Nature at its purest - Iceland

Posted on: 26 January 2010 by Mark O'haire

Featuring arguably the greatest variety of stunning scenery and unspoilt wilderness of any European destination, Iceland has dazzling landscapes ranging from surreal to sublime.

Consisting of one large and several smaller islands jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean in between Norway and Greenland, Iceland appeared from the sea quite some time ago in a cascade of flames and boiling water.

The dramatic landscapes, born from volcanic eruptions and carved out by glaciers, are made up of colours which defy description; imagine rust-red craters, cobalt-blue lakes and luminous green moss interspersed with black sandy beaches.

The air is so clear and crisp that the views can stretch forever, and you can drink from some of the cleanest rivers and waterfalls on earth. The sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and tranquil fjords are home to several species of birds, whales and dolphins, which regularly captivate visitors.

A Sense Of Adventure

Your Iceland experience can be as easy or as wild as you like, but why not be adventurous while you're here? Set sail on a cruise, go fishing, ride the delightful Icelandic horse or try snowmobiling and river rafting.

You can opt for a fun-filled jeep safari to explore pastures anew, or go on a wilderness hike or a back-packing expedition. You can watch a whole showcase of geothermal curiosities; hissing steam vents, bubbling mud pools and erupting geysers, and stay up for the 'midnight sun', which lasts for twenty-four hours during most of the summer.

Take a bath in a natural geothermal pool, such as the award-winning Blue Lagoon, which is one of Iceland’s premier attractions, conveniently located close to Keflavik International Airport.

Set amidst a field of black basalt lava, the powder-blue mineral rich waters are the run-off from a geothermal project - the temperature in this stunning lagoon averages a relaxing 35-40°C. The warm seawater is used to heat up fresh water, which is then pumped into homes on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The concept is ingenious, the experience therapeutic and totally relaxing. No wonder many Icelanders attribute their well-being to bathing in these waters, which have many beneficial properties.

Northern Lights

The northern lights (aurora borealis) are one of the most amazing and sought after natural phenomena, and to witness them is a truly unforgettable experience.

The aurora borealis appears when solar wind particles collide with air molecules in the earth’s atmosphere, transferring their energy into light. Displays can vary in intensity; from a glowing curtain of greenish yellow lights, swirling in the distance to a spectacular, multi-coloured fusion stretching across the sky.

The lights can shine for a few minutes or a few hours, but to have the best chance of seeing them, make sure you visit during the darkest months of November to March.

Though sightings can never be guaranteed, a clear cloudless night combined with a lack of artificial light is essential for an intense experience. Having said that, the lights have been known to light up the capital city Reykjavik skyline on more than a few occasions.

Historical Roots

Iceland was first dscovered by a lost Viking some time between 1000 - 1200 AD before being populated by a hoard of Norse Vikings, whose language is still spoken by Icelanders today.

The Vikings built the foundations of the nation and established their own government and legal system, known as the Althing.

Their descendents went on to colonise Greenland, and fascinating episodes from Iceland's early history are chronicled in the literary masterpieces known as the 'Sagas'. Most Icelanders can trace their lineage back to Saga characters while almost every place name on the map tells its own history.

After being controlled by Norway for years, Iceland was deemed an independent country in 1944. Today it is a modern and vibrant nation, whose culture draws a fusion of inspiration from both sides of the Atlantic, but the nation's arts, architecture, food and fashions have a uniquely Icelandic feel to them.

City Living In Reykjavik

If all that raw nature is too much for you and you're after some city life, Iceland’s colourful, refreshingly different capital is compact and easy to explore. Plus, at just over 2 hours flying time from the UK, makes for the perfect weekend break.

Located on a peninsula, surrounded by several hills and views of the moody Reykjanes and Esja mountains beyond, Reykjavik is set around Lake Tjornin and the fishing harbour, riddled with fishing boats, clustered shops, restaurants, pubs and cafés.

The Reykjavik City Library hosts a literary walking tour once a week in summer. The tours, conducted in English, last just over an hour and take in various downtown Reykjavik sites in relation to how and when they have been mentioned in Icelandic literature. The guides are a literary critic and an actor. The walks are free of charge and go at an easy pace that suits everyone. The tour leaves from the main library every Thursday in July and August at 5pm.

Walk up Laugavegur or Skólavördustígur, the city's main shopping streets, and you'll spot arts and crafts galleries, music and bookstores, jewellery shops with one-of-a-kind Icelandic designs that often incorporate local semi-precious stones or pieces of lava rock, and locally created fashion like a handbag made of fish skin or a delicate woollen top. Reykjavík's oldest building on Adalstraeti 10, newly renovated, houses the city's Crafts and Design Centre and an Icelandic design shop.

Web Links - official travel guide to Iceland

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