This island nation makes a stunning destination all year round, with each season bestowing its own individual charm on an ever-changing landscape.
It may have been hampered by a banking collapse, an irascibly fugacious volcano and an uncanny knack of decimating your budget that would scare the living pants off you, but when it comes to prodigious landscape and a trip like no other, Iceland can still knock your average holiday into a cocked hat.
Sometimes it still feels like you’ve landed on the moon – the sheer wonderment of this wild and ethereal land stirs up an almost bewildering sense of adventure and mystery on the grandest of scales.
There’s no better way of exploring this truly awesome country than under your own steam, or more to the point, on your own four wheels, preferably with each being stoically driven.
A great place to start is Reykjavik, which is about an hour’s drive from Keflavik airport, Iceland’s international hub. Hiring a two-wheel-drive is cheaper, but as car rental generally in the country is relatively expensive, it’s well worth the extra investment to upgrade to a 4WD.
Our workhorse of choice was a very able Nissan X-Trail, but a word of warning: the terrain in Iceland is uncompromising and tough, and many of the hire vehicles come complete with cracked or chipped windscreens.
Check very carefully that these have all been recorded accurately on the vehicle condition sheet, as even ‘reputable’ car rental companies will try and pin any damage on you, forcing you to pay for a replacement windscreen rather than claim on their own insurance.
Even Avis proved particularly difficult on this point, and it took some rigid standing of our ground and a wasted hour and a half arguing the toss before we were allowed on our way without having to stump up a few hundred quid.
Once in the capital, we based ourselves at the appropriately named Reykjavik Hotel on Rauðarárstígur 37, which proved to be an excellent establishment with a good restaurant and late-opening bar and, importantly, ample secure parking. It’s ideally placed for exploring the city and, when the restaurant is closed, there’s the modest looking Harry’s Restaurant right next door.
Whatever you do, don’t be put off by the uninspiring outward appearance of this little gaff – it’s an absolute gem, serving superb food and a great choice of wines and beers. Compact and bijou it may be, but the friendly, relaxed atmosphere makes for a memorable dining experience.
After a leisurely morning in Reykjavik the following day, we headed north to Borgarnes and the Icelandair Hotel Hamar.
Exquisitely situated on a golf course, with stunning mountainous vistas whichever way you look, this expensive but intimate hotel offers first class accommodation and is a superb gateway to the west of the country, and the breathtaking Snaefellsnes peninsula.This is an absolute highlight of any trip to Iceland, filled with promise, adventure and breathtaking landscape.
After three nights here, we moved south again to another Icelandair establishment, the Hotel Flúðir, but not without making a spectacular detour across the dazzling Langjökull glacier for a couple of hours dog-sledding.
Flúðir itself is ideally placed for Iceland’s big three in the ‘golden circle’,Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Haukadalur valley, home to the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Don’t miss out on the attractions of nearby Selfoss, which can provide a welcome diversion from spectacularly beautiful but comparatively quiet Flúðir.
With all this beauty and adventure under our belt, for us it was back to the Hotel Reykjavik for one more night before a departure from the city’s domestic airport to Narsarsuaq in South Greenland, but that’s a whole different adventure ever experienced.
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