Land of fire and ice, Iceland is one of the most beautiful places in the world. A land of contrasts, it is a country to get to know slowly.
In Iceland, nature has decided to test all its primordial colours. We have the black of the lava, the red of the volcanoes and the midnight sun. We have the ochre of the earth and the white of the ice and glaciers. And we come across the green of the meadows where horses and goats graze.
What is most surprising are the abrupt changes of landscape. You spend kilometres seeing nothing more than an immense lava field, but the next second you are flooded by the lush green of meadows that are not lacking in water.
Because of these contrasts, but also because of the colourful houses, Iceland is a highly photogenic country, not least because of the almost constant presence of clouds that add to the drama of the photograph.
The four elements in Iceland
Water is a primordial element. Whether it’s the rich North Atlantic that lends the islanders their main wealth, the rivers fed by melting ice or the water tables heated by geothermal energy. There’s a number every Icelander knows: 73 degrees; the temperature at which water reaches the taps heated by magma 2000 metres underground.
Fire, water, air and earth. It is here that the four elements show themselves in all their fullness, in a daily battle that leaves its mark on the landscape to the amazement of all who visit Iceland.
How to visit Iceland
Reykjavik is home to more than two thirds of the country’s 319 thousand inhabitants, and where we can still see flocks of kids playing in the streets. After six months of a wintry night, the inhabitants of Reykjavik celebrate the sun in the smallest gestures of everyday life. Every moment is a good time to bask in the warmth of the sun’s rays after a harsh winter. Even at night, opaque curtains are avoided and only those that protect the houses from prying eyes are translucent. Reyklavik is a colourful and calm city where life flows unhurriedly.
The best way to visit Iceland is renting a car
The best way to visit Iceland is to do so by renting a car and driving along Highway No. 1, which circles the island along the coast and takes you close to most of the country’s natural attractions. We did it in 7 days, but we would happily spend 14 days, because the landscapes are stunning and the country, I think I’ve said it before, should be seen calmly.
The Golden Circle
But before going around the island, we must do the Golden Circle, a set of attractions on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
This is how a day well spent begins, with a stay at the Blue Lagoon, the best known of the Icelandic thermal pools, where we can relax in the blue waters that have a constant temperature of 38 degrees Celcius and where we can take the opportunity to cover our bodies in silica. It is best to book in advance and go in the early morning or late afternoon.
The Golden Circle tour then took me to the impressive Gulfoss Falls, which freeze in winter and in the sunny months have a permanent rainbow over them. This rainbow will be one of the reasons for the double waterfall’s name, as Gulfoss means waterfall of gold. On the way, the intense greens of the meadows contrast with the black of the lava fields.
A site not to be missed is Geysir, in the Haukadalur valley, 110 kilometres from the Icelandic capital. This is one of the places with the greatest geothermal activity in the country and is the largest geyser in the world, which gives the place its name.
But the Geysir has been inactive for some time, but the Strokkur delights visitors. This geyser spews its jets of water vapour from a height of 30 metres with impressive regularity. Every five or six minutes, the spectacle is guaranteed.
Close by is the Kerid crater, with a lake inside, with deep blue waters.
Finally, we must head to the Reykjanes region of the few geological phenomena that are perceptible to all. It is in this area that is the Silfra fissure. Here, we can observe the drift of the continents. The fissure separates the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are gradually drifting apart at a rate of two centimetres per year.
Once you know the Golden Circle, it’s time to head north on Highway 1, the Ring Road that skirts Iceland. It’s about 1,330 kilometres long and for the most part has good pavement, but some sections are unpaved.
I chose to head north, taking the road that runs out of traffic shortly after leaving Reykjavik. You have to go slowly, not only because this is the best way to see the country, but also because the road is high above the ground because of the snow. You also need to be aware that most bridges have only one lane, so you always have to watch out for oncoming traffic.
Already in the northern part of Iceland, we should turn left and take the road towards Húsavík, the small fishing village that today lives mainly from whale-watching.
Boarding a trawler, putting on the protective suit (because the water is cold) and taking to the sea in search of whales was one of the best experiences of my life.
Here in Húsavík there are very good chances of seeing the largest mammals in the world, and humpback whales made me want to. For I don’t know how long – because time, in these cases, sort of stops – I watched two whales recreate themselves in the sea, one of them passing so close to the boat that you could tell it was bigger than the boat, dive back in, showing us its majestic tail. An experience not to be missed.
A trip along the Ring Road takes you close to Iceland’s main wonders and to enjoy the unique landscapes of this unique country.