Hotel Review: Double Room at the ION Adventure Hotel, Selfoss, Iceland

Dec 16, 2017

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To The Point

The ION Adventure Hotel leverages Iceland’s natural wonders and sustainable architecture to create an eco-friendly escape for the most adventurous of travelers. The Pros: intimate size, locally sourced design materials, natural geothermal spa and stunning landscapes. The Cons: extremely remote location and lousy service.

Over the past two years, Iceland has seen a massive explosion in tourism. The small country has a population of only about 335,000, but it has had to adapt quickly with the influx of tourists — there were up to 1.6 million foreign visitors in 2016.

Since my visit to the Land of Fire and Ice two years ago, I had been dying to get back, and thanks to WOW Air’s $99 fares to Reykjavik, getting to Iceland was cheaper and easier than ever. With WOW’s recent Miami expansion, I was able to grab a $200 round-trip fare, this time with the intention of avoiding the ever-expanding crowds. I was eager to check the ION Adventure Hotel off my personal hotel bucket list.

In This Post

Booking

When I booked, there were 112 Design Hotels where Starwood Preferred Guest members could earn and redeem points, with the ION Adventure a Category 6 property requiring between 20,000 and 25,000 Starpoints per night. With nightly rates starting at 38,800 Icelandic krona ($392), I was determined to put my travel-hacking skills to the test.

The rate shown on the SPG website was 49,800 ISK ($504 USD).
The rate shown on the SPG website was 49,800 ISK ($504).

My initial search on the SPG website showed a nightly rate of 49,800 ISK ($504). Although that was out of my budget, I was determined to stay in this hotel by hook or by crook. I dug deeper.

Booking.com displayed the same room for 34,116 ISK ($345 USD).
Booking.com displayed the same room for 34,116 ISK ($345 USD).

A quick search on Google showed that Booking.com was offering the same room on the same dates for 34,116 ISK ($345). But rather than make the reservation through Booking.com at the lower price, I decided to leverage SPG’s best-rate guarantee.

The SPG Best Rate Guarantee will match the competing rate and beat it by 20% or give you 2,000 bonus Starpoints.
The SPG best-rate guarantee matched the competing rate and beat it by 20 percent, or would have given me 2,000 bonus Starpoints.

After scanning travel forums online, I was a little nervous about whether SPG would actually honor the lower rate I had found on Booking.com. I triple-checked the terms and conditions and, now reassured that my claim would be honored, went ahead and booked directly through StarwoodHotels.com.

 

The online claim form is fairly straightforward, and easy to complete.
The online claim form is fairly straightforward and easy to complete.

 

In order to take advantage of the guarantee, I had to submit a claim online detailing the lower rate, which could only be done after making a booking directly with SPG. The terms and conditions were extensive, but the key points were that the competing rate had to be for the same room type, on the same dates and available to the general public (i.e., no AAA discounts, corporate codes or last-minute auction sites).

 

A few hours after submitting a claim online, I received confirmation of my new rate.
A few hours after submitting a claim online, I received confirmation of my new rate, which was 44 percent lower than the original.

I checked my email the following day. Imagine my delight when I read the message from SPG, which bore the happy news that not only had the competing rate been matched, but they were beating it by an additional 20 percent. My reservation, which started at a rate of 49,800 ISK ($504), ultimately ended up costing only 28,053.33 ISK ($284). For a bit of effort and a fair amount of tenacity, I was able to snag the room at a 44-percent discount!

Location

The 49.7 miles from Keflavik International Airport (KEF) to the ION Adventure seemed short on paper, but the drive took us approximately 90 minutes. Iceland being what it is, travel time could vary greatly depending on road and weather conditions.

IonDriveIn
Though long, the drive to the property was absolutely stunning.

The last stretch was dirt road — hardly the most luxurious of voyages I’ve undertaken. In fact, the hotel specifically recommends using a 4×4 during the winter. (Regular cars could probably make the trip in the summer.) Take my advice: Plan ahead and find yourself a car to drive to the hotel. A taxi from Keflavik would have set us back 36,000 ISK ($364) each way — even more than my hotel room!

Play it safe when you drive, as Icelandic roads can be treacherous even without snow. It’s an adventure, to say the least, but although it’s perhaps the most cost-effective way to experience the harsh beauty of this otherworldly terrain, it’s not the easiest.

Though technically located in Selfoss, a bustling town much larger than most communities along the Golden Circle, the ION was a 45-minute drive from the town center.

The property has been built directly into the side of the hill with concrete pylons supporting the building.
The property has been built directly into the side of the hill with concrete pylons supporting the building.

Lobby and Check-in

With only 44 rooms, the ION Adventure Hotel looked tiny from a distance. The property had a modern, rectangular design, with the bulk of the structure built into the side of the mountain to make full use of the stunning landscape.

The unsuspecting entrance is a preview of the minimalist articture found inside.
The unprepossessing entrance is a preview of the minimalist architecture found inside.

As we pulled into the driveway, I noticed only four non-hotel vehicles, along with an electric-vehicle charging station for travelers looking to avoid Iceland’s astronomical gas prices.

ion lobby
The front desk was in front of a hidden stairwell that led to the Lava Spa.

The lobby was small and sparsely decorated in what could only be called an homage to Icelandic culture, evidenced by the stone front desk, sheepskin rugs and gift shop stocked with handcrafted woolens to keep you toasty in the middle of an intense Icelandic winter.

Ion Lobby 2
We enjoyed sparkling wine in a comfortable lounge adjacent to the front desk.

The staff had anticipated my arrival, and I was greeted warmly at the front desk. After handing over my passport and SPG American Express credit card, they gave me my room keys along with two glasses of sparkling wine, one for myself and one for my traveling companion.

The coordiors to the room were filled with dynamic artwork and large windows letting in light
The corridors to the room were filled with dynamic artwork and large windows letting in light

There was no mention of my SPG status, and little explanation of the hotel; I had to ask before the staff told me when the spa, bar and restaurant were open. I was pleased to hear that unlike the majority of establishments in Iceland, which close around 6pm, the bar was open until midnight.

Room 

I was taken aback that we weren’t escorted to our room, but considering the size of the hotel, maybe a chaperone would have been overkill.

The double bed could be broken down into two single beds.
The double bed could be broken down into two single beds.

The room measured 215 square feet, and the double bed could be broken down into two single beds. On each side of the bed was a small, Nordic minimalist nightstand, one with an alarm clock and the other a third-generation iPad mini.

The floor to ceiling windows gave impressive views of the green landscape and nearby geothermal power plant.
The floor to ceiling windows had impressive views of the lush green landscape and nearby geothermal power plant.

The room’s floor-to-ceiling window made the room seem a little less claustrophobic, and allowed guests to enjoy the view of the (then) lush landscape and nearby geothermal power plant. Word of warning, however: The view into the room from the swimming pool was just as clear!

A genuine feather lamp hung above the bed.
A feather lamp hung above the bed.

The ION prided itself on using local materials everywhere: fur rugs, wool blankets and a lamp made of feathers from a bird I couldn’t identify were only a few of the animal-based decorative elements scattered prettily throughout the property.

A mural featuring a quintessential icelandic horse was displayed constantly thoughtout the property.
This horse mural showed up everywhere throughout the property.

The floor-to-ceiling mural of an Icelandic horse was dramatic touch, though it was repeated throughout the hotel numerous times. It would have been nice to see more variety in the artwork.

The room itself was pretty bare bones containing a single chair, minamilst desk and instant espresso machiene.
The room itself was pretty bare-bones, with a single chair, minimalist desk and espresso machine.

I was surprised to not find even a simple brochure explaining the basic services offered by the hotel. The only reading material was The Design Hotels Book, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a hotel fanatic, but would leave most guests unimpressed.

No information on the hotel was given during check in or was available inside of the room.
No information on the hotel was given during check-in or available in the room.

I thought for certain that the hotel information had to be on the room’s iPad mini, perhaps in keeping with an eco-friendly philosophy. To my disappointment and surprise, there was nothing. The only thing stored on the iPad was about two months of internet search history. If you are staying at this hotel, make sure you clear any saved passwords — the in-room devices are certainly not wiped after each stay.

The minibar contained no snacks, just a small assortment of beverages without a price sheet.
The mini bar contained no snacks, just a small assortment of beverages without a price sheet.

With no in-room dining menu, I ventured toward the mini bar in search of a quick snack prior to heading to the spa. I found a disappointingly small assortment of beverages with no prices.

The dial to adjust room temperature was broken and could not be used.
The dial to adjust room temperature was broken.

For a property that calls itself a luxury hotel, the non-functional entrance light by the room door was a surprise. Furthermore, the in-room thermostat was broken.

IonBathroom
A narrow bathroom contained only the essentials, without leaving space for much else.

The bathroom was even more cramped than the inside of the room, with barely enough space for a small vanity and shower with a glass door. Fitting more than two people in the bathroom at once was completely out of the question.

Dkdkkd
Soley Organics is an Icelandic company that makes an array of skincare products made with handpicked wild herbs.

The bathroom featured Soley Organics bathing products, which came in overly large pump bottles on top of a stone block in the shower. There wasn’t room for much else.

 

IonBathroom2
The minimalist design was aesthetically pleasing, but not very functional.

Because the glass shower divider was so narrow, it was incredibly difficult not to spill water all over the floor, even when I was bathing very cautiously.

 

Northern Lights Bar
The Northern Lights Bar served drinks and light meals.

Food and Beverage

The Northern Lights Bar above the pool was one of only two on-site dining options. We had to plan our meals carefully, as there was nothing else around for miles, and most Icelandic establishments close around 6pm.

LightsBar2
The bar was completely devoid of guests and hotel staff.

During the first night, I asked for a late-night snack from the Northern Lights Bar, as the main restaurant was already closed. The bartender explained that nothing was available but that I was free to enjoy the mixed nuts on the tables by the bar. Then he offered me a single lemon. I couldn’t tell if he were joking or making a genuine attempt at being helpful.
The main restuarunt offers a breakfast buffet for $29.

While dining choices at the ION were limited, there was a full breakfast buffet available at the Silfra for $29. It was not included as a platinum amenity.

Caption Goes here
The spread was fairly limited and included pastries, breakfast meats and fruit.

That proved steep for such a limited spread, though it did seem reasonable when compared to similar establishments in wallet-busting Iceland.

Caption Goes here
The daily breakfast buffet was served until 11am each morning.

The menu at Silfra was sparse, and never changed, with main courses starting at 4,990 ISK ($56).

Amenities

The Lava Spa, which contained a geothermal pool, was undoubtedly the key feature of the ION Adventure. Situated beneath the Northern Lights Bar, the shallow pool allowed us to bask in the waters’ natural warmth while taking in the breathtaking sights.

Lava has large changing rooms that can be used prior to entering the pool area.
Lava has large changing rooms that can be used prior to entering the pool area.

The Lava Spa was open to all guests of the hotel for free, regardless of whether they bought spa treatments. Someone at the front desk told me day passes for non-guests were available for $50, information that would have been more useful had it been readily available online.

A small relaxation area has yoga equipment, an assortment of teas and aromatherapy candles.
A small relaxation area had yoga equipment, an assortment of teas and aromatherapy candles.

Immediately after entering the spa, I noticed a small relaxation area. The centerpiece was a small table atop a fur rug. I sipped a cup of tea while taking in the view.

ION warning Sign
A warning sign informed guests of the unique nature of the pool.

At a depth of two feet, the pool was extremely shallow, but perfect for a semi-reclined position while basking in the heat.

This imagae isnt good but i
Iceland runs on 100-percent renewable energy, with the island’s volcanos providing much of the power and heat.

The white vapor from the power plant was a striking contrast against the green landscape.

The geothermal pool at The Ion featured incredible views of nearby mountains and a geothermal power plant.
The geothermal pool at the ION featured incredible views of nearby mountains and the power plant.

Iceland in May is still spring, and foliage during my visit was still in the process of growing. I could only imagine how beautiful the view would have been during the summer, with everything in blossom.

A large conference room with a curved 4k TV and projector was being utilized for a business retreat.
A large conference room with a curved 4K TV and projector was being used for a business retreat.

The conference room was well-stocked, included seating space for large groups, lots of natural light, a projection screen and a curved 4K TV.

Overall Impression

From a design standpoint, the ION Adventure Hotel is absolutely stunning. That said, you should expect that minimalism also applied to service and amenities. This property is perfect for low-maintenance travelers looking to unwind and take in the beautiful Icelandic panoramas, so if you enjoy isolation, quiet, and hands-off service, this is the hotel for you. On the other hand, the isolated nature of the property makes seeing local attractions and dining particularly inconvenient.

Have you stayed at the ION Adventure? Did you Icelandic fantasies come true? Tell us about it!

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