Myths of monsters and men

Surrealist folk tales and moss-covered lava fields have inspired an Icelandic spa retreat that promises to take guests on a journey to enlightenment. Kim Megson highlights the details

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Tales of trolls, elves, monsters and invisible men roaming Iceland’s majestic volcanic landscape have inspired the design of a proposed spa and wellness retreat located next to a geothermal lagoon.

Architecture practice Johannes Torpe Studio have drawn on the mysterious topography of caves, craters and moss-covered lava fields found in the Snæfellsness peninsula to devise a spa that will be immersed in mythology, storytelling and nature.

The region is home to a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped stratovolcano, which famously starred in Jules Verne’s 1864 science fiction classic Journey to the Centre of the Earth as the passageway into a subterranean world. It is also known from the Icelandic saga of Baroar Snæfellsas, a half-man–half-troll who left the chaotic world of men behind to live in solitude inside the glacier.

Now the volcano could provide the backdrop for The Red Mountain Resort, an 800sq m (8,600sq ft) spa retreat that will take guests on their own version of Baroar’s journey towards enlightenment.

Panoramic mountain and volcano views and vast grassy wetlands flowing with winding rivers will lead guests to the resort. Subtly camouflaged within the landscape, the red-hued hotel will “seem to magically appear just as they arrive.” A sense of surrealism familiar from Icelandic folk tales will be expressed through a series of subtle design features merging the earthly and the otherworldly.

Reflecting glass on the exterior of the main building will create a mirror effect, allowing it to disappear into the landscape, while portals and tunnels will be placed throughout the complex to enhance the feeling that guests are following in Baroar’s footsteps.

At the heart of the 150-bedroom resort will be an extensive spa, in which guests will voyage through a series of ‘emotional stages’, each of which will be articulated through different expressions of Icelandic nature, including wind tunnels, fire baths, rain curtains, ice pools and pitch black slides. “We want to create the illusion that guests are entering another world when they arrive at the resort,” says studio founder Johannes Torpe. “We have envisioned the Red Mountain Resort as a place that goes beyond traditional wellness and pampering, and dares to invite its guests to confront whatever is troubling them.”

A man-made 1,000sq m (10,700sq ft) geothermal lagoon is designed to look like a natural extension of the landscape and will feature shallow passages, rapids and still pools, with the water flowing into the reception of the hotel – blurring the line between outside and inside.

While still at the concept stage, Icelandic company Festir Ehf is currently doing geological checks and testing the nearby geothermal water.

The Spa Journey

Studio founder Johannes Torpe describes the spa experience

LOST - The steamroom’s foggy atmosphere represents the sense of being lost, and is a trigger for rediscovering oneself


CONTEMPLATIVE - Clay baths create an intimate, peaceful space for self-reflection and internal stillness in the contemplative area of the spa


EXPOSED - At the volcano fire bath, guests access an inner state of vulnerability and acceptance, stepping outside their comfort zones


CONFRONTED - The contrasting effect between light and dark encourages guests to overcome fear and creates a sense of intrigue and mystery


CLARITY - An open-roofed ice bath uses natural light to create a state of clarity. The contrast of going from hot to cold creates energy


ENLIGHTENED - The highly sensory experience of floating allows guests to lose touch with the physicality of their bodies and have a feeling of transcendence

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