Natural Selection: 48 Hours in Iceland
Iceland is a magnificent swirl of nature cascading against itself. Mark Southern uncovered the perfect weekend in Reykjavik’s great outdoors.
As originally published in Tempus Magazine, 2015
Sometimes, in our green and pleasant land, we can look past Mother Nature as if she wasn’t there. It’s as if, in vast swathes of Britain, Mrs N throws on something quietly inconspicuous to blend into the background. The very first thing you notice about Iceland is that the maternal bringer of the natural world looks staggeringly different here.
Instead of quaint softness, when nature’s mum goes to Iceland, she does so in outfits so strikingly powerful and jaw-dropping, it makes Lady Gaga look like a timid librarian.
From the moment you arrive in Iceland you feel a sense of other worldliness. There’s a kind of ancient magic in the air, and in every direction you turn a kind of Star Wars alien movie set expands into the distance. Meanwhile, whilst we Brits complain about the changing seasons in our own climate, the seasonality of Iceland is quite something, with winters of no sunshine, and summers of no night, framing the vertical vistas.
It’s one of the most eye-opening arrivals you’ll ever experience in a new country.
Iceland is a country with a fascinating history. It’s only 20% smaller than England in geographical size, yet houses just 0.6% of its population. It is bound tightly in viking and norse history and mythology, and was (and, by some, still is) said to have had mystical powers, with its strange geology and microclimates. It’s also the home of one of the most welcoming and cool capital cities you’ll ever chance upon.
Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital, nestled in the Faxaflói Bay, and stretching out into the eclectic wilderness. Hundreds of years of steady growth has temporarily conquered the immediate Icelandic landscape, with architecture indicative of obvious Scandinavian and Russian influences, and a little New England in there, also.
People are delightfully friendly, interested, and interesting, and due to the unusual weather and sunlight patterns a kind of early morning outdooriness and very late night coffee shop culture has emerged. Here, you’re never more than a short walk from a geothermally heated swimming pool for pre-work chats, whilst locals appear to have a sleep constitution like I’ve never seen, as they burn candles at both ends, and some.
However, for many, the real reason to visit this strange and beautiful land is the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. Like the most spectacular lava lamp you’ll ever experience, the skies becoming alive with gloriously technicolour swirls and explosions is something to remember forever, celebrating the majesty of Mother Nature, above the mountains, lakes, and plains below.
Iceland’s natural gifts and supernatural heritage have given the place something unlike anything you’ve ever been a part of.
Whilst genuinely high end hotels are not overly commonplace in Iceland, contemporary living is the the order of the day in Reykjavik, with smart clean lines providing pleasingly stylish spaces for aesthetes.
We chose the 101 Hotel, located in the eponymous downtown 101 district, due to its stellar reputation and visually arresting look, alongside its great proximity to the bustling nightlife.
Inside, the simplicity of good design provides a calmingly symmetrical space that contrasts beautifully with the rugged chaos of the Icelandic landscape. Rooms are spacious and topped up with latest technology, whilst the hotel’s amenities include splendid geothermal pools, a relaxing spa, an art gallery, and snowmobiles for hire.
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy some modern living on an ancient island.
Seeing as the fishing industry props up Iceland’s economy, it should be of no surprise that seafood is an important part of Icelandic living. Stunning fresh fish restaurants are manifold, although rarely with an economy of scale in price.
It’s worth exploring some of the more unusual local dishes, with the famous, if acquired tastes of fermented shark a must-try. However, for a weekend dining experience that tips into unforgettable territory, try Kolabrautin, an Italian/Icelandic fusion eatery overlooking the harbour.
With its birds-eye view of the city, and its absolutely sensational combination of flavours, it is a pricey, but worth it, way to absorb the splendour of one of the most spectacular waterside cities you’ll visit.
No trip to Iceland would be complete without seeing the Northern Lights, but key times of year are best for witnessing the incredible spectacle. The most likely time to be fortunate enough to see the sky come alive is between September and April, but even then it’s worth noting that they can be unpredictable.
However, if you are smart enough to be there when there is some darkness at night, and fortunate enough for the celestial conditions to take place, then you’ll experience the most astonishing stage show, framed around the kind of country made for such awe.
If you’re more about breathtaking excitement then take a high speed trip along the white water rapids a short distance from the capital city.
The trip begins in the shallow part of the Hvita River, where the water is flat and calm, but as your boat moves up stream, the river becomes more narrow and basalt rocks begin to rise above you as your guides sails you on an intense and bumpy journey through the steep canyons and rapids.
The graceful manoeuvring of the boat, intense speed and heart stopping 360 degree turns are sure to please even the wildest of thrill seekers, but do brace yourself, this is not for the faint hearted!
Iceland Air fly from multiple UK airports, and offer an excellent business class service. Find out more at www.icelandair.co.uk.
As originally published in Tempus Magazine, 2015. For full article see below: