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Gullfoss ( Golden Waterfall ) is the turning point. But before reaching Gullfoss you will pass Pingvellir National Park on road 36, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Lake Laugarvatn Fontana with its geothermal pool and steam baths at Laugarvatn Fontana. The next stop is the great geyser Strokkur, just wait 15 monutes to see it erupt. There is a cafe restaurant at Geysir.
A tourist trap?  No this is nature at its best, the real thing. After admiring Gullfoss where there is also a cafe restaurant take a different route back passing the greenhouse areas of Laugaras and Reykholt and Skalholt Cathedral before reaching the volcanic crater lake Kerid, The last stop on the list is the greenhouse town of Hveragerdi ( Hot Springs ) where Europe's only banana plantation is located. On the way back to Reykjavik you cross the lava fields of Hellisheidi mountain pass. A great way to see new land in the making. And look in the rear view mirror as in the far distance you'll see the volcano Eyjafjallajokull.
Bon voyage.

Iceland is the place to see the northern lights

Iceland never ceases to amaze - the mouth-watering scenery is an adventure in itself, with volcanic craters, lava flows, hot springs and geysers, glaciers and stunning waterfalls offering a new view around every corner. It is these natural wonders that provide the perfect backdrop to a range of unforgettable experiences from hiking and snowmobiling to bathing in hot pools and gazing at the northern lights.

Having successfully operated holidays to Iceland for nearly 30 years we have a tremendous amount of valuable experience and an unmatched passion for Iceland that helps us to create the perfect tailor made holiday for you.

Article written by a visiting journalist Robert Mrozek in November 2009.

 

As its nickname suggests, the ‘land of fire and ice’ is a country of extremes.  With its snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers and geysers, steaming vents and mighty waterfalls, Iceland seems a long way from the geologically tranquil British Isles.  Yet despite this there is much that seems familiar, with fine valleys, lakes and hills reminiscent of the best views in Wales or Scotland.  It’s easy to feel at home in Iceland until you turn a corner and spot the unmistakeable profile of a volcano, or come across a barren, black lava field and are reminded that you are in quite another country.  Steam rises out of vents in the countryside, springs bubble and just occasionally there’s a whiff of sulphur in the air.

 

Iceland straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  The ridge surfaces from the sea at Iceland and passes right over the country, from south west to north.  On land it manifests itself as a rift, which is widening at the rate of one millimetre a year as the plates separate.  It is this movement that gives rise to the volcanic activity and, indeed, to the island itself. 

 

Icelandair fly direct from London Heathrow twice daily and from Manchester and Glasgow on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays.  Their smart and modern fleet of Boeing 757 aircraft have spacious, comfortable seating, even in Economy Class, and each seat provides a touch-screen entertainment system.  Punctuality is good and it’s not as far as you might think: just three hours from London.

 

Reykjavik (Icelandic for ‘Smokey Bay’) was founded in 874 by Ingólfur Arnarson, the first permanent settler from Norway and so named after the steam rising from geothermal vents nearby.  It attained city status in 1786 but remains relatively small with a population of 200,000 (two-thirds of the population of the country).  Consequently the modern day centre is not only easily found by car (follow the © symbol on the road signs) but also compact, so it’s easy to get around.  If you do get lost, head for the most prominent landmark in the city – the 75m high Hallgrímskirkja, standing atop the highest part of the capital.  With its sweeping space-age look and off-white stone, it can be seen from many miles away.  In front of the church stands a statue of Viking and Icelander Leifur Eriksson, the first European to set foot on the American continent.  The figure was presented to the nation in 1930 by the United States on the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Icelandic parliament, the Alþing.

 

Other sites and activities to enjoy in Reykjavik include the Volcano Show, screening footage of past eruptions, the excellent National Museum featuring Norse and Icelandic artefacts; the þjóðmenningjarhúsið also features Viking exhibits plus manuscripts of some of the great sagas that sprang from Iceland.  There are plenty of art galleries to take in, or you can lounge in one of Reykjavik’s geothermal swimming pools or take a boat trip into the North Atlantic and go whale-watching.

 

Hotel Óðinsvé is only a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Reykjavik and located on þórsgata or Thor’s Square in an area where many of the roads are named evocatively after Norse gods.  It’s a modern, pleasant hotel with friendly and helpful staff and comfortable rooms.  The décor is typically Scandinavian with clean, contemporary lines.  It’s well worth giving the excellent restaurant a try, but if you fancy something different, Reykjavik’s main street, the Laugavegur, has plenty of restaurants and bars to satisfy all tastes and pockets.

Radisson SAS 1919 Hotel Reykjavik is housed in a strikingly beautiful white building near to the harbour.  Built, as its name suggests, 90 years ago, it was the headquarters of Iceland’s first shipping company, Eimskipafélag Islands – now a large investment company.  The very elegant lobby has a corporate feel, and the high-ceilinged, spacious rooms make this a popular place to stay for business and holiday travellers alike.  It’s convenient for the galleries and the harbour, but like most hotels in central Reykjavik, it’s not far from most of the important sights.

 

Beyond Reykjavik, no where is the Mid Atlantic Ridge better seen than at the stunningly beautiful þingvellir National Park, 30 miles by road from the capital.  Amongst the undulating and picturesque lava plains are a series of fissures, clearly illustrating how the continents are pulling apart.  It’s also the site of Iceland’s original parliament, the Alþing, founded in 930 AD, originally an annual outdoor assembly of the clans from across Iceland.  The National Park embraces the northern end of þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake with its two volcanic islands – a popular stopping off point for migrating birds.

 

Skirting round the north-eastern side of the lake you can encounter Vellankatla (the ‘Boiling Cauldron’), a hot spring emerging from the lava field.  However, for a more dramatic display of geothermal energy, drive eastwards for an hour or so to Geysir, the site of the famous spouting spring.  Located in the Haukadalur Valley, the geyser’s activity was recorded in the 13th Century and is the oldest known example in the world.  Unfortunately, the Geysir spring itself has become largely dormant, but just a few metres away is the impressive Strokkur geyser which fires a plume of water 100 feet into the air every ten minutes or so.  It’s quite a site, and you’ll want to hang around for a while to see it fire several times.  A word to the wise, however: stand up-wind of the geyser – there’s no danger of getting burned by the plume, but you can get very wet!

 

On the other side of the road to the geyser field stands the modern Hótel Geysir which has a good restaurant sensibly designed with a large panoramic window to ensure a fine view of Strokkur when it erupts.  Visitors can enjoy a fine buffet lunch laid out on an impressive Viking ship table and, should all that spouting steamy water have tempted you, you can take a dip in one of the hotel’s hot tubs.  Be sure to try the geyser bread – a kind of malt loaf slowly cooked overnight amongst the geothermal rocks.  As well as a good place to eat, the hotel has a fine selection of rooms in wooden cabins in the grounds.  You can stay in a standard or luxury cabin – both are equipped with toilet and bathroom facilities; the luxury cabins have a spa bath and some come with kitchens.  Apart from the geysers, the Haukadalur Valley is popular for horse riding, quad biking and white water rafting.

 

Situated a few miles south of Hella on Naional Route 1, you can’t miss Hotel Ranga whose gates fronting the road would not look out of place in the Wild West.  The ranch-like experience is mirrored by the hotel itself, built largely from wood, with wood-panelled rooms, some of which look out onto a salmon river behind.  The Western illusion is broken in the lobby, however, which is home to a disconcertingly enormous stuffed polar bear!  An excellent restaurant and outdoor hot pots are some of the attractions to be found here, and with little light pollution in this remote place, the skies are particularly dark – ideal for catching sight of the northern lights, should the conditions be suitable.  Fishing and horse riding are popular pursuits (the area is important for horse-breeding). The area is culturally important as well: two of Iceland’s great Sagas were compiled at the nearby medieval monastery of Oddi.

 

As you might expect, Iceland has an abundance of glaciers - great frozen rivers of ice that flow slowly over land.  The mighty Vatnajökull icecap dominates maps and satellite images of Iceland, occupying eight percent of the country.  Great glacial tongues descend down the valleys to the sea, where icebergs break away and float into lagoons.  Nearer to Reykjavik, Iceland’s fourth largest icecap Mýrdalsjökull is located near the southern tip of the island.  National Route 1 passes by and it is possible, a few miles past the Skógarfoss falls, to approach one glacial tongue by turning off along a rough track.  This Sólheimajókull glacier is impressive, until you realise that it is just a miniscule part of the entire icecap!

 

As well as glaciers and geysers, Iceland has some spectacular waterfalls – easily the largest and most impressive in Europe.  In the south west these include the wide and mighty Skógafoss which thunders over a 62 m precipice, and the beautiful 60 m Seljalandsfoss, visible for miles as you approach it on Route 1.  It cascades over the edge of the former coastline, now uplifted by seismic activity, and its appeal is increased because you can actually walk behind it.  For sheer grandeur, however, visit Gulfoss, the most photographed falls in the country.  Here the Hvítá river cascades in three stages down into a deep canyon.

 

You might well forget that you are staying in a hotel when you visit Hotel Glymur.  Situated on the north side of the beautiful Hvalfjordur (the ‘whale fjord’), the Einarsdóttirs - owners and husband and wife team - have created a home from home.  Hansina – Mrs Einarsdóttir – is the perfect host, and the staff are friendly and personable – more like a large family.  Spacious and contemporary, the hotel is popular with celebrities including Tony Hawkes and Stephen Fry and decorated with artefacts that the Einarsdóttirs have collected on their own travels around the world.  The spacious lounge and bar afford fine views of the fjord, and many of the two-level mini suites have great views too.  The gourmet restaurant serves delicious wild mushroom soup, ideal for fending off a cold Icelandic day.  If you’re sensible, you’ll indulge yourself with a few more courses including smoked lamb carpaccio, a palette-cleansing Icelandic-style yoghurt called skyr, a fine ‘surf and turf’ main course of succulent beef, lobster and fine scallops wrapped in bacon and, if you’ve room, something from the sweets trolley!

 

With a huge, steaming industrial plant as its neighbour and set amongst the rugged black lava fields in the south-west corner of Iceland, the Northern Lights Inn appears, at first sight, to have been set down in the wrong place.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth, for it turns out that there are several very good reasons to come here, and the plant and lava provide clues.  The plant is the Svartsengi geothermal power station, which utilises superheated sea water from bore holes deep in the lava.  Once condensed, the warm water is passed into a man-made lake rich in mineral salts and silica mud – perfect for exfoliating and conditioning the skin and, at an average temperature of 38ºC, perfect for bathing and taking in the surreal environment.  Aptly named the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa also offers massage, saunas, a café and restaurant and fine, modern showering and changing facilities.  It’s the perfect place to unwind after a long flight to Iceland or in preparation for departure: for that’s the other virtue of this location – it’s very close to Iceland’s international airport at Keflavik.  Many tourists use the Northern Lights Inn as a stopping off point to or from the airport.  It’s a very comfortable place to stay, with plenty of nooks to relax in front of real fires, and a very friendly and accommodating staff.  Even if you have to be up at an ungodly hour to catch a flight, you can expect the full Icelandic buffet breakfast!

 

There’s a great deal to see and do in Iceland.  If you’re short of time, a weekend break in Reykjavik or a few days exploring the Golden Circle (Iceland’s highlights, all conveniently located in the south west of the island) are two good ways of getting to know the country.  But once you’ve experienced the beauty and majesty of this fascinating country, you’ll soon be making a return visit!

 

 

 

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