A highly polished and stylish retreat in this thrilling and creative city. If you're a traditionalist when it comes to hotels, the 101 is not for you.
101 Hotel, Reykjavik, Iceland
If you are going to be blown into a hotel lobby by gale force winds then you can do worse than pick the 101 Hotel in Reykjavik as your landing strip. So powerful and frequent are the winds that rake the world's most northerly capital city that nobody so much as raises an eyebrow when guests come parachuting in like paper bags. My scarf preceded me through the heavy doors and was caught deftly by a concierge wearing a black T-shirt called Simon. The rest of me arrived at the front desk significantly windswept and chilled but instantly delighted to have found one of the most welcoming lobbies in the world.
The hotel is within the much-coveted 101 postcode in central Reykjavik, meaning that it's right in the beating heart of this vibrant city. The building is situated on the corner of Hverfisgata and Ingolfsstraeti. Next door is the Icelandic Opera and at the top of Ingolfsstraeti you hit Laugavegur, the main shopping street where you'll find a host of restaurants, bars and stylish fashion and jewellery outlets. Discerning visitors head for Elm for women's fashion, Kisan for a stylish mix of just about everything, and 12 Tonar on Skólavörðustígur for music. The best coffee is brewed and served at Cafe Tar while Cafe Hljómalind is a perfect example of Iceland's irreverent political underbelly and alternative creative scene - you can drink herbal teas, eat meat-free, gluten-free, everything-free snacks, book a yoga lesson and park yourself in an armchair in the cafe's small library and relax with well-thumbed editions of anarchist literature.
The service has been described elsewhere as aloof and cold - so I was on my guard - but I am happy to report that no such negative qualities were on display during my stay. The staff were warm, welcoming, patient, eager to help and careful not to be rude about the extensive lava rock collection I had carried with me from Iceland's wild interior and which I was displaying on a glass bedside table.
Get a corner suite if you can. They offer a wide northward vista overlooking a small park and its statue of Iceland's first permanent settler, Ingolfur Arnarsson, the platinum waters of Faxafloi Bay and the snow-dusted mountain peaks beyond. This view is full of promise and excitement. It captivates and lures your mind out and into Iceland's wild and wonderful outdoors. All 38 rooms have wooden, heated floors, iPod docks, Aveda products, free internet and minibars that stock the usual snacks and beverages, plus socks if you happen to run out. The beds have soft and cosy blankets draped over crisp snow-white duvets.
Despite the economic collapse that almost brought Iceland to its knees, the restaurant at the 101 Hotel is still packed with the faithful flocking in to gorge on bacalao tartar ($14; Dh51), followed by saffron-steamed plaice ($26; Dh95) or (the real hit) cod wrapped in parma ham ($28; Dh103). The restaurant is also a bar where Reykjavik's beautiful people (at least 80 per cent of the population) gather for drinks on Friday evening after work. It's a place to dress up.
101 Hotel is by far the coolest place in town. On the afternoon I arrived, a fire roared in the grate, cashmere-wrapped couples sat on black leather chairs and benches sipping hot chocolate and flicking through copies of Monocle, Vogue and the Icelandic daily newspapers, and somewhere nearby the Donald Byrd quintet was gliding effortlessly through The Cat Walk. Comfort personified. The modernist exterior and black and wood interior decor attracts a creative posse - film people, TV people, ad people, models and design executives.
The industrial exterior: an attractive art deco liner style design rendered in ash-grey pebble-dash. The 101 Hotel is not just a good place to inhabit but also a satisfying spot to admire from the outside as you head back for a hot bath after a chilly day. Also, the luxurious bed, the fake fur blankets and the long black writing desk by the huge picture window and a conveniently placed radiator.
Lack of sound insulation around the room doors, which means your sleep is (at least temporarily) at the mercy of late-night revellers making their way to bed. Icelanders are rarely as quiet and demure by night as they are by day. Also, it is surprising, given the 24-hour sunshine during midsummer, that the rooms are not fitted with blackout curtains. It's wise to pack a jet-black eye mask.
A highly polished and stylish retreat in this thrilling and creative city. If you're a traditionalist when it comes to hotels, the 101 is not for you. But if like your hotels modern, sleek and understated then it will be perfect.
Double rooms cost from $425 (Dh1,562) per night, including taxes. 101 Hotel, Hverfisgata 10, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland (www.101hotel.is; 00 354 5800 101).