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AN ISLAND TO REMEMBER
 
(2015 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: VALERIE MARSHALL



It all began with a search for flights  to England.

One option included a well-priced alternative with Icelandair, which offered three- to four-day “Stopover Tours” at no additional cost. What an opportunity to explore a destination about which we knew so little!

Being November, we anticipated fewer daylight hours and our early arrival in Keflavik’s cheery airport was predictably in the dark. The airport bustled at 8:00 a.m. and we welcomed the efficiency of our pre-booked Flybus service for the 45-minute drive to the Hotel Reykjavik Natura, where we were welcomed with a smörgåsbord breakfast of herring, smoked salmon, cold meats and delicious nut-breads. Our comfortable hotel room overlooked Oskjuhlid Hill and the Perlan (The Pearl), a major landmark renowned for its revolving restaurant.

Anticipating extreme cold we had purchased thermal wear and windbreaker shell outerwear but, apart from the wind chill experienced on some outdoor activities, the daily temperatures were quite pleasant due to warm gulfstream ocean currents around Iceland. Although days were short, we enjoyed mostly sunny skies and occasional brief showers.

Wonderful Beginnings

Shortly after our arrival, we were treated to an extravagant lunch at the famous Kopar Restaurant by the harbour where Ylfa Helgadóttir, chef de cuisine and owner, produced a delicious sampling of Icelandic fare. Looking out over snow-capped mountains, it was hard to imagine we had left Canada just a few hours ago.

We ended our first day with an evening at the Fákasel Horse Theatre. Following a meal of traditional lamb soup and a magnificent performance featuring unique Icelandic horses, we mingled with riders and horses in the stables, where about 70 of these magnificent animals are housed.

Exploring Reykjavik

Iceland’s capital city has many enjoyable sights and historical buildings. Many buildings featured Scandinavian architectural details with light wood and simple furniture lines and, since Iceland is reputed to be the world’s largest green-energy producer (almost all buildings are geothermally heated), indoor temperatures were very comfortable.

With a population of about 325,000, today’s society is modern, progressive and proud of its heritage. Everyone we encountered spoke excellent English and even taxi drivers volunteered facts of interest about their lovely country.

We toured the Maritime Museum and the peaceful harbour taking in the magnificent view of Mount Esja, which dominates the skyline. Yoko Ono so loved Iceland that she chose Reykjavík for the Imagine Peace Tower (Friðarsúlan), a memorial to John Lennon. Its tall beam of light projects from a white stone monument above the city at night.

Emanating from underground hot springs, water is cooled to 36 C and transported via underground pipes to the city for use. This abundance of heat creates many options for hot springs and spas. After a day of exploration, we appreciated the warm indoor pools and sauna at the Soley Natura Spa. 

Lobster and Northern Lights

A fitting adventure with Iceland Rovers was planned for our second evening. We clambered into a large four-wheel-drive “Monster Truck”and were thankful for its huge 97-centimetre tires as we hurtled over dunes and along the beach by Thorlakshofn with only the moon to guide us. Two Jeeps ventured out into the remote area that night and our well-qualified guides, Stefán and Lúlli, were in constant communication by radio. We pulled into the Fjöruborðiðrestaurant in the quaint fishing village of Stokkseyri, where we tucked into a succulent feast of steaming lobster, which were more like langoustine. Cooked in garlic, they were tasty indeed.

A dark, starlit night provided optimum opportunity to view the northern lights. While this beautiful phenomenon is weather-dependent, there is an excellent chance of good sightings over a two- to three-day period. We ended the evening with a glass of Icelandic Brennivín schnapps.

Naturally Phenomenal

On our third day, we toured the famous Golden Circle to experience the countryside by daylight. Constant volcanic activity in Iceland has, over centuries, left a deep bed of lava over which moss grows creating a base for shrubs and foliage.

Much of the vegetable farming is confined to vast greenhouses. At Friðheimar Farm, Knútur Rafn Ármann and his wife Helena Hermundardóttir operate an enormous greenhouse tomato operation. Their special homemade tomato soup was worth the trip.

Farther north, we observed an outstanding natural phenomenon at Strokkur where the geyser, Iceland’s most energetic spouting spring, erupts every five to seven minutes. Water from deep below the surface exceeds boiling temperature yet ice forms not 30 centimetres from the edge. Extreme caution is necessary on this slippery surface. Hot springs are evident in the geothermal fields throughout southern Iceland and many local spas take advantage of these natural gifts.

The highlight of the tour was definitely Gullfoss, Iceland’s famous waterfall. The tumbling water, full of glacial sediment, appears golden in the sunlight; hence the name, meaning “Golden Falls.”

At the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, we followed the manager on his daily routine to the edge of Laugarvatn Lake where he retrieved a pot of rye bread that had baked overnight in the hot black sand. Replacing the pot he had just dug up, he buried fresh dough to bake over the next 24 hours before taking us inside to taste a sample. It was delicious. A relaxing hour in Fontana’s geothermal pools proved highly therapeutic.

After a full day we headed back to Reykjavík for a relaxing dinner at Satt Restaurant and an early wake-up call for our two-and-a-half-hour flight to England. Our exhilarating stopover in Iceland has encouraged us to return for a much longer stay.

Travel Planner

We flew Icelandair (icelandair.ca) from Toronto. For more information, check out:

Visit Iceland: visiticeland.com

Iceland Rovers: icelandrovers.is

Reykjavik Excursions: re.is

Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths: fontana.is

Kopar Restaurant: koparrestaurant.is

 
 
 
 
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