Almost a decade after Reykjavik was forced to reinvent itself, it remains wonderfully weird, perhaps more than ever, writes Cynthia Rosenfeld.
As a point of divergence between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Iceland is home to more strange beauty than most places: Snow-covered peaks, black-sand beaches, skyscraping geysers and caves glittering with kaleidoscopic stalactites.
The country’s drama isn’t restricted to its landscapes, though. After the 2008 banking collapse, the government imposed a steep exit tax to keep investors from moving their funds abroad.
Forced to turn inward, Icelanders instead backed domestic projects, such as boutique hotels, locavore eateries and designer stores. In so doing, they infused Reykjavik — a compact city of just over 122,000 — with a truly global feel.
Reykjavik is now remaking itself again, this time as a health-and-wellness destination.
The famous Blue Lagoon, with its man-made geothermal pool rich in silica and minerals, is opening the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland, a hotel and day spa that will offer ground-level suites attached to private pools, and a menu of mud masks and in-water massages.
Then there’s Verandi, a sustainable brand whose handmade body scrub contains sea salt and
recycled coffee grounds.
CenterHotel Thingholt: <a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.centerhotels.com">The hotel</a>, located just off Reykjavik’s main thoroughfare, Laugavegur, is a refreshing departure from the usual Icelandic fare of blandly Scandinavian interiors: Here, Fendi chairs and plush Poliform sofas sit on a floor of black ostrich leather, while a cocoon-like pendant hangs from the ceiling.
Room No 415 has an unfettered view of the Esja, the nearby volcanic mountain range.
[url=http://www.sandhotel.is]Sandhotel/url]: This cluster of up-cycled buildings and new structures united in the hotel-as-village model incorporates a street-facing haberdashery opened in 1918, as well as the bakery Sandholt, manned by a team of fifth-generation bakers and loved for its rye, kamut and quinoa breads.
Upstairs, the cosy 53 guest rooms are accented with art from local gallery I8, which represents some of the country’s best-known contemporary artists, including Olafur Eliasson and Ragnar Kjartansson.
Dill: Ragnar Eiriksson, the chef of <a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.dillrestaurant.is">Iceland’s first Michelin-starred restaurant</a>, cycles to work so he can collect rose petals, yarrow and sorrel for his seasonal five- and seven-course menus.
Diners sit nearly knee-to-knee in former stables from the early 1900s, made over by the local designer Halfdan Pedersen, who transplanted some of the décor from an old farmhouse up north.
Among Eiriksson’s many adventurous dishes — which are plated on hand-thrown ceramics from local makers Postulina and are inspired by regional comfort food — is his delicate smoked haddock, which sits atop a creamy mash of potatoes whipped with skyr, a mild Icelandic yogurt.
<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://vinberid.is">Vinberid</a>: Icelanders love their nammi, or candy. Most, in fact, grow up sipping soda through a licorice straw. In addition to lollipops and pastilles, this 41-year-old sugar emporium offers such sentimental favorites as thristur — chocolate-dipped caramel bars with salty licorice bites inside — and Opal lozenges, packaged in the distinctive Op Art boxes designed by the painter Atli Mar Arnason.
The Marshall House: US tax dollars helped build this herring factory in 1948 under the post-Second World War Marshall Plan.
It reopened in March as an assemblage of exhibition spaces for previously itinerant artist-run collectives, some of which were struggling to survive post 2008.
Tenants include Nylistasafnid and Kling & Bang gallery, as well as Studio Olafur Eliasson, which shows sculptures and installations by the celebrated Berlin- and
Copenhagen-based Icelandic artist.
The ground-floor Marshall Restaurant + Bar serves simple, well-prepared seafood dishes such as ocean perch crudo topped with citrus and capers.
Steinunn: Located on a blustery stretch of Reykjavik’s harbour, this former fishnet repair shop is now filled with plush knitted jackets that take their cue from traditional Icelandic men’s wear, along with lavishly ruffled wraps and wool dresses trimmed with lightweight panels designed to dance in the air.
<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.steinunn.com">Steinunn Sigurdardottir</a> returned to her native Iceland to launch the brand after stints at Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Gucci, and considers her line just the latest participant in Iceland’s centuries-old knitwear tradition.
<a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.hilduryeoman.com">Hildur Yeoman</a>: Inside this small, newly opened boutique, dresses patterned with Yeoman’s delightfully dizzying abstract prints hang alongside sculptural shoes and jewellery from fellow local artisans.
A fashion designer who studied fine art, Yeoman is a favourite of Edda Gudmundsdottir, best known as Bjork’s stylist.
For inspiration, Yeoman says she looks to the women in her life, such as a sorceress friend and her great-grandmother, who fled New Jersey with a motorcycle gang.
Kirsuberjatred: How to tell if a shop has given in to Iceland’s tourism surge? Look for the ubiquitous stuffed toy puffins, Iceland’s best known bird.
This conscientious objector, a <a rel="nofollow" target="_blank" href="http://www.kirs.is">co-operative of 11 female artisans</a> working in a former stationery shop from the 19th century, specialises instead in high-end design objects, jewellery and billowy women’s wear.
Among the standouts in the airy showroom are Valdis Harrysdottir’s sustainable bowls made of radish paper and Margret Gudnadottir’s kooky feathered music boxes, which play Icelandic folk songs.
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