Inspiration

The Scenic Solitude of Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll

Beyond the occasional volcanic eruption, the ragged splendor of Iceland’s dramatic cliffs, valleys, and mountain peaks are deceivingly picturesque, only hinting of the ongoing violence perpetually unfolding beneath its soil. The series of geological activities responsible for churning, carving, and reshaping the varied Icelandic landscape over millennia have made it an adventurer’s paradise. And for years, the Blue Lagoon Iceland located just outside of Reykjavík has taken advantage of the country’s volcanic temperament, luring visitors from around the globe to relax their muscles bathed in the resort’s otherworldly turquoise-tinted geothermal heated water.

The same group behind the Blue Lagoon are also responsible for the newly opened Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll, a property situated at the foot of the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range designed to serve up stimulating adventure with a side of luxurious serene solitude.

The remoteness of Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll’s location (the hotel doesn’t list a standard address, but instead lists “getting here” options that differ in summer versus winter. Such is the cantankerous nature of the central highlands where a minimum 3-hour car ride from Reykjavík is realizable only in the most ideal of conditions. In wintertime the route becomes so challenging, the resort requires guests to schedule transport by a 4×4 super Jeep driven by a professional to maneuver the snowy and ice-covered terrain.

Warm interior shot of one of the Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll's suites furnished with modern Scandinavian designs. A large window affords a wide view of the Icelandic landscape of rolling hills covered in summertime grass with a cool gray light.

A lone figure in black stopped long a trail at the base of Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll's rugged mountain vistas. The landscape is mostly devoid of visible vegetation or trees.

But this arduous journey from city to hotel likely will only add to the perception that the Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll promises a stay unlike any other place on earth, appealing to guests who only seek rest and relaxation as bookends to a more strenuous stay while exploring the remote network of trails surrounding the property accessible by foot, mountain bike, skis, snowshoes, or snowmobile.

View of the Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll wood clad hotel exterior, with each room featuring an angled windows looking out onto the Icelandic summer landscape with grasses growing along mounds.

The hotel itself was designed to leave as little of a footprint on the landscape, with the small village-like layout of accommodations divided into the Highlands Base hotel with its 26 rooms and 2 suites operated year round, 6 stand-alone lodges, and for those really looking to rough it – but only in summertime – one of the property’s A-frame Hostel Huts or riverside campsites for tent camping. A shared kitchen, restroom, and shower facilities are situated nearby to serve these more rugged-minded guests.

Two overhead landscape views of the Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll site in the summertime with windy roads and snowcapped mountains visible in the distance.

Sustainability ranked high in developing Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll, with Blue Lagoon Iceland’s in-house design team reuniting with Basalt Architects and Design Group Italia, the same cohorts responsible for designing the Retreat at Blue Lagoon. Stone and wood play prominent at every touchpoint, on walls and underfoot, with soft touches of upholstery and blankets silently inviting, “rest here.”

Four bathers enjoying the geothermally heated hot spring pools outside of the Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll with a a snowy mountain landscape visible in the distance.

To shelter guests from the worst of the biting elements, a system of underground passageways connect the hotel to the restaurant and the baths, allowing guests to stay comfortably warm during their stay.

Deluxe room at the Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll furnished with a small love seat in front and queen sized bed along the back wall, both covered in light gray upholstery and bedding, with warm indirect wall mounted lighting illuminating the room. High pitched wood clad ceiling overhead, with small window along the left wall.

With “coziness” emphasized as intrinsic to their guests’ stay, the rooms at the Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll range from 237 square feet to 474 square feet, each furnished with a contemporary palette of natural materials and colors referencing the surrounding Iceland landscape, a mood easily noted while staring out of any of the room’s picturesque views.

 

cozy hotel room with wood surfaces and ceilings and neutral tan furnishings with window views of surrounding terrain.

double bed hotel room with wood floors, walls, and ceilings, and neutral bedding and furnishings, with window to left

angled view of hotel room sitting area looking out window to a-frame cabins in distance

Right: exterior photo of stone and grass landscape surrounding the wood clad Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll hotel with cloudy skies overhead. Left: Interior shot of the an armchair next to one small side table and a larger circular coffee table topped with small boxes and books.

Contemporary design bathroom with dark stone tile walls, small sink with rolled hand towels, toiletries, and a small circular wall mirror over the sink.

Photo of interior hostel room for families furnished with a queen size bunk bed with horizontal wood paneling along the length of the bed's adjoining wall, and a narrow-tall window looking outside parallel to the bed. Across from bed is a long furnace heater powered by geothermal energy.

Guests who decide to stay in one of the resort’s 20 Highland Base Hostel rooms are served the bare necessities warmed with a rustic spirit, with the larger room option allowing for a family of four to sleep upon a queen size bunk bed.

The hotel’s 80-seat Highland Base Restaurant and Lounge is laid out in Alpine-style seating, serving everything from vegan options, local seafood, and traditional Icelandic dishes such as Kjötsúpa (a simple winter soup made with lamb, rutabaga, and potatoes).

Detail of wood panel exterior of the Highland Base - Kerlingarfjöll with angled windows on the left, second photo on the right of an interior small dining table topped with wineglasses and salt and pepper. Visible in the background through a nearby window are two A-frame huts on a grass covered hillside.

Interior shot of a cavernous 80-seat Highland Base Restaurant and Lounge, with long dining table seating up to 8 people in the center with long overhead lights stretching above, stone tile flooring and wood clad interior walls.

And those with a penchant for all things sweet take note: every afternoon the restaurant sets up a waffle buffet, serving up the soft, thin, and heart-shaped Icelandic waffles known as vöfflur along with strawberry jam, whipped cream, syrup, coffee, and hot cocoa.

Detail of Scandinavian modern round coffee table surrounded by arms chairs and topped by a book and small glass tea light candle holder.

Three A-Frame huts at the base of the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range on left, with photo on the right of 5 snowshoe adventurers traveling across a remote, central highlands landscape of Iceland.

Like The Bolder Lodges in Lysefjord, Norway, a similarly remote destination marrying architectural accommodation with adventure-focused itineraries, the Highland Base is carefully curated to align the body, mind, and mindset into a state of off-grid bliss. And unlike the popularly accessible Blue Lagoon, the sojourn required to reach the Highland Base will inevitably help keep the Highland Base within the category of a best known secret.

Seven snow covered A-Frame huts in a winter nighttime landscape with the northern lights glowing overhead through a layer of low clouds.

What: Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll
Where: Kerlingarfjöll, Iceland
How much: Starting from $430/night within one of the hotel’s Deluxe rooms.
Highlights: Taking in the view of Hofsjökull, Iceland’s third-largest glacier, from your own balcony hot tub is hard to beat. Exploring the smoldering, steam laced pastiche of Hveradalir mountain range by foot equally so.
Design draw: With the aid of Basalt Architects and Design Group Italia, Blue Lagoon Iceland’s in-house design team have fashioned a cozy, minimalist architectural and interior design language harmonious with its striking natural setting.
Book it: Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll

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Gregory Han is a Senior Editor at Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at gregoryhan.com.

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