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On clear nights, guests at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel can see the Northern Lights without having to leave the hotel.

Rooms at the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel are decorated in inimitable Icelandic style with floor to ceiling windows so that guests can fully appreciate the magnificent view of the surroundings.

Northern Lights Bar at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel where guests can see the Aurora Borealis and stars in the night and Lake Thingvellir in the day.


The cosy lounge at 101 Hotel with a real fireplace welcomes guests.

Kitchen & Wine at 101 Hotel, serves international and modern Icelandic cuisine in a sleek dining room with a glass ceiling.

Rooms, including this Junior Suite at 101 Hotel have a modern monochrome style to them giving them an air of sophistication.

Icelandic Cool

Whether in the mountains or in the city centre, Nordic design makes its mark. Tay Suan Chiang checks into two hotels to see how they do it.
Jan 14, 2017 5:50 AM

Iceland. If you've ever been there, or seen photos of it, there's no debate as to how stunning the landscape is. The waterfalls, glaciers and thermal pools - all add up to a jaw-dropping rugged look that no man can replicate.

So when it comes down to who the better designer is, Mother Nature is the clear winner. But Man's work isn't too shabby either.

The country boasts architecturally striking hotels that are worth a close look for their trademark clean, Nordic interiors. For an insight into how aesthetics and the environment co-exist seamlessly, ION Luxury Adventure Hotel - a member of Design Hotels - is a fitting example.

A 40km drive away from Reykjavik, the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel is perched on the slopes of Mount Hengill, not far from Thingvellir National Park, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.

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There is nothing at all around the hotel, which adds to the apprehension of guests who arrive after dark, wondering if they are on the right road.

Before it became a hotel, the building was an inn for workers at the nearby Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant, the second largest in Iceland. American design studio Minarc was tasked with renovating the hotel, adding a new wing in the process.

Natural light is taken advantage of through floor to ceiling windows in the rooms, which also offer panoramic views of the still-running power plant on one side and the national park on the other.

The hotel's cantilevered Northern Lights Bar is entirely glass encased, and on clear nights from September to March, the Aurora Borealis can be seen from here.

Hotel owner Sigurlaug Sverrisdottir led the project from design stage with the surrounding environment in mind. Her emphasis on innovative materials, sustainable practices and natural features are the hallmarks of the hotel

For example, driftwood and other natural materials found in the surrounding area are incorporated into the interiors. The hotel's concrete and black lava exteriors complement the volcanic landscape.

Ms Sverrisdottir has also built a fair trade business with the farmers around ION who supply the hotel´s restaurant Silfra with local quality ingredients such as fish from a nearby lake and lamb from their farm. For the nature-inclined, the hotel will even arrange a hike or farm visit.

In contrast, 101 Hotel in Reykjavik - also a member of Design Hotels -is surrounded by an urban jungle rather than the natural kind. Set in the midst of the capital's colourful, low-rise buildings, the hotel still resembles the 1930s office building it used to be - back then, it was the headquarters of the Icelandic Social Democratic Party.

The building's dark grey walls belie its chic monochromatic interiors designed by owner Ingibjörg S. Pálmadóttir. Glossy dark furnishings play off soft, white Italian linen. Some rooms come with balconies and views of the harbour. Get the harbour view rooms because on a clear night, you can catch an eyeful of the Northern Lights without having to leave the hotel. But if the Lights are elusive, console yourself in a room that looks out on the Harpa concert hall, which offers its own nightly light show.

There is no closet in the room. The running joke is that if your clothes aren't black and white, you will totally ruin the colour scheme.

The public areas, too, are talking points. The restaurant and bar, Kitchen & Wine, stands out for its glass ceiling and is known as one of the trendiest places in town, serving both modern Icelandic and international cuisine. The hotel's communal spaces feature classic furniture pieces by Eero Saarinen and Philippe Starck.

After 14 years, the 101 Hotel still holds tight to its image as one of the hippest boutique hotels in the country - proving that, like Mother Nature, Icelandic architecture has its own timeless appeal.

The writer was a guest of ION Luxury Adventure Hotel and 101 Hotel.