William Morris documents these turf houses earnestly in his journals and, while the ones at Torfhús Retreat have been modernised to be ultra-lux versions of the originals he saw, they are built to exacting architectural standards. Their exterior walls, made of basalt stone from a nearby quarry, are laid painstakingly by hand. The grassy roofs are remarkable, taking on a different character with each passing season – dotted with wildflowers in summer and cloaked in mossy green or pure white snow in winter, they melt seamlessly into the landscape.
Our two-bedroom Torfhús with fully equipped kitchen is currently the top category of accommodation at the retreat, though the word on the meadow is that a presidential suite is in the planning. There are also smaller, single-suite Torfbærs. Our favourite feature was the inviting outdoor, basalt hot-tub, where we spent the midnight-sun hours staring up at the milky sky, tipsy on Icelandic beer (incredibly, beer was only made legal in Iceland in 1989, but that’s a whole other story) from the complimentary mini-bar. From there, it was just a short hop across a heated terrace, swaddled in our custom hooded towels, to our comfortable bed, to dream of Norse gods.
The decor is mostly homely and earthy, with the lashings of conifer wood that you’d expect of any Nordic outpost, natural hide rugs, reclaimed-wood headboards, old-world telephones and industrial lighting. It’s interior design so well executed you don’t even notice the enormous smart television or Nespresso machine. Alongside all of this are some surprisingly quirky touches – high-saturation photography on canvas and digitally printed soft furnishings, life-size sculptures of ravens and a giant, etched-glass shower screen featuring an Icelandic horse (it had to appear somewhere). In our humble opinion, there was no need to embellish these elements, nor did the retreat’s logo have to appear on pretty much everything. The very nature of the property oozes ‘sense of place’ and we felt that as guests we could have been given more licence to create our own ‘Icelandic sagas’.
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Rounding off the characterful personality of its dwellings is the retreat’s culinary prowess. Award winning chef Thorarinn Eggertsson, known affectionately as Tóti, heads up the kitchen. His theatrical and unconventional Icelandic-Asian fusion cuisine is extraordinary – each bite a wow – and most of his ingredients are local, coming from within 20 miles of the retreat. Each night an innovative tasting menu is presented. The volcanic-ash tempura and kabayaki Icelandic beef short-ribs form what is the retreat’s best-kept secret, available only to in-house guests, making it very special indeed.
There are more sustainable secrets to uncover here. Tóti’s commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of what he does echoes throughout the retreat. The property is already ahead of the game, as it uses Iceland’s geothermal and hydroelectric renewable energy sources, but Siggi and Alex also offset the carbon from each guest’s stay, including international flights and transfers, through investment in local reforestation projects.
If you’re inclined to leave the property, Iceland’s magical natural wonders are all right here. On a short excursion with a private guide, we found the delights of the Golden Circle, its famous geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and black-sand beaches. And the proximity meant there were times when we had the sights all to ourselves. With the sun on our side after dinner, we could visit them when the daytrippers were safely back in Reykjavík.
For OutThere adventurers, many other delights await. Horseriding in the vast fields is a particular highlight, but you can also go on a jeep safari on the glacier. For those keen to discover the best of ‘secret’ Iceland in an experience that will take you to new heights, heli-tours – or in winter heli-ski-tours – are available from the retreat, where there is plenty of space for one or more choppers to land.
But if you just want to relax, then that’s really what the retreat is all about. The property is still very much at the start of its journey, so it currently lacks the checklist facilities of a star-studded resort. There’s no wellness centre, for example, but then with natural thermal baths on your doorstep, there perhaps isn’t a need, although we can’t imagine it will be long before Alex builds one of epic proportions (she boasted of the 20-person hot-tub at her home just up the hill). And over dinner one night, Siggi talked up the idea of a blue lagoon on the property. We wouldn’t put it past him…
But for us, wellness at Torfhús Retreat is all about its effortlessly comfortable, back-to-nature seclusion and the unspoilt surroundings. On top of all that there’s the clean air, zero light pollution, pure glacial water and the midnight sun, which, as if by some wizardly magic, never curtsies in the west in high summer. In winter, we are told, there is an added dimension when the Northern Lights dance through the sky. It really is food for the soul: reviving and restorative. We leave feeling energetic and fitter. We sleep and breathe better and have gained a more positive outlook and appreciation of the simple pleasures in life, among beautiful things. William Morris would be so proud.
Torfhús Retreat can be booked directly or as part of an itinerary put together by Private Travel Iceland, which offers two nights in a Torfbær suite and two nights in The Retreat at Blue Lagoon’s Moss Suite, with a private guide and driver throughout. PTI provides unrivalled 24-7 support to walk you through the country’s entry procedures and can create memorable private experiences, from helicopter journeys over Iceland’s spellbinding waterfalls, to adventurous glacier safaris, as well as intimate moments, from romantic dinners in caves on private black-sand beaches or in the middle of pine forests, to secret thermal baths away from the madding crowds.