A winter vacation in Iceland
Fabulous food and otherworldly scenery add up to a perfect Christmas getaway.
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.
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.
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When in Iceland in winter make sure to visit a "Þorrablot," a traditional midwinter festival where traditional Icelandic foods known as "Þorramatur" are served. Get in touch with your inner Andrew Zimmern and try such delicacies as aged, putrified shark (hakarl), pickled ram testicles (hrutspungar), singed sheep head, salted fish with butter, blood pudding and soured milk whey.
As for the climate, the temperatures in Iceland in midwinter are warmer than you might think...average highs are in the low-mid 30s F and average lows are in the low-mid 20s F. What's a bit unnerving are the daylight hours (or lack thereof). At winter solstice the sun rises around 10:30am and sets round 3pm.
I was there in sept. for three week, rented a car, toured the lsland, rented cottage's, stayed at bed and breakfast's. It was great but there in so much to see, for a small place. The Irish, are wonderful people.
My brother, Michael, went to Iceland several years ago and he said it was the best trip he had ever had. He said the place was magical and so different from other places he had visited. He also said that the women, whom descend from the Vikings, were tall, blond, beautiful, and were walking down the streets late at night coming from the clubs and pubs. Icelanders like to drink because of the cold nite air. At any rate, I want to travel there too and experience Iceland! Thanks so much for the article!!!
Being in Iceland for a few days is the better way to see it. I was there for a year - doesn't make me a native but I have some insights you might find interesting.
1) The Icelanders are friendly for the most part.
2) Gullfoss is the Golden Falls and has to be seen in the summertime.
3) You have 23 hours of darkness in the winter. We used to stand around at noon time and wait for the sun to make it's brief appearance - then cheer when we had some light.
4) It is COLD and the winds blow mightily in the winter. I have seen fully loaded 55 gallon oil cans roll down the street like empty paper cups
5) The wind is like a williwaw (4 directions at once as well as up and down)
6) If you aren't careful, you can have a bad case of frostbite - keep your feet dry.
7) Another trip you might want to make (in the summertime) is to the whaling station at Quallafor in the northern area.
8) If you go in the summertime (recommended) you must visit the Althing (the 1st parliament in the western world).
9) When you go to Gullfoss you can go fishing in the many pools and cook your fish on the way up if you want to.
10) When you go in the summer be prepared for 23 hours of sunlight with one hour of twilight (bring eyeshades)
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