Iceland’s secret hot springs (yes, you can go naked)
It’s a few minutes before midnight, and the Northern Lights put on a spectacular show across the dark skies above us. A few hundred yards away, the sea rhythmically laps against the shores of Iceland’s Westfjords. My husband, Ty, and I allow the 100-degree water of a thermal pool to carry us along to someplace free from care and filled with possibilities.
Could there possibly be a better way to spend a 40th birthday?
One of hundreds of thermal pools that attract natives and visitors to Iceland alike, Nauteyrarpottur is a modest destination along a long, dirt road that leads to a salmon fishery. It looks something like a large hot tub nestled into the side of a grassy bank, with brooms handy nearby to sweep away any insects or debris that may have fallen into the water.
But modest as many of Iceland’s thermal pools may appear, they provide an intriguing destination for the traveler who is ready to step away from the busy attractions of Reyjavik.
It was natural that Ty and I would be drawn to Iceland’s thermal pools. At home in Nevada, we spend many weekends scouting the hot springs that dot the rural landscape of our native state. While Iceland’s thermal pools draw on the same geological phenomena as the hot springs of Nevada, Iceland’s pools are far more numerous and scattered across the nation’s 700 geothermal areas.
As we planned our adventure — a celebration of my birthday, a celebration of my five years of life cancer-free — we opted to rent a camper van that provided us with the freedom to camp by waterfalls or deep in the silence of an Icelandic night. (A small van that sleeps two is available at prices that start at roughly $1,000 for six nights through Happy Campers.)
With the freedom of a camper, we found our way to thermal pools that allowed us to savor a wide swath of life in Iceland.
The thermal pools in Drangsnes, for example, are close to the center of the village and provide a terrific spot to watch fishing boats come and go. The three hot tubs surrounded by decking are popular with local residents and new friendships arise with the steam of the tubs.
The two pools at Gervidalslaug, meanwhile, are far more rustic. No redwood decks here, just one small pool built of stone and a larger pool built from concrete along a roadside. A small shed provides a measure of privacy for changing and a hook to hang clothing.
Thermal pools provided a great combination for our visit — plenty of relaxation, but also the adventure of a new destination and a new thermal pool every a day.
(Like many before us, we found the guidebook “Thermal Pools in Iceland” to be invaluable. An English-language version is available at bookstores in Reyjavik.)
As we settled into our search for thermal pools, Ty and I learned to leave ambitious goals behind. We gave up our plans to race around the circumference of the island nation. We would simply savor the places where we found ourselves.
It was an important lesson we brought home — the sort of life-changing lesson that is taught best by adventurous travel.