DESPITE the cool temperatures, tourism in Iceland has never been hotter thanks, in part, to its starring role in TV show Game Of Thrones.
The dramatic landscape of mountains, lakes and glaciers made for the ideal backdrop for the land beyond The Wall, whereas the Eyjafjallajökull volcano almost destroyed Ben Stiller’s mission to find photographer Sean O’Connell in the film The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.
If Iceland’s fame and natural wonders has you keen to visit, then a stay at the lodge-style Hotel Rangá is a great base for experiencing these awe-inspiring destinations.
A two-hour drive from Reykjavik, the hotel is situated between the small towns of Hella and Hvolsvöllur, and named after the salmon-abundant river on which it sits.
The tranquil location is close to wonderful waterfalls, glaciers, hiking trails and that famous and impossible to pronounce volcano – all of which had me jumping at the prospect of a trip to Iceland and why I made the short hop in the middle of winter.
Billed as a luxury countryside hotel, Hotel Rangá is southern Iceland’s only four-star resort and an ideal base for exploring.
The hotel’s main focus, however, is the Northern Lights. Thanks to the dark rural location, it is one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis.
Aurora forecasts, photography tips and wake-up calls are provided by the hotel so that guests can make the most of this fleeting natural phenomenon.
Built in an unassuming log cabin style, warming terracotta tiles, bright lights and a 10 ft polar bear statue (named Hrammur) greeted us on arrival, and all thoughts of the bleak and freezing outdoors were forgotten.
If the mention of a lifesized polar bear hasn’t made it obvious, the interiors are an eclectic mix of quirky additions, natural shades and traditional touches.
The signature suites are themed around the seven continents and feature fine art, fixtures and furnishings from the respective lands.
Murals and artwork from local artists adorn the walls, giving a homely and personal feel.
The home-from-home atmosphere is made all the more welcoming by the friendly staff and the chance to meet and chat to owner Fridrik Palsson.
The 51 guest rooms are split into two wings, connected by corridors either side of the central reception.
One wing is home to standard and deluxe rooms which are comfortable and modestly decorated with sofas, wall-mounted TVs and, in some cases, Jacuzzi baths. At the other end of the hotel are the themed rooms and include imported wood in the Australia room, animal-skin wall hangings in Africa and cowhide upholstery and a wall-mounted kayak in North America, where Hollywood A-lister Jake Gyllenhaal stayed.
The eye-catching Antarctic suite is a study in monochrome minimalism, with modular furniture and life-sized model penguins – your standard hotel rooms these are not.
We stayed in the Royal Suite.
Less flamboyant than the other themed rooms, it features handcrafted wooden furniture, including a huge bed, an in-room Jacuzzi, large en suite and a spacious living room from which to enjoy the views.
There are also balconies, if you can brave the cold, which lead to the outdoor hot tubs.
When it comes to food, Hotel Rangá prides itself on fresh, seasonal ingredients, many of which come straight from the nearby river.
Their “farmer’s market” concept features modern Nordic dishes including reindeer carpaccio with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil and rocket, but if you’re looking for something special, the tasting menu is a winner.
We tucked into a seafood frenzy of Arctic char, Rangá seafood soup, langoustines and salmon one night and the seasonal buffet.
Little plates of 15 types of smoked salmon followed by traditional smoked reindeer and puffin were the starter to mains of ham or roast beef with vegetables, followed by a selection of moreish sweets including cakes, biscuits and desserts.
The night had a party atmosphere, with welcome drinks, served in the cosy upstairs lounge.
With such a warm and welcoming feel, excellent facilities and good food, once visited, you’ll want to return to Hotel Rangá, if only to see Hrammur again.
Rooms at Hotel Rangá start from £282 per night including breakfast. See hotelranga.is
easyJet fly from Edinburgh direct to Reykjavik from £38 per person. Icelandair fly direct from Glasgow from £85 per person.