Prefer to enjoy the magic of the northern lights from the comfort of a hot tub? Look no further than these stylish Icelandic retreats, says Thomas Rees
Volcanic Iceland is one of the world's most active auroral regions and with the solar maximum due to peak in the winter of 2013, it's the perfect time for some Icelandic aurora-hunting. Here are seven ways to see the lights in comfort and style, for those who could do without freezing vigils, sleepless nights and wild-goose chases.
At Reykjanes, in north-west Iceland, you can watch the colours of the aurora blaze across the night sky from the waters of a 50-metre-long geothermal pool. The hotel offers a variety of accommodation options too, including private apartments and a campsite. The rooms are fairly plain and uninspiring but the location more than makes up for it.
During the day you can explore the remote peninsula on foot, rent kayaks or plunge into the waters of Ísafjarðardjúp with one of the hotel's diving instructors. The area is perfect for spotting wildlife. Arctic foxes scamper across the tundra under the watchful eye of eagles and rare sea birds, while seals bob in the waves. Lighthouses stand on rocky promontories yet the coastline is scattered with fascinating ship-wrecks.
The logistics: Prices vary depending on the type of accommodation. Single rooms from £49; double rooms from £66; three-bed apartments from £138 per night. More information: www.rnes.is
Set against the backdrop of windswept lava fields, Hotel Ion is the perfect setting in which to view the lights. The double-height glass walls of the hotel's Northern Lights Bar offer panoramic views over Lake Thingvallavatn, as well as soft furnishings and beer from the island's independent micro-breweries. If you can tear yourself away, there's also a geothermal pool for outdoor aurora spotting. Northern lights tours, fishing trips, and treks across rugged glaciers can be arranged here too.
The logistics: Standard rooms from £171 per night; deluxe rooms from £215 per night. A restaurant, bar and lava spa can all be found on-site. More information: www.ioniceland.is
A boutique hotel in southern Iceland near the smoking crater of Eyjafjallajökull, Hotel Ranga offers hot-tubs filled with mineral-rich volcanic water from which to view the aurora. Rooms are furnished with woollen blankets and driftwood furniture and staff are on hand to wake you should the lights appear, so there's no need to stay up all night.
Whale-watching and Jeep tours can also be organised, as can visits to glacial ice-caves and trips to the island's Skógar Folk Museum.
The logistics: Accommodation includes standard (from £168 per night) and deluxe rooms (from £220 per night), as well as junior (from £356 per night) and master (from £537 per night) suites. More information: www.hotelranga.is
Unless your visit coincides with a particularly intense aurora, light-pollution in the Icelandic capital can make star-gazing a frustrating activity. The city makes a great base, however, with a host of prime aurora-watching spots just a short drive away. The towering rock walls of Almannagjá in the Thingvellir National Park is one of the most popular. The park is the site of the island's first parliament and the setting for many of the heroic deeds and heated debates that fill the pages of the Icelandic sagas. Stay at quirky Hotel Viking where the mead is always flowing and rooms are decorated with wood carvings from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. If the forecast looks good, you can head to Thingvellir after dinner and be back before midnight.
The logistics: Standard doubles from £84 per night; superior doubles from £111 per night. A 'Viking House' is also on offer from £114 per night. More information: fjorukrain.is/en/hotel-viking/
Visitors to the Northern Lights Inn are provided with detailed aurora forecasts and enjoy commanding views from the panoramic windows of the hotel's restaurant. The inn is just a short walk from the hot-springs of the island's famous Blue Lagoon, open until 8pm in the winter months. If you're lucky, you can bathe in the waters of the spring and watch as solar winds trail ribbons of green light through the thermosphere.
The hotel offers a number of excursions including a ten-14 day horse-riding expedition through the wilds of the Icelandic interior with a chance to view the lights from the saddle of a sturdy Viking horse.
The logistics: Prices vary at different times of the year. Over the winter/spring period double room are from £123. Over New Year the cost of a double room rises to £136. More information: www.nli.is/welcome
Hotel Sel Mývatn also boasts volcanic pools, along with a host of diversions for thrill-seeking aurora-hunters. Northern lights chases through the highlands come with a guide and a support team to keep you well supplied with cake and hot chocolate. There are plenty of day-time activities on offer too, with cross-country skiing, super-jeep tours and snowmobile racing on the frozen surface of Lake Mývatn to keep you entertained while you wait for the aurora. The mud pools and bubbling sulphur pits of Námafjall are well worth a visit. So too are the woodlands and lava sculptures of Höfði and the seething waters of Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall.
The logistics: Prices vary at different times of the year. From now until the end of April 2014, doubles are from £81 per night. More information: www.myvatn.is/en
Standing amid crumpled black lava fields on the tip of the remote Snaefellsnes peninsula, Hotel Budir offers aurora-watching in style. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the hotel bar look out over a striking volcanic shoreline to the glacier-topped mountains beyond. The hotel's breathtaking location is accompanied by an award-winning restaurant which serves seasonal Icelandic cuisine and seafood sourced from neighbouring fishing villages. Eat your fill and retire to the fireside to watch for the swirling colours of the aurora.
The logistics: Room prices are available upon request. More information: www.hotelbudir.is