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After a day on the dirt roads of Iceland's interior, we had no real idea of what to expect of Hotel Ork in the tiny town of Hveragerdi. Being on a "Ramblers Worldwide" holiday, we all knew that their philosophy on hotels was to keep it mid-range. Feedback from guests that they might prefer somewhere a bit special to return to after a hard day's walking was apparently not backed up by a willingness to pay the extra that might be entailed as a result.
We had not therefore been disappointed to date. We'd got pretty much what we would have expected.
Hotel Ork changed that. When it comes to hotels, this was the treat of the trip.
We'd been dodging the weather all day. It finally caught up with us at our final stop at Geyser and we did the last leg of the trip in pouring rain, which kindly gave over just as we arrived at Hveragerdi, about 45km short of Reykjavik.
Forget any thoughts of malicious overgrown mechanical trolls or whatever our four-year fixation on all things Tolkien conjures up at the work 'Ork'. What we found was a stylish, modern edifice shining white under the glowering skies. A country hotel maintaining a balance between "statement" and "sympathetic" architecture.
Restricting itself to three storeys above ground level, with utilities sensibly located below, it doesn't impose upon the landscape – but nor does it quake at making a bold statement.
Reception were ready and waiting for us, with check-in cards and keys laid out for collection, and a friendly welcome run-down of where to find everything the hotel has to offer.
In truth there is nothing particularly special about the rooms. Spacious and well-furnished twin rooms is how the hotel's own website describes most of its 85 rooms. Whilst technically "twin" beds, and with space to push them apart if need be, the default setting seemed to be togetherness. Made up in that bizarre north European fashion which entails placing the folded duvet on top of the mattress and then trying to figure out exactly how the bed-end throw is supposed to stylise the effect, they looked functional rather than inviting.
That said, I slept very well indeed, despite choosing to leave open the curtains onto the full-room-width windows.
I'll spare you the boredom of describing the fittings – take a look at the pictures – everything was neat, spotlessly clean and perfectly sufficient. In particular after a week in proper single rooms (such as tend not to exist in most hotels these days) I was personally just delighted to have the space.
I was on the second floor with a view was over the "golf course" – not remotely overlooked - which afforded me luxury of not needing to shut out any of that northern light (such as it was in this grey summer).
My second great joy was the bathroom. A bath. A deep pool of warm, scent-bubbled non-sulphurous water, and deep fluffy white towels. On such things a day can turn.
Not this day, as it happened, because the road down through the central wastes is stunning and I was already a very happy hiker, but the ability to round off a good day with a good soak is one of life's great pleasures.
I have no idea what the television tuned to. I didn't try it. There are satellites on the roof and a low-level aerial – I'm not sure how well they work given the hilly surroundings, but then nor did I care.
Nine of the rooms are designated "superior" – which will cost you about 2,500 Kr (about £14) extra a night. For that you get more daylight, they are located on the ends of the building, and a private (or at least semi-private) balcony and a bay-window which enables a proper sitting area with a three-piece suite rather than just a single comfy-ish chair: in other words the kind of extras that will matter if you're planning to spend a lot of time in your room.
The Bar, Restaurant, Breakfast Room and Food
Icelandic hotels don't general do "the bar" thing, probably because alcohol is so expensive that if you're going to drink, you're probably going to do it with your meal rather than before or after. In the Ork, there is a small bar area adjacent to the reception with no more than a couple of tables and a dozen or so chairs. Despite the artwork on the wall it is more of a waiting area than somewhere you'd choose to spend an hour or so.
The Argerdi Restaurant is the main dining area. It's a strange mixture of the modern and the traditional. A window wall makes the most of natural light; a fairly hideous blue carpet makes you sort of wish it didn't. The tables are all crisp white linen sparkling glass and heavy silverware. Modern art adorns the walls: the heavy dark symbolic kind that you either love or hate. I loved the individual pieces, but still couldn't help feeling that this wasn't really the place for them, among the wine red chairs and crystal chandeliers.
Service was acceptable – but then business was slow. Aside from our party, there were only a couple of other tables taken – one them by a family seemingly celebrating an aged aunt or grandmother's birthday. This is undoubtedly the poshest place in town, but somehow I doubt that the locals get in very often. Indeed the serving locals appeared to be keen to be getting out – nothing remotely unprofessional or unfriendly about their approach, but they were extremely prompt at clearing away anything that looked half-finished-with.
Dinner was a set menu, as we had come to expect from the hotels. The tomato and cream based fish soup starter was nice enough but nothing special. It was followed by roast lamb. The meat was slightly fatty and not as hot as it should have been, but it was served in goodly thick slices and accompanied by a julienne carrots and courgettes and cheesy potatoes cut and cooked to the size and texture of butter beans that were simply perfect. A side serving of Greek salad was a little out of place, but soon disappeared on all sides.
An average white wine, at 1,000 kroner for a very small glass was not overly expensive by local standards, but had to be signed for before they would serve dessert. Another tradition we couldn't quite get our heads round the whole week was the tendency to serve the coffee also before dessert.
Dessert itself was without doubt the best the island had offered: homemade ice-cream with fresh lingonberry topping served on a plate decorated with strawberries, cream and chocolate swirls. It looked fabulous and tasted better.
Whether this is par for the course is hard to say as there were no menus lying around and the website doesn't play up the food either.
The restaurant is for dining only. Breakfast, we discovered, is served in a separate café-style eatery on the first floor. I recall a well-stocked buffet with the usual offerings and clearly didn't feel the need to note anything particularly good, bad or averagely indifferent about it. I do remember slices of melon and cucumber, alongside the hams and cold cuts, and seriously good bread.
Hveragerdi is known locally as the "Health Village". It sits in a geothermal area and has the first purpose built public swimming pool. No wonder then that Hotel Ork seeks to build upon that. The hotel has its own outdoor pool, complete with water slides, hot tubs and steam room.
There are a couple of tennis courts, and "a nine-hole golf course" within the grounds. OK, let's be honest… it's no more than a pitch-and-putt… but there is a genuine course just 2km up the road to which guests have free access.
A number of conference and meeting rooms are also available with all the usual kit and equipment. Given the proximity to the capital and Iceland's high profile position (until recently) in the financial markets, I suspect this is where much of Ork's business lay. I can only hope it wasn't too heavily extended in that direction because it's a genuinely comfortable, friendly and pleasant place to stay. A wonderful recuperation spot.
Not one if you’re looking for quaint and characterful, but stylish in its own way. I liked it.
More information available on the website: www.hotel-ork.is
Prices quoted at the time of writing range from the equivalent of £54/night for an off-season single to £187 for a high-season superior, but that's the quoted rate and who pays that these days?