In the heart of Northeast Iceland some 60 or so miles south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s Lake Mývatn and its surroundings are one of Europe’s greatest natural treasures. I didn’t know this of course before I ventured north but North Iceland was about to steal my heart.
A designated nature reserve, Mývatn is an area of fragile beauty and stunning untouched nature. Nine years ago, Mývatn Nature Baths opened a more intimate alternative to the Blue Lagoon, but without the face mud packs, tourist shops and restaurants. It is shall we say…more than lovely and much more than just a hot soak!
Drawing on a centuries-old tradition, the mineral baths bring people together in a warm and relaxing environment to socialize and relax. We started in the hot tub alongside the main bath area, absorbing the magic from the clouds of steam rising up from the pool/baths.
The “baths” are the result of a fissure deep in the earth’s surface. Geothermal water is drawn from depths of up to 2,500 metres and contains a unique blend of minerals, silicates and geothermal micro-organisms. It is more than revitalizing – it is transformative!
The mistiness that you see is surreal and almost feels like you’re in a movie as you take in a silky and soothing pink and yellow sky. These shots were taken around 12:30 am, shortly after they closed for the night. I was the last one in the pool so was able to absorb the magic of it all for a fifteen or so minutes alone before jumping out into the cool summer evening air.
Back to my reference of centuries of old tradition, it is in fact, an old tradition. The inhabitants of the Mývatn region have been enjoying healthy bathing in the hot geothermal springs ever since Iceland was settled by the Vikings. There is heat in the earth, hot springs sizzle in the fissures all around and nowhere else in Iceland does such pure steam rise from the earth, free from sulphur vapours or any other pollution.
Many historic remains and folk tales tell us about shelters built to use the steam in this area for bathing. In 1940, a new shelter was built above a steam hole already blessed by the good bishop Gudmundur as early as the 13th century which has been used for steam bathing (also called dry bathing) for centuries.
In 1996, Pétur Snæbjörnsson and Jóhann Fridrik Kristjánsson revived this bathing tradition by building a steam bath in the spirit of former times, thus preserving both the culture and history of the Myvatn region. South of Jardbadsholar, a steam bathing hut was built, which became immediately popular among health seekers and as a meeting point for locals.
The Nature Baths experience was nothing short of pure joy. Oh how I miss that summer Icelandic sky!
Lake Myvatn Nature Baths is located in Jardbadsholar, about 4 km from the village of Reykjahlid in North Iceland.