structure, with the majority being built from cedar logs imported from Canada, giving a real outdoorsy feel.
Our ground floor room – wood lined, with a painted mural on one – had a very large, comfy bed, a sofa and outside the full length windows a wooden terrace, and a large jacuzzi in the bathroom. Comfortable and spacious, it was in the newest wing of the building; on the upper floor of this wing are seven large themed master suites. Rooms cost from €316 for a standard single to €989 for as master suite in the summer high season, and €232 to €742 respectively in winter.
It’s when you step outside that the real grandeur of the countryside strikes. The land to the south stretches away, while the highlands can be seen to the north east. The thing that really struck us was that the horizons were huge: with few trees and hedges, there’s nothing to stop your view. A real “big sky” feel, and one of the main reasons to visit Iceland. It’s a very different feel to western Europe.
But it’s not all hardship. The bars inside are comfy, with an impressive range of choice of drinks including two local drinks: Bjork liqueur (named after the female name for the birch tree, rather than the singer), and Birkir schnapps (named after the male name for the same tree). We found these were just the thing for a little after dinner digestif.
When night falls, hopes of seeing the northern lights rise. So that you don’t miss the chance, at the reception desk you can sign up to receive a phone call when the light show starts. The comfy thickly padded blue onesies are freely available to let you stay outside without getting too cold while enjoying the sight, and the hotel switches off all outside lights to give the best visibility, the hotel also has an observatory close by that guests can use. Various tours and excursions can be booked at reception – we took a tour of the Golden Circle and went riding on Icelandic horses, other guests took helicopter trips, visited the glaciers and volcanoes.
In the morning, breakfast in the restaurant is largely the standard hotel choices: cereals, toast, cheeses and smoked meats, a selection of cooked items: bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs etc and a hot waffle iron with little jugs of batter giving the choice of a cook-your-own waffle. Perfect with bacon and maple syrup.
There’s no hiding the fact that you’re near the Arctic circle when you meet Hrammur in the lobby!
The weather for our visit was, admittedly, variable, so we were grateful for a warming, and muscle relaxing soak in a hot tub at the end of the day. Moreover, it’s a guilt free indulgence as the three tubs are heated using geothermal energy. The tubs are easily accessible from each room’s terrace, perfect for a quick or longer soak before dinner.
And dinner was, frankly, exceptional. Local produce and seafood were cooked both well and imaginatively to really cap off the day. We particularly enjoyed a starter of smoked puffin; with rich game flavours (and not at all fishy, as we were slightly concerned about, being novices in the ways of eating puffin), as well as a delicate reindeer carpaccio served with truffle oil and parmesan.
Main courses of lightly salted cod – perfectly cooked, soft and flaky; arctic char, with a delicious crispy skin, tender lamb, and beef – fried tenderloin and braised cheek were both memorable, with the quality of the ingredients shining through. We were really impressed by the food, the equal of any quality restaurant. First courses are between ISK 2,600 and ISK 3,500 (£17 to £23) and ISK 4,400 to 10,500 for mains (£30to £70). If you’re looking for a small bite, there’s a lunch/bar menu with dishes ranging £13 – £30.
We were sorry to leave the Hotel Ranga, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We plan on returning to Iceland before too long, and I can easily see us stopping again here for a night or two as we further explore the country. With a bit of luck next time we will see those northern lights.
To get there we travelled with WOW air, which offer very affordable flights to Reykjavík from many European and North American airports.
We were guests of the Hotel Ranga (but funded our own flights £250 for the two of us from London, Gatwick), all opinions are our own.
Hotel Ranga, Suðurlandsvegur, 851 Hella, Iceland