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August 17, 2021

Sky Lagoon and Hildur Yeoman in Vogue

Many of Iceland’s most treasured cultural institutions were conceived during uncertain times. Take for instance, Reykjavik’s hallowed Hallgrímskirkja church, commissioned during the Great Depression, which took over 40 years to complete.

Or the Harpa concert hall, a Björk and Sigur Rós-approved landmark built during Iceland’s economic downturn from 2008 to 2011. Though the cost and avant garde design were deemed exorbitant then, today the Harpa is beloved for its glacial form and shimmering exterior, a work by famed light installation artist Olafur Eliasson. Indeed, this tiny country of less than 400,000 people doesn’t balk at ambitious projects that push conceptual boundaries and defy norms.

Enter Iceland’s latest feat, which opened this spring: Sky Lagoon, an immersive swim and thermal spa experience nestled in a cliff just 15 minutes from the Reykjavik city center, and an impressive ode to old Norse bathing culture fused with modern Nordic design.

To set the scene: I am part-Icelandic and visit the country often. I’m also an avid swimmer. I kept hearing from friends and family that this was one of the last decade’s biggest developments in Iceland tourism. With deep-pocketed backers (Canada’s Pursuit Collection and the local firm Nature Resort), no expense was spared. Estimations pegged the project at over $50 million USD. This, plus the fact that it was constructed in just 15 months while the country was in complete lockdown, was perfectly in line with the þetta reddast (it will all work out) attitude of ingenuity I have come to expect (and respect) from Icelanders.

“Everyone involved in the project felt very strongly about bringing this very old and authentic Icelandic bathing culture to life for our guests, while still leading with our sustainable goals for operations,” says Dagný Hrönn Pétursdóttir, CEO of Sky Lagoon, who spent 10 years running her now-competitor, the iconic Blue Lagoon. “We set out to create a journey from the moment you arrive. At first, some of the ideas were believed to be undoable but with a strong vision and little stubbornness, we always found a way to make the dream come true.” She adds that winning over Icelanders first, tourists second was always the priority. “If you capture the heart of the nation, you know you have an authentic space with high value.”

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