The founder of the Icelandic ION Hotel on her inspirations

Illustration of Icelandic hotel founder Sigurlaug Sverrisdottir

Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, the founder of the Icelandic eco-hotel talks fly-fishing, winter vitamin D and needing planning permission from the elves

You can’t divorce Icelandic people from nature. We accept there could be a volcano erupting tomorrow and we’d have to deal with it. Mother Nature has proven she’s in charge – we are not.

Cultural perspective helps me manage. I used to be cabin manager of [charter airline] Air Atlanta Icelandic, managing 5,500 crew, 49 nationalities in 30 places. The theories of [Geert] Hofstede [social psychologist known for cross-cultural analysis of values] were very accurate, helping me realise some cultures are more dominant or hard-working. I apply it with staff at Hotel Ion now.

Club sandwiches inspired Hotel Ion. At the airline I travelled a lot. Many hotels had no connection with the location – always the same club sandwich, the same menu. With Hotel Ion, I thought people visit Iceland looking for hot springs, volcanoes, moss, nature. So we built this hotel in the middle of nowhere. We have sandwiches but tomatoes are from our greenhouse and trout from the local lake.

Respect the elves! In Iceland, we’ve had to change roads because people didn’t get permission from the huldufólk [hidden people or elves, which 54 per cent of Icelanders believe in]. Luckily, we didn’t need to get clearance when building Hotel Ion because we’re on a lava field and the huldufólk live in a big rock.

I de-stress by fly-fishing. It’s an all-day event, sometimes starting at 7am and not finishing until 10pm. The best thing about it is you don’t hear anything apart from the loudness of the river – just you and the fish.

Superfoods and raw food are big in Iceland. I eat lots of avocados, raw vegetables, healthy juices, spinach, fish. I also wake at 5.30am three days a week – even in winter – to do exercises.

I recently did a six-day ski tour. The Haute Route goes from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. It involves walking uphill, maybe for five hours, then skiing down for 15 minutes. There’s always a reward – good food or wine – to keep you going.

The Icelandic psyche changes with the seasons. In winter, the sun barely rises sometimes, so we take lots of vitamin D to keep sane. Icelanders are quieter in winter too. But when spring comes, it’s ‘Woo-hoo!’

The golden rule is to treat people how you’d like to be treated. But the platinum rule is treating them how they’d like to be treated. Try to look at what makes them happy.

A TED talk by a Holocaust survivor was incredibly inspiring. When Edith Eva Eger was in Auschwitz she thought, ‘When I’m out of here, I will do this’. There was no ‘if’.

I like holidaying in remote places. I went ski-touring in Hokkaido, Japan, recently. In most hotels, I sat in a kimono on the floor, having a breakfast of rice and miso. Then we went to another hotel and they served us toast. I was like, ‘Where’s my kimono? You’ve ruined my authentic experience!’ But I realised, they were just applying Hofstede rules.

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About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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