Northern lights over Hotel Rangá
Photo by Lauren Breedlove
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

This Luxe Icelandic Hotel Comes with an ‘Aurora Wake-Up Service’

Plus glaciers, volcanoes, and candle-lit dinners in a cave.

Whether it's a cabana on a private Caribbean island or a room in a medieval Irish castle, sometimes where we stay is even more important than where we go. Late Checkout is your key to the most memorable lodgings around the world.

I’ve only been asleep for an hour when the phone rings. Disoriented, I stumble out of my hotel bed to the source, and am kicked into warp speed by the voice on the other end. I pull my parka over pajamas, shoving my room key and gloves into the pockets, and run out the door with boot laces still untied. Spilling through the lobby into the Arctic cold, I look up at the night sky, where ribbons of green wave and frolic overhead. Fatigue melts away in such magnificent company. Because who cares about jet lag when the aurora wake-up call sounds at Hotel Rangá?

Hotel Rangá is a pioneer. Situated in the wilderness of Iceland’s southern coast, it’s the country’s first luxury hotel outside of Reykjavik—which means that northern lights-seeking guests can enjoy a lack of light pollution with the assistance of the property’s iconic aurora wake-up service. Originally intended as a resort for horse enthusiasts, the hotel has changed since current owner Friðrik Pálsson took over in 2003, after many years on the road leading two of Iceland’s biggest seafood export companies. He’s used his background as a traveler to create a memorable hospitality experience that strikes a balance between recreation and relaxation.

Hot tub at Hotel Ranga
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

“Hotel Rangá is more than just a luxury hotel—it's a place to share and preserve Iceland’s history, natural beauty, and culture with our guests,” explains Pálsson.

This approach is as visible in the hotel’s decor as it is in its activity offerings. “We display pieces made by local artists throughout our space," says Pálsson, "whether that be hand-painted murals on guest room walls or our recently launched ‘book turndown,’ which provides guests with novels written and signed by local authors." A towering polar bear, Hrammur, serves as watchman of the lobby. In my own room, an Icelandic watercolor scene adorns the wall over my bed, and from my personal balcony, another Icelandic scene awaits—that of resident volcano Hekla, or “Mountain Queen,” as the locals call it.

Iceland waterfall
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

When you stay at Hotel Rangá you’re at the helm of a choose-your-own-adventure endeavor. The hotel partners with Southcoast Adventure, a tour operator dedicated to pushing guests out of their comfort zones. “Their guides,” says Pálsson, “are locals who have grown up with the Icelandic nature surrounding them," and they’re more than happy to share their knowledge of the area with guests. From the hotel, you can easily visit some of the Land of Fire and Ice’s most popular waterfalls, venture off-grid into the Highlands region, and tour the Golden Circle. But really, just about anything can be arranged, from a scenic helicopter ride, to a hot spring-hopping bonanza, to an ice cave exploration. “We often call this region the Adventure Capital,” explains Pálsson.

That’s how I find myself heading into the Highlands, a remote and mostly uninhabited region in the country’s interior, during my stay. Giant mountains and meandering gravel roads give way to deep canyons and thundering waterfalls, with endless lava fields all around. Geothermal steam hisses from surfaces here and there. I’m clad in a helmet, ski goggles, and weather-proof suit, sitting behind the wheel of an off-road, ATV-style buggy that I’ve never driven before but am somehow trusted to drive.

Iceland off-road buggy ride
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

“How often do these things flip?” I ask my guide nervously, and receive reassurance that I’ll be fine.

With that vote of confidence, my buggy buddy and I zip and bump along gravel paths, crossing rivers and swaths of black sand, with such a stunning backdrop of glaciers and mountains that I decide it looks fake. We don’t see a single person or vehicle this deep into Iceland’s interior, just otherworldly scenery and lots of mud. By the end of the day, I am coated in fine black sand. I crunch a few granules in my mouth, a souvenir from the wild exploit.

Back at the hotel, we relax with a sunset soak in outdoor hot tubs and a shot of Icelandic Brennivín, served in a shot glass made of carved rock with some serious heft to it. But that’s hardly the end of the day’s adventures.

Caves of Hella meal
Photo by Lauren Breedlove

Capping off every evening with a meal at the hotel restaurant is an indulgence, with their signature wild mushroom soup and freshly caught fish, all food grounded in Nordic cuisine and made with primarily local ingredients. But the hotel also offers truly unusual eating experiences, like the option to dine in an ancient cave, as we plan to do tonight.

This is how I end up tearing into a leg of lamb like a true Viking approximately an hour later. I’m wearing a borrowed Icelandic sweater provided by the hotel, admiring Nordic runes on the walls as I listen to live music performed by none other than Eyrún Gylfadóttir, Hotel Rangá’s multi-talented marketing manager.

But even such a feasting table is easily abandoned in favor of Iceland’s natural splendor—and such a detour is even encouraged. Someone calls out, “The lights are here!” and I take myself outside, just as I did on my first night, and tip my head back. The aurora dances vividly overhead. It’s not an uncommon sight here, but—like the hotel’s impeccable pairing of comfort and adventure—it simply never gets old.

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Lauren Breedlove is a contributor for Thrillist.