Had enough of fighting over sunloungers and queuing at the all-inclusive buffet?
We go on an adventure break to southern Iceland for a holiday with a difference…
Iceland’s scenery is so dramatic and unspoilt that it almost feels like the beginning of a new world. You’ll find mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes as well as its legendary hot springs and locals who come with bags full of stories and folklore tales. Sitting between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, it is the land of ice, fire, vikings, trolls and elves. With a small population of just over 300,000, it’s the perfect place to take a break away from the madding crowd.
We base ourselves about an hour’s drive from the capital, Reykjavik, at Hotel Rangá (hotelranga.is), a gorgeous alpine lodge. Nestled in southern Iceland’s picturesque countryside, the panoramic scenery also comes with the added advantage of its close proximity to several of Iceland’s renowned must-visit attractions, including the black sand beaches, volcanoes and lagoons. As we go to check in, a giant (stuffed!) polar bear is waiting to greet us in the reception. It instantly sets the tone of this quirky, relaxed hotel which has a Nordic-style luxury log cabin vibe. Be sure to make use of the hot tubs outside as nothing beats stargazing in the fresh Icelandic cool air while lounging in hot thermal water. Many visitors choose to stay here for its rural location, far from light pollution, which makes it the ideal place to view the Northern Lights. If you’re around while they’re active, the hotel even provides warm clothes to make your experience one in a million.
ON THE ROAD
The best way to explore Iceland is from the comfort of an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). These 4x4s can cover all terrain in all weathers and the experience feels like Bear Grylls meets the Kardashians as you zoom over rocky ground and past volcanoes in complete comfort – think heated leather seats and tinted windows. The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route. We take a private tour with South Coast Adventure (southadventure.is), which provides a knowledgeable local guide who takes us to southern Iceland’s most famous sights, including Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir Strokkur. We get to walk through the rift valley, which marks the division between the North American and European tectonic plates. Being so close to the earth’s tectonic activity is a truly awesome and grounding experience. We also visit Þingvellir National Park, home of Iceland’s first parliament, the AlþingI, as well as the original location for ancient winter pagan festivals, public executions in the ‘drowning pool’ and where Iceland’s cultural heritage and national identity were first formed. While there, stand on the bridge over Peningagjá (The Money Chasm), drop a silver coin into the crystal clear spring water and make a wish. Legend has it that if your eyes follow your coin right down to the bottom, your wish will come true. For a taste of adventure, head to Midgard Adventure tours (midgardadventure.is) for trips to the foot of Eyjafjallajökull. Sound familiar? This volcano’s eruption in 2010 caused a gigantic grey ash cloud that caused major travel chaos, with 20 countries closing their airspace to commercial flights, affecting over 10 million travellers.
As an active volcanic island, Iceland’s incredible landscape is ever evolving, and in fact increasing in land mass too. after the 2010 eruption, the island Dyrhólaey became connected to the mainland and the black beaches (made of cooled lava granules) were formed. standing on the black polished pebble beach at Reynisfjara and staring out to the ice blue powerful atlantic will make you feel like you’re really at one with nature. On the tour, you’ll climb the skógafoss waterfall, as well as having the chance to walk (or dance) behind the seljalandsfoss waterfall (where Justin Bieber filmed the music video for I’ll Show You). The day ends with an adrenaline pumping snowmobiling trip, which finishes with you standing on the glacier above the Katla volcano. After a full day of touring, you’ll have worked up quite an appetite. For traditional Icelandic fare, the gourmet restaurant at hotel Rangá is an exceptional treat. It uses fresh seasonal ingredients and fuses Nordic cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. The restaurant offers panoramic views across the east Rangá river which are truly exceptional.
For something a little more unusual, head to Fridheimar (fridheimar.is/en), a farm using the power of hot water springs to grow tomatoes all year round. From tomato soup to grilled mozzarella and tomato tortillas, the farm’s restaurant delights with its tomato based menu. You’ll eat in the greenhouse where you can see the tomatoes being grown and picked around you– it doesn’t get fresher than that!
INTO THE BLUE
Before jetting home, book into the Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com). This Icelandic tradition of bathing outdoors in volcanically heated pools dates back to the Viking times. The combination of the clean, fresh ice-cold air hitting your face as you relax in toasty warm waters makes this experience truly invigorating. Bathing in this hot geothermal pool is a great way to unwind after an epic adventure and soothe those aching muscles. If you can’t quite make it to the Blue Lagoon, there are natural hot springs throughout Iceland and we would recommend the secret Lagoon (secretlagoon.is) for a more intimate, quieter experience. When it comes to packing, you’ll need everything from swimwear to thermals! While the climate is considerably warmer than its northern latitude might suggest, thanks to the warming Atlantic gulf stream, for Europeans heading here, the clue is in the name to how cold it feels. Heavy snowfall and ice are prevalent in winter (November to march) and while the summer months are warmer, the average temperature in high summer (July) in the southern lowlands usually only hovers around the 10-13°C mark. Layering is key, whatever the season – so that you can strip off and wrap up when required. a good waterproof, warm gloves, a bobble hat, a bikini and your sunnies are also essential must-packs. Iceland might be small, but it certainly packs a punch and we leave with many magical memories – and the hope to return soon.
April is a great time to go as it’s quiet, slightly warmer and there’s still a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Flights with WoW air depart from London and Bristol to Reykjavik, starting from just £49 one way. to book, visit wowair.co.uk. For more information, go to south.is.