Tag Archives: Iceland

Icelandic Stories & Passionate People

Share Button

IMG_5128

Recently, GreenSpot’s destination specialist, Mandy Haakenson was interviewed by Pink Pangea (a community for women who love to travel) about travel to Iceland. Read that interview here and be sure to read on for a more in depth look at her Icelandic experience.

While I was in Iceland, one of my guides told me that Icelanders “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I love that quote, although I admit to being a little dubious of everything I was told thereafter. The little girl in me adores hearing stories of trolls and elves. Much to my delight, they are abundant in Iceland, and Icelanders tell them with vigor and charm.

I had expected the striking landscapes, wildlife viewing opportunities, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the cultural and historical insights I gained by talking to the hospitable Icelandic people. They seem reserved at first, but there is tremendous passion to be found within the 300,000 inhabitants of this Nordic island nation. Finding time to chat, over a cup of steaming coffee or while sipping Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) is worth your while.

IMG_4623

My time in Iceland was full of activities. I took a food tour of Reykjavik, bathed in natural hot springs, dipped in the Blue Lagoon, walked on a glacier, rode an Icelandic horse, hunted for Northern Lights, traveled west to Sneafellsness Peninsula, toured a lava tube, took a jet boat ride, and completed a 3-day trek of the southern interior from Thórsmörk to Skógar.

For most of these activities, a guide in an all-wheel vehicle picked me up. This allowed us to travel over some rugged terrain. One evening, we drove right onto a black sand beach, where we toasted Brennivín at sunset, after dining on delicious local lobster at a seaside restaurant. We were waiting for darkness to arrive, so that we could hunt for northern lights.

IMG_4481

An all-terrain bus took us through barren land, where we drove through rushing rivers and bounced over lava fields. Once we reached the middle-of-nowhere, we disembarked and ventured through the woods to a mountain hut. For the next couple of days we hiked through some of the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. Although Thórsmörk to Skógar is a popular route, we saw very few people. This is one of the advantages of going in September, when high season is dying down.

IMG_4771

IMG_4786

There are iconic spots in Iceland that everyone wants to see, but if you wish to avoid crowds, you can venture to the slightly less visited Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With a looming glacier and jagged cliffs bursting with birdlife, this western peninsula is quintessential Iceland. You can visit a farm to help sheer or gather sheep, take a jaunt on a graceful Icelandic horse, bathe in secluded hot springs, or strap on a headlamp and climb down into a lava tube.

9145465357_4d64e09e12_k

If you are willing to sacrifice wide-open space for an abundance of charm and hospitality, I would recommend staying at Hotel Egilsen, in the seaside town of Stykkishólmur. Before you head out to explore, enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast made by the inn’s proprietor, Greta. If the elegance of an old-world hunting lodge is more your style, you may want to book into Hotel Budir. Take time to walk along the craggy cliffs and find the unique black church. Be sure to have dinner at Budir’s renowned restaurant.

IMG_5409

Above all, allow the Icelandic people to guide your journey. After all, they know their country the best. They will happily share the legends of this ancient land with you. They also know how to pronounce words like Eyjafjallajökull – and let’s face it, this might come in handy.

To learn more, be sure to check out our sample itineraries for Iceland or contact us if you have questions.

Iceland: A Year-Round Destination

Share Button

Year_round_horz

It may be no  surprise that Iceland has a condensed high season which runs from mid-June through August. After all, the country sits on the brink of the Arctic Circle, and even its name implies that it might be a cold place to visit.

What most people don’t realize is that Iceland experiences a cool, temperate climate that doesn’t reach extreme highs or lows. In spite of this, high season is high season for good reason. Many people venture to Iceland to experience its incredible natural beauty and take part in outdoor activities, so it’s no wonder that the summer months are a popular time to visit. Still, Icelanders believe it’s a mistake to rule out visiting during off-peak season.

IMG_4690

No matter when you go, Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable and you often experience multiple seasons in one day. Locals love to say: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”. This is especially true during spring and autumn, when strong winds blow weather in and out at a ferocious pace. In the spring, you’re rewarded with longer days and slightly warmer temperatures. If you’ve ever wanted to see the phenomenal midnight sun, May through June is an ideal time to be in Iceland. The experience of nearly 24 hours of daylight is a great way  to extend your vacation hours!

IMG_4328

If you’re hoping to check the Northern Lights off your bucket list, a winter visit is your best bet. But don’t rule out March, April, September and October, when there is plenty of dark hours for vivid sightings. Overall, in spring and autumn, you might get variable weather, but you will also experience golden light, fewer crowds and lower prices than you would during the summer.

IMG_5617_hiquality

Yes, winters in Iceland are long (November through March) and dark (with only 3-4 hours of daylight at its peak). However, Icelanders know how to make the winter cozy and festive, especially during the Christmas season, when lights twinkle and the aroma of mulled wine fills the air. This is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, and it’s also the perfect time to purchase (and wear) that wooly Icelandic sweater you’ve always wanted.

IMG_5174

During an off-peak trip, it isn’t possible to venture all over the country. Many interior roads are closed and it’s unlikely you can do a lot of hiking or trekking. Still, with charming Reykjavik as your base, it’s possible to soak in the geothermal spas during the day, go looking for Northern Lights in the evening, and take plenty of day trips to see magnificent waterfalls. You could also include an activity such as horseback riding or snowmobiling, for an unforgettable day.

IMG_5135

Iceland has been working hard to keep up with its growing tourism demand, however the compressed high season can make it difficult to find  suitable accommodations. So if you do plan to travel to Iceland during your next summer holiday, consider planning well in advance. Contact us to get started on designing your perfect visit – any time of the year.

Ten Incredible Things to do in Iceland

Share Button

Ten Incredible things in Iceland

Situated on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s abundant and diverse natural wonders are enough to make your jaw drop. The destination is sometimes called the Land of Fire and Ice because of its rumbling volcanoes, bubbling earth and shifting glaciers, which are still shaping the unique and stunning landscape. Combine this striking natural beauty with crisp, clean air, and you have an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true.

IMG_5129

However, Iceland is not only for adventure-seekers. The people who inhabit this Nordic country have a fascinating culture that embraces literature, music, fashion, cuisine, ancient sagas, and even a few mythical creatures. Read on to see the incredible things visitors can see and do in this country of vivid beauty and intriguing culture. And keep in mind, this list only scratches the surface!

Visit Natural Hot Springs

There is no denying that the Blue Lagoon deserves to be among Iceland’s top attractions. The steamy, aquamarine water, set against the contrasting black, volcanic landscape is too alluring to pass up. However, if you desire hot springs but are averse to crowds, there are numerous spots where you can soak in a mineral-rich bath while taking in a  stunning view.

IMG_4343

IMAG5641

Walk on a Glacier

Secure a guide (that’s important!), strap on some crampons, and grab an ice pick, for a thrilling and gorgeous stroll over a massive ice formation. It’s not something you get to do every day. Although glaciers are impressive from far away, they are truly extraordinary when you’re right on top.

IMG_4658

See the Northern Lights

This bucket-list-worthy phenomenon is never a guarantee, but your chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is quite high. This is especially true in the shorter, darker, winter months, though don’t rule out April or September.

normal_ps-Northern-lights-in-Iceland-~1

Ride an Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is sometimes referred to as a pony, yet that doesn’t aptly define the combination of grace and power that this unique animal possesses. Beautiful and a real treat to ride, this hardy breed has mastered a special gait that helps it navigate over the rough Icelandic terrain.

horse and man

Watch Great Geysir Explode

If you’ve witnessed the blast of a geyser in the past, perhaps you didn’t know that its namesake originated in Iceland. Great Geysir is the oldest known geyser in Europe and the word geyser comes from the Icelandic verb geysa, meaning “to gush”. It’s a timely and extraordinary sight, for young and old alike.

IMG_0594

Hike Behind a Waterfall

It’s true that Iceland is covered in magnificent waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, and you’ll never tire of their splendor and beauty. At Seljalandsfoss, it’s possible to get up close and personal with one of the best, as you walk behind the powerful force of cascading water.

IMG_4713

Indulge in Authentic Food

Icelandic cuisine has a long history and is an important part of the country’s culture. Like many other Nordic countries, the necessity of preservation during long, harsh winters made pickling and fermentation a popular ritual. Dried and fermented shark are specialties in Iceland (pictured below), though I much prefer the small, delicious lobster (also pictured below). You can read more about Icelandic food here.

IMG_4407

IMG_4527

Take a Boat on a Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a result of the rapidly retreating Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Gleaming blue ice drifts through this spectacular spot, creating astonishing ice sculptures, which can be seen from shore. Better yet, hop on a boat  for a tremendous ride across the other-worldly lagoon.

glacial lagoon1

Hike Around Landmannalaugar

Adding to the list of must-see places that are difficult to pronounce, Landmannalaugar is a wondrous nature reserve, consisting of mountains and valleys of swirling earth tones unlike anywhere else in the world. Whether a day-trip from Reykjavik or part of a multi-day hiking itinerary, it’s a favorite with locals and visitors alike.

IMG_20130908_213012

Visit Thingvellir National Park

Located in a rift valley along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, it would be amiss not to mention Thingvellir National Park. This location is home to the Icelandic parliament, which is the oldest in the world, established by Vikings is AD 930. It is a place of immense natural beauty, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical, cultural and geological importance.

IMG_0569

To start planning your dream trip to Iceland, have a look at our sample itineraries or contact us.

Winter – As Seen in the Glow of Nordic Candlelight

Share Button

IMG_4995

In the northern hemisphere, we are in the middle of the coldest and darkest days of the yeafrostr and you might be dreaming of (or even packing for) your next adventure to a tropical destination. Here at GreenSpot, we are completely in favor of that strategy. However, something remarkable happened to me during the years I lived in Scandinavia.

I began to appreciate winter.

Not because I am a skier or because I enjoy the childish construction of a man made of snow (although both are true), but I learned to recognize winter as a season with its own worth. This appreciation is part of Scandinavian culture and as a native weather-complainer, I found it fascinating.

winter

A mother once explained to me that Scandinavian children are taught the value of all the seasons. I soon realized that rainy-day recess at school did not exist. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” is a popular saying in Nordic lands. Not only have I found this to be true (and have stocked up on wool and waterproofs accordingly), but it began to resonate with me as a beautiful way to encourage outdoor exploration during any time of year.

winter kids

Apart from a wooly Icelandic sweater, another Nordic winter secret can be found indoors, complete with dim lighting, fleecy sheepskin, and more candlelight than any other region of the world. In Denmark, they have a word for this – hygge – described as a mental state, rather than physical. Whether it be tea, wine, soft blankets, a roaring fire or family and friends…cold is combated by warmth, in every sense of the word.

IMG_5617_hiquality

We can’t forget the spectacular northern lights! Best seen in the winter months when darkness reigns. The aurora borealus might be enough to get you packing your wooliest sweater and heading north into the cold, dark (and ever-so-cozy) Nordic regions. If not, perhaps this post will help you get through the rest of winter, or until your next trip to sunnier skies.

Ask us when to see the northern lights in Iceland!

Mountain Muesli and Other Icelandic Specialties

Share Button

IMG_4996

I don’t think I’ll go on another camping trip or overnight trek without three essentials: muesli, cocoa powder and hot water. Mixed together, these three ingredients make an easy, on-the-go breakfast of chocolaty, hot cereal, which our trekking guide referred to as “mountain muesli”. Okay, it may not be an Icelandic specialty, but after 2 days of trekking amidst mossy mountainsides and volcanic craters, this simple recipe became the breakfast of champions. We also had the best pan-fried trout I have ever eaten; but everything tastes better after a day of trekking, doesn’t it?

IMG_5032IMG_5034

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the appreciation for healthier, less processed and more sustainable foods on the rise, it is no wonder that Nordic cuisine has received so much praise recently. For example, Copenhagen’s Noma has secured the title of ‘World’s Best Restaurant’ for a few years running. While some may find Noma a little too daring (smoked moss and beef tartare with ants, anyone?) Nordic countries deserve praise for their fresh and innovative fare. Iceland’s cooler climate means there is less need for pesticides, so most farms in Iceland don’t use them. With clean mountain air and unpolluted soil and water, Iceland produces some of the purest food on the planet. Staples in Icelandic cuisine include lamb, seafood and dairy. To truly experience this, don’t forget to ask us about farm-to-table dining opportunities.

IMG_5176   IMG_5144

On a food tour in Reykjavik, I had the pleasure of sampling lots of traditional foods. This is a great introduction to the cuisine and the history of the city at the same time. My favorite Icelandic food discovery? Skyr: similar to Greek yogurt in that it is thick and creamy, yet with four times the protein, calcium and vitamins of milk. It is low in sugar and has no fat. It is delicious topped with muesli, seeds, nuts, berries and a little maple syrup. Need I say more?

IMG_20140221_125928

If I had to choose one, my least favorite Icelandic food experience would have to be the fermented shark. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I had been warned. The smell was worse than the taste. A swig of Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) will wash it right down. The dried shark, on the other hand, I rather liked. It’s a bit like fish-jerky, if you can imagine – dry and salty – and the custom of smearing it with butter, is right up my alley.

IMG_4407

Also, my mouth waters thinking about the lobster at Fjöruborðið. Between visiting a beautiful, secluded black beach at sunset and waiting for darkness to fall, we had a fabulous meal here. Icelandic lobster may be small in size, but it is big on flavor. Ask us about our ‘Lobster and Northern Lights’ tours.

IMG_4527

The freshly made fish soup at Hotel Búðir (arguably one of the best places to eat on the Snæfellsnes peninsula) was also exceptional.

IMG_5407

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although seafood was definitely a theme as I tasted my way through Iceland, the quality and freshness of everything I ate was what impressed me the most. From hotel breakfasts (like the one at Hotel Egilsen) and lunch buffets (like at the Settlement Center in Borganes), to fancy evening meals (lobster and wine), Icelanders are proud of everything they bring to the table.

Categories

Tweets

Facebook

If it’s getting colder where you live, it’s probably time to start planning some quality beach time. ... See MoreSee Less

1 week ago  ·  

Somewhere in Italy. Up these stairs lie a medieval castle... and some delightful local cheese, wine, and handmade pasta. Want us to help you find it? ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago  ·