Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir is certainly no stranger to the virtues of travel. Prior to the 2013 opening of Ion Adventure Hotel, the Icelander and former cabin-crew member established a successful company that organized adventure tours and provided training and recruitment services to airlines. But it was Sverrisdóttir’s extensive (and often unsatisfactory) experience as a guest at luxury chain hotels around the world that most profoundly influenced her current sensibility.
“I would stay at these chain hotels and see they were not true to the environment. You would not get any concept of where you were,” says Sverrisdóttir. So, at Ion Adventure Hotel, in the rolling Icelandic countryside, she adds, “I wanted the guests to experience the Icelandic nature, the culture, the trends, music, design, and everything we like and appreciate. I wanted them to experience exactly where they were in the world.”
Sverrisdottir’s enduring passion for local authenticity, not to mention her razor-sharp sense of aesthetics, extend to the ever-rotating local artworks and music that fill the hotels, as well as to the farm-to-table cuisine at Silfra Restaurant & Bar and the partially exposed Lava Spa—both at Ion Adventure Hotel—where guests can luxuriate with herbal products made from organic, mineral-rich volcanic ash and clay sourced from the immediate vicinity.
“As we were talking about the concept, from the beginning, we were very determined to make it as sustainable as possible,” says Sverrisdóttir. “A profound sense of connection to and responsibility toward the natural environment is a big part of what it means to be Icelandic. We know that we cannot control the weather, cannot control volcanoes, earthquakes,” she says. “We’ve learned how to live with and respect nature.”
One aspect of this, she adds, is a heightened awareness of the unfortunate reality of climate change. As a child growing up on a small peninsula near Reykjavik, Sverrisdóttir recalls whale carcasses often drifting onto the shore, forming great fleshy trampolines on which she and her friends would play. Her schoolteachers would later bring them down to study the whales’ anatomy. “Now there are hardly any whales,” she says wistfully. “Climate change is right there in front of you. You don’t have to go back in time to realize how intense it is.”
So to ensure that one enjoys sophisticated, international flair in a world defined by local design, and all set in a structure that exposes the capital in its best light, she also created Ion City Hotel. And just as Ion Adventure sets such an important precedent in the area—with its many sustainable innovations and practices—it seems certain that Ion City will inspire more followers. And being followed is something a leader like Sverrisdóttir has always been comfortable with. “It’s been inspiring to see other hotels go into something similar,” says Sverrisdóttir. “Because this is what Iceland is all about.”