By Chris Ayliffe, Arctic Meta
I’m a firm believer in, as much as you can, trying everything once. However, if there’s something you enjoy, then life’s simply too short not to try it a second time.
The Panorama Glass Lodge, for me, falls into the latter category.
Iceland is a land of adventure, of rugged wilderness, and for those luckier travellers, some once in a lifetime experiences under the night’s canvas of stars. Having lived here for some time, in my opinion, Iceland has well and truly earned its place as a bucket list country which you have to experience at least once in your life.
It’s a great wonder for many reasons, from glaciers to fjords, volcanoes, black sand beaches, iceberg lagoons, the midnight sun and of course the Northern Lights. However, it’s only in embracing the quirkiness of Icelandic culture that your experiences will richen further.
For instance, as an avid Northern Lights photographer, understanding the science of the phenomenon simply isn’t enough to draw out the travellers’ bug in me. It’s only in discovering the folklore, the ancient beliefs and the way the locals view these wondrous colours that can decorate our night sky, that the real excitement and wonder is retained on every viewing.
In this blog, I will give you an in depth traveller’s guide to why you need to include the Panorama Glass Lodge on your list of places to stay and experience in Iceland.
I will clear up some of the obvious questions as well as cover my own experience, the wonders of the Icelandic countryside around you, some old beliefs of your surroundings and what you can look forward to.
Where is the Panorama Glass Lodge?
The Panorama Glass Lodge can be found around a 20-minute drive north of the nearest town of Hella. It’s exact location is the following: Austurkrókur L6B, 851 Hella.
The drive past Hella will take you towards the active stratovolcano of Hekla and its surrounding lava fields. You’ll arrive to the east of the lava fields, but you’ll have an unparalleled view of the extremely picturesque volcano.
Source: Hekla. Wikimedia. CC. Hansueli Krapf.
But don’t worry, the day before your arrival, your wonderful hosts at the Glass Lodge will send out an email with very specific directions and guidance along with your pin code to needed to enter 1 of the 2 Glass Lodge’s.
How Long Does it Take to Reach the Panorama Glass Lodge from Reykjavik?
If you’re planning on driving to the Panorama Glass Lodge directly from Reykjavik, then it should take around 1 hour 40 minutes to reach if the road and weather conditions are ok.
Your drive should take you along a small portion of the south coast, so you might want to take the opportunity to include a detour through Iceland’s incredible Golden Circle during the day before heading to the Glass Lodge in the evening.
For instance, I’d recommend you check out the famous split of 2 of the world’s major continental plates (North American and Eurasian) at Thingvellir National Park. From there, you can take your time to include the mighty spouting geysir of Strokkur and the gargantuan waterfall of Gullfoss on your travels.
Source: Strokkur. Wikimedia. CC. Andreas Tille.
If this isn’t enough for you, why not include a short stop off at Kerid Crater, or even an hours hike to the stunning blue waters of Bruarfoss waterfall. You can include all of these stops and more with a fantastic Golden Circle Tour.
However, if a lunch stop is also on your agenda, be sure to check out Fridheimar tomato farm.
At this stop off you can dine in amongst the tomato vines with a hearty bowl of tomato soup accompanied by an array of freshly baked bread. And, for those of you not driving, why not take the opportunity to try the best Bloody Mary in Iceland?
What Dining Options Are There Nearby?
As you can expect, the Panorama Glass Lodge is situated amazingly in the wilderness of Iceland. Each lodge comes with a fully functioning mini kitchen with a hob, cooking equipment, a coffee maker, glasses, cutlery, and a basic selection of carbohydrates (e.g. cereal, pasta and rice).
I recommend that on your journey over, you stop off at one of the supermarkets on the way. If you’re coming from Reykjavik, then I suggest stopping at the Bonus in Selfoss which will have the largest selection of food options. Alternatively, if you are travelling from the east, then a stop off at Kjarval in Hella is probably your best option.
However, if you’d prefer to dine out, you can easily drive the short distance back towards the town of Hella and check out a few of the local restaurants.
It’s also worth mentioning that each of the Glass Lodge’s has bottle openers and corkscrews for those of you, who like me, make sure to stop off at a Vinbudin before tucking up for a cosy night in a charming Iceland retreat!
Is there a Hot Tub and Is it Private?
The short answer is, yes and yes (awesome right?!)
There is a hot tub big enough for two people to enjoy comfortably while gazing up at the skies. If you’re as lucky as I was you’ll even get a glimpse of the Aurora while you enjoy a cold beer while unwinding in the warm waters.
Each Glass Lodge has a very comprehensive guide to explain how everything works, including the hot tub. But, essentially the water is replaced everyday and heated from 2pm onwards. As it is reliant on a generator it takes around 5 hours to fully heat up – you should be fine to get in at around 7pm each evening.
As the guide will explain, be sure to avoid pulling the cord in the hot tub as this could inadvertently release the water. Trust me, you’ll want to leave this alone and enjoy your experience fully!
What Conditions Do You Need to See the Northern Lights?
This is a question the couple who own and run the Glass Lodges get all the time from travellers, and rightly so.
To see the Northern Lights you basically need three key ingredients, and one extra than that. These include the following:
- Staying in Winter – during the summer Iceland has no official darkness, but in winter we have an insane amount of darkness. From September to April, it’s dark enough to see the Northern Lights
- No Cloud Cover – as the Northern Lights occur at 80 – 640km above us, and clouds rarely exceed 18km, full cloud cover will obscure your viewing. However, keep the faith, as my experience of Icelandic weather is it will change very quickly, and often presumably hopeless Aurora hunting nights have given me huge cloud gaps and some wonderful surprises
- Good Auroral Activity – activity from the sun is what causes the Northern Lights. It’s caused by electrons ejected from the sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. So, in short, if the sun’s activity is quiet then so are the Northern Lights.
EXTRA: Luck – though our ability to predict the visibility and intensity of the Northern Lights has massively improved over the past few decades with an increasingly significant number sophisticated scientific instruments in use, you’d be surprised how the lights can come and go just out of nowhere. Often, those Auroras less expected are the ones I enjoy the most.
There are plenty of great Iceland Northern Lights tours you can take on your trip over if you’re spending some time in Reykjavik, but the Panorama Glass Lodge is a much more luxurious experience to watch nature’s greatest show from.
What is there of Interest in the Nearby Surroundings?
As mentioned above, the Panorama Glass Lodge sits to the east of the stratovolcano of Hekla.
As one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, Hekla has gone off at least 20 times since 874 AD, and as you’ll hear a lot about Iceland’s many volcanoes on your travels, it’s due for another eruption – it last erupted in 1991.
In fact, Hekla is part of a volcanic ridge, 40km long. For the volcanologists amongst you, the most active part is a fissure around 5.5km long named Heklugjá.
From the Glass Lodge, Hekla will look similar to a distant large overturned boat as the most prominent and obvious spot. It’s within that part of the volcano that there are believed to be 2 of the most active craters.
However, don’t fear, you are perfectly safe. All of Iceland’s volcanoes are monitored constantly, with any signs of eruptions communicated well in advance.
You’re in safe hands, and particularly, if you’re an avid photographer, getting a shot of Hekla in the distance under the snow covered mountain peaks with the Aurora dancing overhead is the perfect way to summarise why Iceland is known as ‘the land of fire and Ice’.
If you’ve opted for an Iceland self-drive tour on your visit, you should give yourself sufficient time to explore this area by driving a little further along route 268 to get an even better view of Hekla the morning after your stay.
Is There Any Folklore About Hekla?
If you’re familiar with Icelandic folklore at all, then you’ll be aware that there are basically 3 categories to it: tragedy, love, and…love and tragedy!
However, when it comes to the stories told of Hekla, since 1104 early Icelanders considered it to be one of the gateways to hell. This belief was created after an eruption that year, with the Christian population at the time linking most things they saw to something biblical.
Source: Hekla Eruption in 1980. Wikimedia. CC. Oxonhutch.
If you think of it from their perspective, when you see an erupting fissure of lava with big booming deep sounds that rock the very earth beneath your feet, it’s pretty hard to direct your thoughts straight to some kind of scientific explanation (there wasn’t a scientific explanation back then either!)
Nowadays, Hekla has become quite the tourist attraction. Travellers from all over the world are curious by some of Iceland’s incredible array of active volcanoes, with the lucky few getting a glimpse at some lava fountains when they occur, from a safe distance.
The volcano also has the added benefit of being easily pronounced by most tourists; this is in total contrast to Eyjafjallajökull which famously erupted in 2010.
I’m sad to tell you, but I don’t believe many Icelanders still believe Hekla is one of the gateways to hell.
However, when you’re relaxing with a nice brew in the Glass Lodge, put yourself in the shoes of the early Icelanders and wonder how you might have made sense of the world around you without the scientific explanations we now know today.
My Experience of Staying at the Panorama Glass Lodge
I arrived in November 2020, taking the drive in the afternoon from Reykjavik.
As soon as I took a left into the countryside away from the town of Hella, I was excited as all the urban artificial light faded away and I could start to embrace a full evening amidst the wonderful Icelandic nature. After all, nobody comes to Iceland for the cities!
Me and my partner drove along the gravelly roads and over the small rivers and lakes that dotted along this short journey. Around 20 minutes from Hella, we saw a small sign for the ‘Panorama Glass Lodge’ on the right-hand-side of the road, and bubbling with excitement took the 2 minute drive along the private road to a well maintained car park.
Carrying our stuff along the well lit path, we found ourselves at the Glass Lodge named Freya.
Now, for those of you as geeky as me with Norse mythology, Freya is the Old Norse name given to Odin’s wife. She was known as the goddess of love and fertility, so I knew we were in for a romantic evening away (my good lady just thought I’d watched too much of the show, Vikings!)
Unpacking our stuff, we over-excitedly checked out everything and were pleasantly surprised at how luxurious everything was. Right from the comfy bed, warm woolen blankets, exquisite bathroom, to the small interior design touches, it was beautifully crafted.
If you’re completely new to travelling in Iceland, it’s also worth noting that ‘Iceland’ and ‘luxury’ are 2 words that rarely go together. In fact, most of the hotels and guesthouses around the country are what you would expect for simply ‘a place to sleep’ and nothing more – there are only a few exceptions.
However, I can vouch that the Panorama Glass Lodge stands in a league of it’s own: pure rural quality.
We quickly made ourselves at home and opened a couple of beers we’d bought on the journey over. After having a tasty bit of dinner and switching all the lights off to enjoy the novelty of staring up at the twinkling stars overhead while enjoying our pasta dish, we gave each other the glance of ‘let’s get in the hot tub’. Both me and my partner have been together for many years, so often we don’t even need to verbalise things!
After getting into our swimming costumes and testing the water, we plunged in. We even took the bluetooth speaker outside and relaxed in the warm waters under nothing but starlight and some cringeworthy music. It. Was. Bliss.
If you haven’t enjoyed a hot tub under the stars, then this is the ultimate destination to try it!
Shortly after getting into the hot tub is when we caught our first glimpse of the Northern Lights for the evening. Although the Aurora Forecast was deemed to be weak, the skies had other ideas.
I’d like to say I stayed in the hot tub with a cold one in hand and simply enjoyed the view, I really would. However, as a Northern Lights photographer and major enthusiast, I quickly hopped out and got my cameras set up to capture the display.
It was beautiful, with an array of striking greens blessing the horizon as the Aurora started to dance in between the many constellations above. When we both decided to enjoy the display from inside the warmth of the Glass Lodge, we sat in awe as the subtle reflections of pale greens bounced off the lodge windows themselves.
It was a lovely evening spent in luxury, comfort, relaxation and splendour. We arrived at the Glas Lodge under the setting twilight hours of an Icelandic winter evening, and nestled up in warm blankets with a glass of hot chocolate in hand watching the stars twinkle and the Northern Lights dance for hours into the evening.
I even recall waking up in the early hours of the morning, to be gazing directly at the Northern Lights and stars above. It took me a good few moments to realise I wasn’t in some bizarre inception type dream state as it all felt so surreal.
As I mentioned at the start of this blog, I’m a firm believer in trying everything in life once, and the things you truly enjoy, a second time. As I will put the Panorama Glass Lodge in the second category, you can be sure that I will be coming back to hopefully tell you some more tales of what I discover and the great experience I have.
I’ll be aiming to arrive back under a great Northern Lights display or to take in the long daylight hours of the summer months and breath in the fresh air of Iceland’s rural environment once again soon.
In essence, the Panorama Glass Lodge is a modern day luxurious treat to spend a night in, and I’d love to hear what you think when you get the chance to try it out for yourselves.
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