Three Amazing Days In Western Iceland

Iceland is a terrain of extreme contrasts; it holds an ethereal splendor in the dark wintery months and a beguiling expanse of intense beauty in the spring and summer. The nearly perpetual daylight in this period allows for wide-ranging explorations of the country: from snow-capped peaks, glaciers and volcanoes, to natural, hot springs and rugged landscapes. With a wealth of activities that traverse this pristine land, nature beckons to the adventurous.

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Icelanders, raised with a deep respect and appreciation for their majestic environment, take their stewardship of protecting the island's natural resources and land seriously. In fact, renewable resources supply over 70 percent of the country's power, such as geothermal energy. With this forward-thinking conservation attitude and the island's natural geography, it is truly one of the most fascinating and scenic places to visit on the planet.

If you wish to discover Iceland, getting there couldn't be simpler. A flight into the country's largest city of Reykjavik takes less time than flying to London for west-coasters (Icelandair flies over the pole). Moreover, if you book your ticket on Icelandair, you can stay up to seven additional days in Iceland for a stopover on your way to England, France or Germany and many other destinations, at no additional cost. The flights to Europe on this venerated airline are generally less expensive than other airlines and the service and comfort are excellent. With these fantastic deals from Icelandair, take three days, three awe-inspiring days and explore an amazing country that will provide you with a grand adventure.

ATV, Hot Springs, and the Hotel Glymur

ATV quad biking is thrilling and a great way to explore Iceland's boundless terrain. On the west side of the island, snow-capped Mount Skarosheioi rises over the stunning glacial valley of Skorradalur and Skorradalsvatn Lake; this is one of the best areas for an ATV expedition.

As you ride across crystal-clear rivers, snowfields and up to the mossy-rock covered ridges above the deep valley, the dramatic views are the most spectacular sights imaginable. Pristine land, as far as you can see with grassy meadows and small homesteads is nestled in the vale. Upon your decent, you'll ride alongside the blue waters of Skorradalsvatn Lake, come across sparkling waterfalls and even an old deserted homestead from the 30s. Take a break from your ride and walk through the old house to see what life was like in this remote Icelandic area. When you visit the second floor, sign the guest book that sits on a small table and see who else came by on their journey.

Even if you have never ridden an ATV, this particular trip (two to three hours) is highly doable and the ATVs are safe and easy to ride. The Snilldarferdir Brilliant ATV tour farm is highly respected and takes visitors on guided tours of this region, as well as mountain tours, adventure sightseeing and many additional tours from sea angling to hiking. They provide full jumpsuits, gloves, helmets and competent instructions on how to ride, as they take you on an awesome excursion. Brilliant Tours is located about 50-minutes from Reykjavik.

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After your exhilarating ATV ride, it's probably time for a little relaxation and Iceland's natural hot springs are perfect for a blissful soak in a scenic landscape. Krosslaug hot spring, located in Lundareikjadalur (about 10-minutes from Hotel Glymur), resides on a grassy knoll overlooking the surrounding hills. There are no buildings, houses or signs of civilization, just you, your swimsuit (or birthday suit; however, locals may visit too) and some tasty Viking Beer.

The hot spring has been around for about 1000-years and the Vikings used to use it for baptisms. Today, locals and visitors-in-the-know soak in the warm, spring waters and enjoy the solace of nature. The water temperature is 41 Celsius (about 106 Fahrenheit) and the spring is small with room for about four adults at a time.

Western Iceland Hotels are often situated in picturesque areas that are secluded and surrounded by beautiful vistas. Hotel Glymur, located about 50-minutes northwest of Reykjavik, is comprised of executive rooms, suites and six sumptuous villas that opened in 2010.

Each elegant villa, designed with modern decor and a color scheme, fits into the surrounding, natural landscape. In the villas, there are two separate gorgeous bedroom suites with floor to ceiling windows and stone-tile, rain showers in the bathrooms. The living room is spacious and comfortable with the full-sized kitchen, a shared common area between the private suites. On the veranda, a hot tub is positioned before breath-taking views of snow-covered mountains and the shimmering, cerulean Whale Fjord. In the mornings, as you sip a cup of coffee and gaze out your bedroom window, you'll see plump, white Icelandic Rjupa birds fly past or perch on your balcony rail.

Scenic Rides, Hiking, Cave Touring and Hotel Budir

It's a new day and time to take a scenic drive to the small village of Rif on the Snaefellsnes peninsula for a theater performance, hike on a glacier and take a cave tour. A drive northwest toward Borgarnes and on to highway 54 will provide some spectacular scenery along the way, such as the impressive wall of basalt columns at Gerduberb.

Iceland's mountains hold an alluring, rugged beauty that draws hikers from around the globe each year. Snaefellsjokull Mountain, located in the Snaefellsnes National Park peninsula, is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier encasing its summit. Snaefellsjokull is also the site of Jules Verne's fictional story Journey To The Center Of The Earth and is Iceland's most popular mountain. Whether you're an avid hiker or just seek a moderate hike, the striking contrasts and incredible views and trails of Snaefellsjokull will amaze you. Even if you plan a moderate hike near the glacier, it is important you go with a guide. The weather and glacier conditions can change at a moment's notice and you will need adequate clothing and sturdy hiking boots for the mountain.

Glaciers is an excellent and professional mountain guiding company that specializes in hikes and tours of Snaefellsjokull. Check out their website or contact them if you wish to take a guided hiking trip.

If you have some energy left from your hike and are curious what the first steps into the journey of the center of the earth might look like, visit Cave Vatnshellir. Located in the Snaefellsnes National Park on highway 574, the cave descends 200 meters (about 650 feet) into an old lava flow via a sturdy spiral staircase. With your flashlight, you can go on tours of the cave and learn about its 8000-year-old history while viewing the fascinating lava formations. It is cold down in the cave, so make sure you ware warm clothing and hiking boots.

After experiencing a great performance, hiking a legendary mountain and cave exploring, what more could you want but a lovely hotel by the bay. Hotel Budir, located just off highway 574, features the Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Budir estuary as the hotel's surrounding landscape; it is one of Iceland's most desired, countryside hotels.

The rooms are well-appointed and proffer views that overlook the bay, mountain and estuary; some even have a balcony to enjoy. The fresh ocean air and walking trails around the hotel are especially appealing. And, following a lengthy evening walk along the bay, the Budir restaurant's renowned Icelandic cuisine and romantic atmosphere is the perfect adjournment for the day. Hotel Budir is the ultimate in relaxation and as you drift off at night with the cool sea breeze and the sound of ocean waves rolling in, you'll experience a deeply profound contentment.

Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik

Your last day in Iceland wouldn't be complete without a trip to the world-famous Blue Lagoon and a perusal of Reykjavik's downtown for shopping and dining. Take Highway 54 back towards Reykjavik and on to Grindvik for the Blue Lagoon. The geothermal heated spa is comprised of ocean water, with blue-green algae that washes into the thermal pools every 40 hours and mixes with white silica sediment to make up the soothing and healing skin properties of the Blue Lagoon.

Years ago, a swimmer in these pools found that after swimming in the lagoon several times, his psoriasis completely cleared up on his skin. Since then, numerous scientific tests have proven that the warm waters infused with natural minerals and two types of indigenous algae are extremely healing and beneficial for the skin.

The Blue Lagoon is a marvelous experience and soaking in the soft, light-blue, warm pools is divine. The spa provides public changing rooms for your visit and offers private changing rooms as well, but they are limited in number and extremely popular, so reserve a private spa room at least 6-months in advance. In addition, the Blue Lagoon's magnificent skin care shop sells a whole line of products designed with the special algae and white silica mud from the lagoon. The products are brilliant and even celebs and notables use them for healthier and younger looking skin.

The Icelandic culture is at the vanguard of fashion, art and music. Perhaps their innovation derives from the lengthy winter darkness, or the unpolluted and healthy environment. However, you define the Icelander's talents, you'll find their coveted artwork, fashions and music in downtown Reykjavik, on Laugavegur (Main Street). This main street features unique boutiques, cafes and shops, such as JS Watch Company. Master watchmaker, Gilbert O. Gudjonsson makes his sought-after Reykjavik watches by hand. Each watch bears the Reykjavik insignia on the face with exquisite individual design. Just glance at his shop wall and you'll see photos of his famous movie star and prominent political customers. In addition to Laugavegur Street, the city boasts a wealth of museums, cultural and performance venues that provide ideal city activities.

For an evening of great Icelandic cuisine and drinks in Reykjavik with in a hip and causal environment, stop by Kex Hostel, located on Skulagata. This is the current trendy spot in Reykjavik and the menu items are outstanding. Try the Blackened Salmon and the luscious baked Icelandic Dimon cheese with honey and nuts.

If You Go

If you don't wish to drive in Iceland and want to explore the landscape without distraction or create a customized tour, contact the family-owned Wild West Tours. The Wild West crew is super friendly, easy to work with and they offer reasonable prices. For additional information, visit www.wwt.is

For information on Iceland contact Iceland Naturally and Iceland

Read more about travel to Iceland and other exotic destinations

Have a comment to share? Like us on Facebook - OffbeatTravelCom and post your comment. Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 25th, 2014



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