alt-text

City center during the holidays, Reykjavík, Iceland (© Icelandic photo agency/Alamy)

Arriving in Reykjavík on Christmas Eve, you could be mistaken for thinking you'd just arrived in a country that is built out of chocolate cake: cocoa-colored volcanic rock perfectly dusted in powdery white snow. Glimpsed in the darkness, it instantly gives Iceland a sense of magic and whimsy.

Unlike many other western countries, Iceland's biggest Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve, when everyone devours feasts with family and friends and exchanges gifts (only presents from Santa are opened on Christmas Day).

It is one of the most untouched and naturally beautiful countries I've had the pleasure of visiting...

Arriving at our hotel, we didn't realize how much of a treat we were in for. Having booked ahead for Christmas dinner in the restaurant, we only had the option of a set menu -- and my culinary tastes have never been what you'd call 'eccentric,' so I was both dubious and mildly terrified by what was to come.

Bing: Search for flights to Reykjavík

Course by course, our Nordic feast arrived -- langoustine and haddock with onion foam, poached egg and soft new potatoes, pan-fried duck breast and braised legs with soft potatoes and -- finally -- cherry sorbet with rice pudding and caramel. Each course was more delicious than the last. I was blown away by the use of seasonal ingredients and unusual flavor combinations; it was a highlight of the trip.

Waking up the following morning, still in darkness, we were completely unaware of the beauty that surrounded us. As the sun slowly began to rise, the landscape was finally revealed; snow-capped mountains rose out of the sea, and the candy-colored skies leave glints of gold and pink light on the peaks.

Ultimately, this was the reason I'd been wanting to come to Iceland. It is one of the most untouched and naturally beautiful countries I've had the pleasure of visiting and I couldn't wait to see more of it.

The 'Golden Circle' was our first point of call, a chance to explore the wonders deep in the heart of western and central Iceland. Our first stop was in the market town of Sunnumork where I strongly suggest you have a hot chocolate and try a traditional teabolla cake from the famous Almar bakery. They are delicious. I ended up having two and never found them anywhere else.

Historic Skálholt church, the ancient seat of the bishops of Iceland, is chance to experience the clean lines and minimalist interiors of traditional Icelandic architecture before heading on to Gullfoss.

Driving through the countryside is extraordinary. You cut through vast mountains, lava fields and farmland (where you might be lucky enough to spot some Iceland horses) before reaching Gullfoss. The tiny town consists, at first glance, of little more than a tourist shop and a cafe -- you start to wonder what all the fuss is about.

More on MSN Local Edition:

>Take a tour of Montreal
>Essential London
>Focus on Toronto