The low down:
Often referred to as the land of volcanoes and hot springs, the most isolated of Nordic countries also has a population smaller than that of Wales. Despite its name, Iceland experiences much warmer weather than other countries at a similar latitude. Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital and is an eclectic mixture of Scandinavian and North American culture, resulting in its unique and electic character. The birthplace of Sigur Ros, Eider Gudjohnson and Bjork, this is an an Edenic land of contrasts and surprises.
Getting there and where to stay:
Being so isolated, flying to Iceland is not a cheap option, with most return flights costing from £400 up. One of the best options is the travel package route. Although this dredges up images of tourist-laden, Benidorm-esque resorts, it also happens to be one of the best ways to see this amazingly diverse country. Poor infrastructure and sparsely populated areas mean that to see the best (often the most secluded) sights, one needs transport, and preferably an Icelandic-speaking driver, both of which are provided by a package deal. Regent Holidays offer five nights for £580 for two people. This deal includes direct flights, 4* accommodation in Reykjavik, and visits to some of the most exquisite attractions on the island.
Three of the best:
>> Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) is an annual festival occuring in late September, and this year’s festival promises to be the largest yet. Lasting eleven days, the emphasis is on both Scandinavian film-making and productions from over 30 other countries, offering both an Icelandic and international flavour. New for 2008, there will also be a side project on music in film.
>> Geologically, Iceland has oodles to offer. The Blue Lagoon is a naturally occurring geothermal spa; its steamy waters are part of a lava formation and can get as hot as 40?C. Bathe in its mineral-rich waters whilst nourishing the skin with a face-mask of the local volcanic mud. The Golden Circle is a series of mind-blowing natural sights, such as Strokkur, one of the few, regularly spouting geysers in the world (every 15 minutes, so you’re guaranteed to see something), and Gullfoss, a natural waterfall twice as high as the 2006 tsunami wave.
>> If you want to learn more about the history of the country, a visit to Perlan (‘the pearl’ in English) is a must. Reaching heights of 25m high, the exhibition centre also offers sensational panoramic views. It contains over 17 well put together exhibitions about the Icelandic sagas and has a CD tour available in English.
Ruth Morris and Sian Turner