If you are looking for a hotel one the South coast of Iceland, then your best option is probably Hotel Ranga. A slice of luxury in the middle of the Icelandic countryside, this hotel is perfectly located to serve as your home base for a couple of days while you take multiple trips around the southern part of the island. Travelling to Iceland has been a bucketlist item of mine for a long time, longer than this blog has even existed. Gary and I finally realised this dream for his 30th birthday. And what an incredible trip this was! We stayed in Iceland for five days in total and spent two nights at Hotel Rangá. From here we travelled all the way to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoons. This hotel felt like a home from home to us and I am convinced that a stay here would certainly enhance your trip and experience. But now to the actual review….
ABOUT HOTEL RANGA
At times, a destination’s natural beauty eclipses the lack of luxury offerings available. And this is certainly the case with Iceland. Although the country has seen a surge in tourists in the past few years, luxury hotel options are still few and far between. That being said, Hotel Rangá is the only four-star country resort in the South of Iceland. Renovated in 2008, the Hotel Rangá is under the management of its kind and knowledgeable owner, Friðrik Pálsson. The hotel boasts both exquisite accommodation options and an awardwinning restaurant, packaged into a location that will simply take your breath away. In total Hotel Ranga has 52 rooms on offer, including a deluxe suit, and 7 worldthemed rooms. These ‘World Pavillion’ suites are designed and themed after each of the seven continents and offer both an iconic and luxurious experience. Picturesque views overlooking the Rangá River and across to the Mount Hekla volcano are at your doorstep and during the months of September through April, Hótel Rangá is renowned as one of the best locations to view the Aurora Borealis. Popular with celebrities, it’s the first Icelandic hotel to become a member of Great Hotels of the World.
LOCATION OF HOTEL RANGA
As mentioned in my introduction, Hotel Ranga provides the perfect base from which to explore all that South Iceland has to offer. Located 60 miles southeast of Reykjavík, just off the Ringroad (the country’s main road, aka Route 1), and between the towns of Hella and Hvolsvöllur, you couldn’t find a more practical position in this part of the island if you tried. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoons, Skogafoss, the Golden Circle, the Westman Islands and Mount Hekla volcano are all within easy reach of the hotel. Furthermore fishing, dog-sledding and river-rafting are just a few of the activities on offer nearby. I would advise you to hire a car Keflavík airport though to reach the hotel. Not only is this the most practical way, it also probably is the cheapest, since transfers are exorbitant. The drive itself is very scenic and takes approximately 1-2 hours, depending on how many photography stops you make on the way.
ATMOSPHERE AND DESIGN OF HOTEL RANGA
Hotel Ranga is a long log-cabin style building. It has two separate wings of rooms that spread East and West from a central core, which houses the reception, bar, private dining rooms and restaurant. With high velocity winds crossing the barren land of Island, sticking low to the ground is advisable and so the wings themselves only have two levels. The cedar log cladding that was imported from Canada, gives the whole building a really outdoorsy feeling, Once you step inside, you are immediately enveloped in the toasty atmosphere of the reception, where you are welcomed by the imposing sight of Hrammur, a 10 foot stuffed polar bear standing guard in the main lobby. The interior of the hotel resembles a wood panelled chalet, with terra-cotta floors and handmade wooden furniture. Soon you realise that the devil is in the detail and will come to appreciate the unique style of this hotel. I would also like to add that the service we experienced at Hotel Ranga was impeccable. Everyone is so willing to help and their main goal is to make your stay as special as possible. Friðrik Pálsson, the manager, is incredibly welcoming and friendly. In the evening he even takes the time to make the round of the restaurant and chats to his guests as if they are old friends. He will enquire about the past days activity. Overall, the Hotel Rangá is comfortable and very hospitable.
CHECK-IN AT HOTEL RANGA
Check in at Hotel Ranga was a really quick and efficient process and we were on our room in under five minutes. We were asked right away by the reception staff wether we wanted to be put on to the “Aurora Wake Up List” to which of course we more than happily agreed. More about that further down though.
OUR ROOM AT HOTEL RANGA
We were given a room on the ground floor of the right wing – pretty far down the very long timber clad corridor – and facing north. The room layout was simple and functional, making it feel like a home away from home. The room featured a large comfy bed, a separate seating area, a writing desk and a far larger than expected bathroom. The WiFi was excellent throughout our stay. Rooms at Hotel Ranga cost from €316 for a standard single to €989 for as master suite in the summer high season, and €232 to €742 respectively in winter.
The king size bed was incredibly comfortable and surprisingly covered in a dark brown, stripy fabric, also reflected in the curtains. This choice of fabric, did make the room look a little darker, but also added to the cosiness of it. The large TV was located on the wall straight opposite to the bed, which is why – I am sure – we gave in to a bit of a morning lie in.
The bathroom, as mentioned above, was unexpectedly large. Taking pride of place, was it’s main feature, the Jacuzzi bath, The bathroom was large, with a jacuzzi bath, perfect to warm-up in after a night spent stargazing and aurora hunting. The hotel even provided us with an interesting set of , including a quirky bath soak, that did somewhat resemble a tea bag.
My favourite thing about our room at Hotel Ranga however were the full height French doors that opened up on to our very own wooden deck with an inbuilt timber bench. This I thought to myself woukd come in very handy to see the Northern Lights. It’s when you step outside on to this terrace that you real start to appreciate grandeur of the countryside that surrounds you. The deck itself gives on to views across the East Ranga River. The land to the south stretches away, while the highlands can be seen to the north east. The thing that really struck us though was that the extent if the horizon: with trees and hedges scarcely dotted around the landscape, there’s nothing to stop your view. A real “big sky” feel, and one of the main reasons to visit Iceland. It’s a very different feel to western Europe.
BREAKFAST AT HOTEL RANGA
After a great night’s sleep in our comfy bed, we were ready for breakfast the next morning, overlooking the river and desert like landscape. The restaurant itself is a timber box with a full height glass wall on three sides. The breakfast buffet itself offered a good selection of both hot and cold dishes. All the usual hotel breakfast components from a selection of cheese and cold meat to fish, fruit, cereal, jams, bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs were on offer. But Gary and I were particularly impressed by the Skyrr and the do-it yourself waffle iron. The restaurant had ceiling to wall glass on three sides. The breakfast buffet offered a good selection of cheese, cold meat, fish, fruit, cereal and jams. There was a hot selection including scrambled egg, sausage, bacon and beans. You could make your own waffle; the batter was pre-measured in small jugs. Perfect with bacon and maple syrup. They even had a gluten free section, which I am sure some of you will be happy to hear.
DINNER AT HOTEL RANGA
You probably won’t be visiting Iceland for its cuisine but for its incredible natural landscape. And let me tell you, Iceland isn’t cheap when it comes to food. Most days Gary and I ate a subway sandwich for lunch. However an evening of fine dining and culinary delights awaited us back at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant. The unique menu is plentiful and makes the most of local products. Indeed all most all of Ranga’s dishes are creative variations of traditional Icelandic dishes that alongside more traditional meats – such as lamb, beef and pork – feature local delicacies such as char, skate, plaice, reindeer, wild goose and puffin (Lundi). Whilst outnumbered, the restaurant did offer some vegetarian options as well. Gary and I were lucky enough to enjoy dinner at Hotel Ranga on both nights of our stay. Dinner kicked off with a salmon and pea amuse bouche that literally caused a taste explosion on our palette. For starters I tasted the warming wild mushroom soup with Madeira wine on one night and the reindeer carpaccio with truffle oil, shaved Parmesan and arugula on the second. The latter one the taste competition hands down with its soft, tender and a lean quality cut of meat. The reindeer was very flavoursome and tasted slightly sweet. A very strong start to the meal. Gary felt even more adventurous and ordered the smoked puffin starter with spiced cream cheese, beetroot gel and apples. It was described as having slightly fishy and gamey flavour. To be honest with you, whilst interesting, we won’t be ordering puffin again. The meat resembles venison but is a little tougher on your teeth. The tangy beetroot and apple gel served with it, however, excelled in flavour and made the dish palatable. The main course was definitely the main event on both evenings. The style of cooking was homely but with a delicate and intricate attention to detail and beautiful plating. On the second night, I opted for the wild Icelandic goose. The meat was served with a sweet potato mash that was sweet and light in flavour. But it was the fruity mushroom and sweet onion sauce that brought the dish alive.
An honourable mention must be made for the arctic char probably sourced from the neighbouring River Ranga) which I ate on our first night. This dish was creamy, very moorish and filled me up in no time. The arctic char had a crispy skin yet literally melted on my tongue. Gary sticking to his guns, choose the less adventurous Baconburger on his first night and the beef steak on the second. The beef in the burger was incredibly lean and the portion of bacon, cheese and béarnaise sauce on top of it, so generous that it made the burger itself too large to safely pick-up with his hands. Gary confirmed that the burger was indeed one of the tastiest he had ever eaten. It is also at Hotel Ranga that I first discovered Skyrr and I haven’t been able to find one as fresh and creamy ever since. Ingi Þór Jakobsson, the hotel and restaurant manager, however let us on to a little secret. Apparently the chef mixes cream into the dessert in order to make it extra tasty. Hotel Ranga’s individual take on carrot cake also deserves a mention. The cake itself was uniquely served with both a carrot sorbet and mousse and topped of with chocolate crumble. The hotel’s restaurant is a high end establishment that delivers great, homely, yet surprisingly sophisticated modern Nordic fare with a creative twist. Whilst not cheap, the Ranga Restaurant is a rare offering of high class cuisine outside of Reykjavik.
AMENITIES AT HOTEL RANGA
THE JACUZZI HOT TUB
Hotel Ranga know their customers well and have therefore installed three communal hot tubs on the south side of their premises facing the River Ranga. The weather for our visit was, admittedly, variable, so we were grateful for a warming, and muscle relaxing soak in a hot tub at the end of the day. Moreover, it’s a guilt free indulgence as the three tubs are heated using geothermal energy. The tubs are easily accessible from each room’s terrace, perfect for a quick or longer soak before dinner.
There are not many places on earth where you will find a night sky quite as crisp as in Iceland. Certainly not in London, where the light pollution means we barely every see a star. So naturally one of the advantages and delights of staying in Iceland at a hotel in the countryside is the chance to properly indulge in some stargazing, and, with luck, witness nature’s very own firework show of the northern lights. Luckily Hotel Ranga provides its guest with a small astronomical observatory, equipped with a high-tech 11-inch computerized telescopes, a retracteable roof and enough space for 30 people. Trust me you will find nothing like it in the rest of Iceland. Note that the observatory is usually open to guest from 9pm onwards, although this can be dependend on weather conditions.
NORTHERN LIGHT WATCH
One of the great services that Hotel Ranga provide is their northern light watch. When night falls, hopes of seeing the northern lights rise. So that you don’t miss the chance, at the reception desk you can sign up to receive a wake-up phone call when the light show starts. Although, for obvious reasons, the hotel cannot guarantee the phenomena will actually occur, this is a lovely touch. Without it we would probably have been up all night, checking the window. Since it can get very cold in Iceland there are padded snow suits in the lobby that you can grab on your way out. Hotel Ranga really thinks through every detail!
THE PLAY ROOM
If we would have had more time to spend at the hotel, we would most likely have made use of the cosy play room. Here you will find a pool table, chess board and plenty of board games. The room itself has a glazed ceiling and full height window allowing you to gaze across the vast landscape beyond.
Hotel Ranga has not one but two bars. One sits beside the restaurant, while the other one is located above it. Both bars are comfy and offer an impressive range of drinks, including two that you can only acquire locally – Bjork liqueur (named after the female name for the birch tree, rather than the singer), and Birkir schnapps (named after the male name for the same tree). We found these were just the thing for a little after dinner digestif. Quirkiness is in abundance throughout the hotel and a case in point are the leggy cocktail chairs beside the downstairs bar. We had a good laugh when we first spotted them. Upstairs you will find a harp massage chair. If someone plays the harp, the person sitting in the chair feels soothing vibrations in their back.
In summary, we really enjoyed our stay at Hotel Ranga in Iceland. It was the perfect slice of luxury in the lap of the Icelandic countryside. A stay here will certainly enhance your trip. After each exhausting but exhilarating day of driving through the surrounding area exploring waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes and glaciers, a return to this retreat in South Iceland provided me with the ultimate in relaxation and respite. Our room was comfortable and cosy. The food at the Hotel Ranga was superb. And the staff were friendly and helpful. I just wish that we had had more time around the hotel in daylight and perhaps we will return in summer next time. With a bit of luck next time we will see those northern lights.
NOTE: A Life Beautifully Travelled received two complimentary nights at Hotel Ranga for the purpose of this review. However, as always, all opinions are our own.