How to Go (Far, Far) Away—and What to Do There

Floating in a geothermally heated pool made of black volcanic rock and perched in a mountain valley of northern Iceland’s Troll Peninsula, mesmerized by a near-hallucinatory display of northern lights, turns out to be one of the more luxuriously remote experiences there is.

How to Go (Far, Far) Away—and What to Do There
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Photo courtesy of Deplar Farm

How to Go (Far, Far) Away— and What to Do There

Is there any place that feels as far away as Iceland? It’s not so difficult to get to from the US, but the sense of being far, far removed from the grid—and the grind of twenty-first-century American life—is profound. Floating in a geothermally heated pool made of black volcanic rock, perched in a small mountain valley somewhere along the Troll Peninsula in the north of Iceland—mesmerized by a near-hallucinatory display of northern lights—might be one of the more luxuriously remote experiences there is.

sheep on a hill

Ducking under a thundering, ice-cold waterfall (protected by a dry suit you were outfitted in an hour earlier) to discover an entire cave lined in neon-green moss, having your words drowned out by a chorus of seabirds nesting in the cliffs of an island seven miles from the Arctic Circle, or heli-skiing down wild, untouched, enormous verticals leaves you with a similar, soul-relaxing sense of total retreat.

That you can do all these things from a chicly black-painted, sod-roofed, gorgeously decorated, and supremely comfortable home base makes whatever experiences you choose all the more transformative. At Deplar Farm, the staff has thought of everything—and they take “everything” to new levels.

The stunningly spare, modernist spa opens out onto a Viking sauna built, per ancient tradition, into the hillside (you watch the grasses and wildflowers on top of it wave in the breeze as you lower yourself gingerly into the adjacent 4°C plunge pool after sweating for longer than you think you can bear in the sauna).

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hotel interior

Cocktails (imaginative, inventive ones, both alcoholic and non) and all manner of delicious hors d’oeuvres are served from a similarly carved-from-the-hill sod hut at the side of the thermal pool (the swim-up barstools are chunks of basalt chiseled from the mountainside) and also at the sleek yet cushy lodge bar set about with low sofas, cozy blankets, glowing lamps, an arsenal of games and books, and a giant fireplace.

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hotel dining area

Breakfast and dinner are served at a single long table in a long room seemingly built for it that opens on both sides to absolutely incredible views of the valley, and the food is both healthy (the fresh vegetable juices in the mornings are incredible, as are the salads, broths, and roasted veg) and indulgent (the meat and fish, the desserts, and the just-baked breads with Icelandic butter and Icelandic salt are out of this world, and the wine list is epic).

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chairs inside a hotel overlooking a mountain view

As you’re sipping your breakfast smoothie on your first day at Deplar Farm, your wilderness guide—there’s one per group or couple—appears, and what sets Deplar apart from other gorgeously designed, sumptuously luxe resorts around the world slowly emerges. Your guide is with you all day, whether you’re hiking, kayaking, heli-skiing, fishing, biking (they have Scott electric bikes), horseback riding (over the millennia, Icelandic horses have developed a famously soothing, easy-to-ride gait, along with a signature small stature), whale watching, or island-cliff-scaling. And your guide knows their sh*t. Ours, a gigantic and impossibly fit Welshman named Griff who really should be the next Marvel superhero, not only knew every bit of the landscape (as in, you’re kayaking down a stunning mountain river, and he stops you at the perfect pool to jump out of the boat and just float, then later has you duck behind the waterfall to see the hidden emerald cave) but also knew all the gear we’d need (from ski boots and water bottles to wet suits and dry suits) and had it prepared before we set out. (Deplar Farm’s entire wellness effort, including the wilderness guides, is run by an outfit called Eleven Experience, which does this for a number of hotels around the world, and they are truly without peer.)

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The things you learn in the absolutely unpopulated expanse of Icelandic mountains and coastline include: You can lie down in the lush grass because there aren’t any ticks in Iceland. There are blueberries growing everywhere underfoot. You can drink the water fresh from the streams, and there are no mosquitoes to bite you. The only things faintly resembling a predator in all of Iceland are the arctic fox and a hawk that hunts puffins along the coast.

snowy mountain view

When you return, worn out from not exactly roughing it, the spa, with its wide slate corridors and huge expanses of glass, beckons. The massages and facials are next-level, as are the futuristic isolation tanks, yoga room, many saunas, and the indoor-outdoor pool that’s actually a hot tub. Even simply lounging in the spa chaises, staring out the walls of windows, creates an indelible memory.

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hotel room interior

For spaces that you don’t spend much time in, the rooms (designed by No. 12 Interiors) are spacious, cozy, luxurious, and particular—and they’re equipped with everything from blankets to hot drinks. You feel like you’ve got the best, farthest-away-from-anybody guest room at an especially beautiful private home.

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The best advice our guide gave us was not to skip the field trip to the unglamorously named Drangey Island (we were planning to). You take a thirty-minute ferry out into the ocean toward what looks like a giant rectangular medieval castle sticking up out of the water, land on a tiny dock in deep-turquoise water ringed by enormous cliffs teeming with nesting seabirds (the sound is deafening), hike up the near-vertical (yet nonetheless doable) cliffs to the flat, grassy top covered with wildflowers and puffin tunnels (puffins nest in city-like networks of tunnels they build in the grass). You lounge in the thick grass, watching whales spout and seals sun themselves far, far below; seabirds swoop and glide around you. There are few places as peaceful, anywhere.

Though the flight to Akureyri (the small city nearest to Deplar) from Reykjavik is short and easy, if you can, drive instead. Iceland is one of the most charming—and at the same time, spectacularly deserted—places to visit. You’ll pull off the road at the end of a totally empty fjord to find a beautifully maintained but person-free public hot spring pool to jump into, or taste the most delicious fish soup at the least-promising-looking diner-café (every restaurant—even the gas stations—has its own particular version of Icelandic fish soup, and we did not taste a single bad one), or look out the window to see whales cavorting in the fjord as you speed by.

seaside cliff