Iceland is known for its natural hot springs and geothermal pools, many of which are located in picturesque settings such as forests or near waterfalls. These types of spas are popular tourist attractions in Iceland and offer visitors the opportunity to relax and soak in the warm water while surrounded by the country’s beautiful scenery.
A charming new spa designed to calm tourists seeking to experience natural hot springs and vegetation in equal measure is hidden away in Iceland’s northern woodlands.
The amenities that guests have come to expect from a contemporary geothermal spa in Iceland will be offered at Forest Lagoon, which was created by the same architects behind the long-popular Blue Lagoon and the more recent GeoSea spas. The Lagoon stands out, nevertheless, because of how well it blends into the surrounding rocky and forested surroundings.
Spa in the trees
Visitors can gaze out through the opening of birch, pine, and fir trees to a panoramic fjord view while relaxing in one of the two 104 F infinity pools with a drink in hand from either swim-up bar.
The leisure pools at the spa are heated with pure geothermal water that is obtained from the mountainside behind them. Originally discovered by construction crews in 2014 during an unrelated tunnel project connecting Akureyri and Húsavik, the water has been transformed from a source of headache to a source of relaxation.
Expected to open by April, Forest Lagoon’s 1,300-square-meter complex includes a bistro, two infinity pools with swim-up bars, a cold pool and a sauna. The facility can accommodate up to 200 visitors at a time.
Located in the Vaðlaskógur forest, the spa is a couple minutes’ car drive or a short walk from Akureyri. Known locally as the “Capital of the North,” this town is about a 40-minute flight or five-hour drive from Reykjavík.
The history of geothermal bathing in Iceland is very interesting. The act of bathing here is kind of like a public right. This is where meaningful conversations happen, in the hot tub, in the pools. You get people who don’t know each other at all, you’re all half-naked, so there’s no status, you don’t know who the other is, and this encourages a more open exchange.Hrólfur Karl Cela
Environment and design
The spa seems to meld into the surrounding forest and mountain, and that’s by design.
Hrólfur Karl Cela is one of the lead architects working on Forest Lagoon. He added that the fundamental objective of these projects is integrating them into the environment and accentuating the distinctive quality of each place. He has also collaborated on the design of the Blue Lagoon and GeoSea spas with Reykjavk-based Basalt Architects.
“In this case, how the architecture can integrate into the forest to provide a hybrid experience of geothermal bathing and forest bathing, both at the same time,” Cela said via email.
It’s not just what’s on the outside that counts, it’s about what’s inside, too. Cela said that in order to minimize the building’s negative environmental effects while maintaining visitor immersion in the forest.
Cross-laminated timber was chosen as the accent material for the spa’s interior because of this.
According to climatetrust.org, the construction material can reduce a new building’s carbon footprint, while also being fire and earthquake-resistant.
Another reason to go north
The 2014 discovery of the geothermal water source delayed construction of the tunnel, but spurred soon-to-be business owners Sigríður Hammer and her husband Finnur Aðalbjörnsson into action.
Construction on the Forest Lagoon started in the summer of 2021 after 250 hectares of land were purchased and permission to use runoff water was obtained. Hammer said she and her husband wanted to draw attention to the beauty of a lesser-known hamlet in Iceland.
“Akureryi is a beautiful sight and has a lot to offer … but we wanted to offer tourists more to explore in Akureyri and stay here a little longer.” Hammer said.
Admission for two people with two drinks included is expected to run about $112 (13,900 Icelandic Króna), with single admissions under $50 per person and discounted rates for larger groups of five or 10.
The geothermal pools are not just for visitors anyway; Hammer stated there will be locals-only winter tickets available once they are open all year. The couple will think about extensions in the shape of a nearby hotel and massage spa if things go well in the first year.
Owners and designers of Forest Lagoon are both optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is over and that guests may enjoy this distinctly Icelandic experience in safety.
“The history of geothermal bathing in Iceland is very interesting,” Cela said. “The act of bathing here is kind of like a public right. This is where meaningful conversations happen, in the hot tub, in the pools. You get people who don’t know each other at all, you’re all half-naked, so there’s no status, you don’t know who the other is, and this encourages a more open exchange.”