As I passed through the Golden Circle region on my journey from a little house in Borgarnes to a tent in Selfoss, I stopped for a couple of hours in Iceland’s smallest and quietest spa.
I’d already spent half the morning in the public pool at Borgarnes, so it wasn’t as if I desperately needed a swim but Laugarvatn is a little bit out of the way, so I make it a rule to stop at Fontana whenever I’m passing by.
Laugarvatn is so called because there are hot springs around the banks of the lake. Locals have been using them to bathe for centuries – it was at Laugarvatn that the first converts to Christianity came to be baptised, using the warm lake water rather than the ice-cold river water at Þingvellir where the decision was taken. Fontana has capitalised on this by building its steam baths directly on top of one of the vents – the result is free, green, sulphur-stinking steam.
In contrast to the totally natural steam baths, the pools are clean and civilised – three white-tiled pools of assorted sizes, depths and temperatures, plus one natural pool made of black lava rock which is filled with a slightly more sulphurous water. This is my favourite pool on dark winter nights, when you can’t see the boulders and your hair is freezing as you luxuriate in the hot water.
It’s all very different in the summer daylight. Sitting in Viska, the raised hot pot, you can see all the way across the lake and the mountains, getting slowly and gently scorched by the sun. Viska is a little bit hot for my tastes, so I would slip into Lauga, the miniature swimming pool and swim short lengths in the lukewarm water until I fancied returning to Sæla, the long shallow warm pool.
You can even, if you’re brave enough, borrow a pair of gravel-filled neoprene shoes and venture down to the lake. Despite the hot springs around the edges, it can and does freeze in winter and I wouldn’t consider it bathing temperature in summer but those hot springs provide pockets of warm water – and dangerous patches of boiling water. I’ve seen people swimming happily in the lake in summer and photos of people looking exhilarated in there in winter but I find it’s not really to my taste and I retreat to the nice dark natural pool.