Sunday, 3 August 2014

Iceland - nature's ruling the place

"Iceland." All of my friends took me for crazy when I announced that I was spending my summer holidays far up in the North of Europe.
Of course Iceland is not the destination for you if you love beaches and hot temperatures. But I consider myself as a winter kid and walking through snow in summer pushes my positive energy whilst I get lazy and depressed once the temperature exceeds the 30° C mark. Ok, maybe I am a little crazy. 

Hence, the only person willing to accompany me was my dad - so we conquered the island together! For 7 days we toured and I was stunned by the wide landscape, the people, the food and the fact that this place shows you in a brutal yet fascinating way how powerful nature is.

In the following I will share my favourite addresses, places and activities. If you are interested in further information, don't hesitate to leave a comment. 

Accommodation: Since we did a road trip, we stayed in different hotels every night. Except for one, we were really lucky (please find the best ones below). They all had in common their fresh homemade bread that I am a huge sucker for. 
  • Centerhotels, Reykjavik: It's a four star hotel chain in the capital, located in the city center. We stayed in Skjaldbreid and were totally satisfied. 
  • Skjaldarvik Guesthouse, Akureyri: Very friendly owners added their charm and own style to each room, located in an unhurried environment. 
  • Hotel Raudaskrida, Husavik: Only accessible by a gravel road (quite normal here), the little lodge is in the middle of green hills and offers hot pots for finishing your day in an easy-going manner. 
  • Hotel Reykjahlid, Myvatn: If you'd like to stay in the Myvatn region, this hotel offers you spacious rooms with amazing lake views. 
  • Hotel Eyvindara, Egilstadir: A simple and clean hotel with a beautiful view on the surrounding fields.
  • Camping site Haukafell: This camping site is located next to impressive Vatnajökull glacier and is a starting point for various family hikes through beautiful small hills. You even find a guest book to leave you signature on top of the mountain. 
  • Hotel GeirlandKirkjubaejarklaustur: This time we were lodged in a small cabin that was simple yet comfortable. Don't miss their homemade skyr cake and their bread! 
  • Hrifunes Guesthouse, Kirkjubaejarklaustur: Speaking of a super cosy bed and breakfast in an old bright red building, the personal atmosphere and their homemade food make it a real pleasure to stay here. 
  • Hotel Edda ML, Laugarvatn: The Edda Hotels can be found throughout Iceland. Though, the one in Laugarvatn is special since the village is full of boarding schools for Icelandic students. These boarding schools are transformed into hotels during summer holidays and welcome tourists from all over the world - how clever is that? 
  • Efsti-Dalur II, Selfoss: I had a chat with someone staying there who confirmed that this little farm is absolutely adorable and perfectly located. Once I saw there pictures on the internet, I totally believed him!

Restaurants: Although I live in Paris and am surrounded by first class restaurants, I must admit that the Icelandic restaurants have totally outshone the French cuisine. I haven't had so tasty food in a very long time.
  • Strikid Restaurant, Akureyi: The restaurant provides a great view of the small capital of the North while serving good meals that come in huge portions. You might consider to share a plate. 
  • Hamborgarfabrikken, Akureyri: Hamburgers have certainly invaded the Icelandic menus. A large variety is offered in the "factory" near the harbour. 
  • Rub23, Akureyri & Reykjavik: Do you want to start your journey with super delicious sea food? Rub23 is your place to go, combining local fish with American and Asian spices - I thoroughly recommend it!
  • Vogafjos, Myvatn: What an extraordinary location! Sitting in an old cow-shed you actually can watch the cows being milked! Obviously, all food is homemade with local ingredients, such as the cows' milk. 
  • Café Nielsen, Egilstadir: Once again, we enjoyed dinner outside (hah, Iceland is not that cold!) in the oldest restaurant of Egilstadir. I had lobster soup for the first time in my life and it was simply yummy. 
  • Pakkhús, Höfn: Probably the best dinner we had during our trip: although we had to wait for about an hour in their comfortable bar downstairs, the fresh fish was just perfect and worth every krone we paid. 
  • Systrakaffi, Kirkjubaejarklaustur: To continue the culinary aspect of this journey, this place is not to be missed. Although I passed so many sheep on the roads, I couldn't stop my curiosity to try their lamb: it was the best I've ever ever had. 
  • Lindin Bistro, Laugarvatn:  Reindeer Burger was my another dish on my to-try-list and I don't regret it at all. Lindin has an easy going bistro as well as a chic restaurant part. 
  • Islenskibarinn, Reykjavik: We had dinner at the Islenskibarinn which was a perfect conclusion for our adventure: I literally envied my dad for his salmon with quinoa. The waiters are extremely friendly and propose Icelandic beer matching your dish. 
  • C for Cookie, Reykjavik: Cookie monsters be aware! This is your place!
  • Reykjavik Roasters, Reykjavik: In between Macbooks, hipsters sip their coffee which is extremely tasteful as high quality is divine law inside. 
  • Matarkistan, Reyjkavik As a sucker for everything sweet, Matarkistan's macarons are my favourite sweet treat in Reykjavik. When the weather is good, you find young Icelanders enjoying them on the vast terrace. 
  • Noodle Station, Reykjavik: Enough of Northern food? This little take away provides fantastic Asian noodles.
  • Babalú, Reykjavik: Especially the colourful and comfy ambiance persuaded me to put it here. Can anyone tell me something about their food?

Activities: This is why I mainly went to Iceland - being active! Run around! Hike the mountains! With only 300.000 people living on the island, a lot of nature is left that wants to be discovered and admired.
  • Whale Watching: As I have done whale watching a couple of times, I this time skipped the experience. Passing by the offers in Husavik in the North, the little village is the perfect start for such a tour. 
  • Myvatn: The lake is formed due to the movements in the tectonic plates as the area is directly located on the Middle-Atlantic Ridge. We parked the car at Dimmuborgir, took the "difficult" trail and continued to the Hverfjall crater, an old volcano. Afterwards we quickly stopped at the lagoon which smells strongly since sulfar is evident in every single corner here. Then, we went to Hver, and again rotten eggs were in the air. In order to avoid the stingy smell we climbed up the hill where we enjoyed another fantastic view over Iceland's nature. Nature presented itself even more powerful at Dettifoss, the most impressive waterfall I've ever seen.
  • Hiking the glacier: We went to the Breiðamerkurjökull with a local guide called Thor (who definitely looked like the typical Icelandic man: blond, 2 meters and bright blue eyes). For me, there is no more beautiful than the infinite blue of ice that I could watch forever, so I enjoyed every second of 4 hrs walking. At Jökulsarlon the glacier breaks directly into a glacier lagoon, forming stunning ice sculptures and bathing the landscape into a mystical light.  
  • Eyafjallajökull: At one point, we decided to get a glimpse on the famous Eyafjalljökull - the volcano that errupted in 2010. We started somewhere before the ford on the road no.F249 but I eventually convinced my dad to stop our hike because it started heavily raining, we were all alone and - OMG - I was hiking a highly explosive volcano!
  • Road no.435: Instead of being overrun by all the tourists at Thingvellir and on road no.36, we took this street in order to reach Reykjavik. Not only did we pass a geothermal station, but we also discovered a beautiful landscape for hiking.
  • Touristy places: When in Iceland, you almost can't avoid to pass by the Golden Circle - the geysir, the Gulfoss waterfall and Thingvellir. At Skaftafell, Skogarfoss and Seljalandsfoss you will also find lots of buses that stop. 
  • The Blue Lagoon: Of course, I can't ignore it. We went there early in the morning before catching our flight back. Even if it gets crowded later, it was worth to add a relaxing finish to that whole trip. And yes, the name speaks for itself.

Shopping: Since Reykjavik is nearly the only place to go really shopping (except for souvenir and outdoor clothing boutiques that you find in some villages), I strolled around the capital in order to find some interesting addresses for you.
  • Laugarvegur: the main street with lovely cafes and Icelandic brands. 
  • Geysir: Those who know my style, know that Geysir is my store: from Hunter boots to Barbour jackets. 
  • Minja: Icelandic modern design items that change from the usual souvenirs and add a little twist to your interior decoration.

  • Airports: Keflavik (45 minutes away from Reykjavik) is the international airport to which European airlines fly. I got a little confused as Reykjavik has another domestic airport serving flights to Iceland, Greenland and Faroe Islands, operating with smaller planes. 
  • Costs: I like to compare the prices in Iceland to Switzerland which means that it is more expensive than average European countries. Nevertheless it is absolutely worth it and shouldn't be a criterion to miss this country as you can also travel with a restricted budget (camping, local supermarkets etc.).
  • Car: We rented a VW Up!, a small car that didn't fail once during our trip. Nevertheless you can't use such a vehicle to attack the roads in the highlands (you need jeeps there). If you are up for a little fun experience, you could for example take the little detour in the East: instead of taking the no.1 highway, you cut by taking the no.939. A little bit of fog, rain, some holes in the street and you are on the adventure (tested and approved by myself, the adventurous traveller :-)).
  • Hitch hikers: With no public transport, hitch hiking is the alternative if you want to move. Be generous and take people with you, if you have a little space left. We took Jesse with us, a young Australian that has been backpacking for 4 years now.
  • Bus system: If your budget is limited and you don't want to hitchhike every stage, Iceland on your own offers a bus system that brings you around the island (even to the highlands). I definitely will make use of them when coming back. 
So guys, this was Iceland for beginners. Easy hikes, good restaurants and a relatively relaxing pace. My favourite? Certainly the North and the glacier hike as the more I approached the Golden circle the more touristic the experience became. Yes, I certainly fell in love with the landscape which is why I already plan my next trip to Iceland. Next time? Askja, Landmannalaugar and the hike from Skogarfoss to Thorsmörk are on my agenda since I unfortunately missed the highly diverse Icelandic highland.
Don't wait for me a long time - I come back.

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