I take a few strokes and my body glides through the warm water. I feel as if I can swim into the ice-covered lake and onwards into infinity. The soft winter sun gives the surroundings a golden glow and the frosty grass glitters. The three hot pools seem like holes in the ice. I break off a piece of the thin ice and hold it up against the sun, observing the rays shining through it. My eyes wander over to the ladder that leads down into the lake. Today, 1 November, the temperature is 0°C (32°F). Can I withstand the cold? Without mulling over it much, I walk over to the ladder and plunge into the freezing water. I gasp. Ten seconds will do! I jump out and into the hottest pool, feeling a strange sensation in my body. For a while, I enjoy being by myself in the wondrous world of Vök Baths. I feel the stress drain away in this unique blend of hot and cold water from Urridavatn lake by Egilsstadir in East Iceland.
Included in the admission is tea from Vok Bistro’s tea bar, with organic herbs from nearby farm Vallanes and certified 75°C 167°F) water from the source on the bottom of the lake. “In the summer we have fresh herbs,” explains Heidur. As I visit in late fall, the herbs are dried in teabags. I can choose between birch, camomile, mint, blackcurrant leaves and nettle. Camomile smells tempting and goes deliciously with my lunch.
The hot water is the only certified hot drinking water in Iceland
Heidur Vigfusdottir, CEO
Vok Bistro specialises in light courses with seasonal food from Fljotsdalsherad around Egilsstadir. Today is a Friday, which means there’s a sushi buffet, mostly with fish hauled in at local harbours. Surprisingly, the wasabi is local, too – grown at Nordic Wasabi’s greenhouse! The buffet also includes a vegetable soup with hot water from Urridavatn and fresh bread baked on the premises. Barley and (when in season) vegetables from Vallanes are used for the accompanying salad. Meat and cheese platters are popular, especially due to a cheese called Gellir made at Fjoshornid, a dairy farm in Egilsstadir. The jams are made by Holt og heidar, based at Hallormsstadur in Iceland’s largest forest.
The brewery in Egilsstadir, Austri Brugghus, makes special beers for Vok Baths, using hot water from Urridavatn and barley and lemon balm from Vallanes. Vokvi, a blond beer, and Vaka, an IPA, are served on tap for bathers to enjoy while having a soak. I order a Vaka, place the glass on a stone table resembling columnar basalt and make myself comfortable on the wooden bench in the pool. All of the wood used for the construction of the baths is larch from Fljotsdalur valley. The sun lights up the golden everage. I soak up the silence, have a sip, sink deeper into the wonderfully warm water and feel perfectly relaxed.