One of the Icelandic traditions that has most piqued my interest is that of hot-potting. For centuries, Icelanders have used the hot thermal pools as gathering places. Here they meet and commune to while away especially late afternoon hours immersed in the sweet heat of their hot pots. Many of these warm-water soaking spots (if not most) have become over the years more commercial and modern. The Blue Lagoon, which I had already visited, featured a thoroughly modern facility. Others are more like swimming pools that draw their heat from the geothermal energy beneath. And all cost to enter.
One of the reasons I was drawn to camp in Flúðir was to dip my toes in a hot pot called the Secret Lagoon, Gamla Laugin (left). My guidebook boasted that it had been reconstructed in 2014 and was a real treasure. But, then, in my late night spent in the office of the campground manager, I learned of another hot pot. The “Secret, Secret Lagoon,” if you will. Known and used mainly by locals, it was a spot, they assured me, that was far from the touristy crowds yet only three kilometers down the road. They didn’t need to say more. The first thing in the morning, I was off.
It would have been easy to miss, tucked behind a hummock and a hike off the road. But I pulled in a graveled spot that looked like a place others had parked and began my hike. As I topped the hill … there it was. It was as if I had arrived in another world.
An old stone bathhouse stood above a steaming basin of water. The rocked sides of the small house were partly turfed and steps down into the hot-tub-sized pool were carved from a single stone. It didn’t take me long to slip out of my clothes (in preparation, I had donned a swimsuit before leaving the campground) and tiptoe into the warm water. The view from the pool was unbelievable. Sheep grazed on a nearby hill and the mountains rose in the distance.
Nearby another lovely indentation has been created at the very spot where the thermal waters came from below ground. Its floor was pebbled with black lava sand and its walls rocked to create a mammoth private bath tub. Naturally, I was compelled to sample it as well. The waters were crystalline and small ripples reflected unique patterns on the black sand beneath.
Serene. Magical. Even historic. It felt like I had stepped back centuries and was hot-potting as it was meant to be. I could have stayed forever but the remainder of Iceland beckoned. Reluctantly, I left the warm waters and toweled myself dry. Baaa. Baaa. The sheep bleated in the distance. Trilling birds swooped overhead.
Heading back to the campground, I noticed the sign for the “other” Secret Lagoon, Gamla Laugin, and decided to stop by for the wifi, a cup of coffee and to compare the experience I’d just had with the experience at a more traditional hot pot. It couldn’t have been more different. Not bad (as it was still morning and the crowds had not yet arrived). But certainly different.
The beautiful hot pot was rimmed with carefully arranged stones to make a more swimming-pool type experience. Bathers clung to long foam tubes as they floated lazily in the water. A well constructed wooden deck had been built where out-of-water bathers could relax at tables and chairs with glasses of wine or beer. Music was piped to overhead (and underwater, I’m told) speakers. Massages actually in the pool could be purchased. It was — as the guidebooks as bragged — a beautiful spot but it couldn’t compared with my sweet secret, secret lagoon.