We had planned a reunion with friends from the Netherlands in Iceland in 2020, but COVID threw a wrench in that. So we decided we would make it happen for Thanksgiving 2021. During my last trip to Iceland in March 2015, we ended up in a full blown snowstorm for 4 days. I was hoping for better luck in November. The trip was everything I had hoped for and more. We hiked the magical world of Iceland: hot springs, volcanos, glaciers and waterfalls. We stayed in a beautiful house and had great food. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Northern lights this time, so a reason to come back.
After a long day and short night on the plane, I land at Kevlavik airport at 7am. The Flybus takes me to my hotel in downtown Reykjavik. It is very cold and still very dark, but the 101 Hotel is nice, modern and warm. After a hot tea, I am ready to start our explorations. Hiske and Eugene arrived two days earlier and the three of us go out for breakfast. Breakfast in a near by hotel is mediocre at best, but the coffee afterwards in IDA Bokafi makes up for it.
Reykjadalur Valley and Hot Springs
Warm and caffeine infused, we decide to hike to the Reykjadalur hot springs, 45 minutes from Reykjavik. Reykjadalur means steam and when we arrive at the parking, we understand why. Steam is rising from natural hot springs all across the valley. Our goal is to hike the 3 kilometers to where you can swim in the river. It is not a very steep hike, but the snow and ice make it tricky. We pass the first hot spring and although there is snow on the ground, the water is hot when we test it. At some places 100 Celsius, according to the warning signs. We pass a beautiful waterfall just before the top. Unfortunately, it is already 3PM and the sun sets at 4. Not wanting to risk having to hike back in the dark on the icy trail, we turn around. It was still a beautiful hike.
Govert and Lydia arrive on Wednesday night and on Thursday morning we leave Reykjavik for Selfoss, in the middle of the Golden Circle. Of course we visit the 3 main must see areas of the Golden Circle. On our way to our Airbnb on Thursday, we stop at Thingvellir National Park. We are lucky with the weather. The forecast predicts 97% chance of rain. There is a light drizzle when we start our hike to öxarárfoss waterfall, but when we reach the top, it stops raining. And when we walk across the American and Eurasian tectonic plates towards the little church, the sun comes out. On Saturday, we visit the magical Geysir geothermal area and the magnificent Gulfoss waterfalls. Again, the weather gods are with us, as the fog makes way for clouds and a watery sun.
However, the highlight for me, is our Ice Cave tour on Friday.
On to the Ice
I booked a FastTrack Ice Cave Tour with KatlaTrack in Vic, an hour and fifty minutes drive from our house on the South east coast of Iceland. We meet at their location, where we transfer into one of their special vehicles. AJ, our guide tells us to buckle up and a few minutes later we understand why: we are driving on a uneven lava road, formed by the eruption of 2010. The scenery is eerie and we feel like we have landed on another planet. We are not surprised when AJ tells us that this is the location where several movies were filmed, including Star Wars and Interstellar. After 45 minutes, we arrive at the start of the trail. We all put on crampons and helmets. It is a cold, but beautiful day with clear blue skies.
A glacier on top of a volcano: an explosive combo
We hike up a hill and stop when AJ cuts of a piece of what looks like rock. However, when we look closer, we see that it is pure ice. He explains, that it looks like a rock, because it is covered in ash from the last eruption. Then he shows us the coloring inside a piece of ice, calling it the “ice rainbow”. Soon we arrive at the entrance of the ice cave. It is dark, cold and wet. We climb through the tunnel and emerge at the other end. AJ explains that the tunnel will most likely be melted by summer, a weird thought when walking here. AJ tells us he grew up in Vic and he is one of three people that free climbs the glacier. We are impressed. He seems to know every nook and cradle and it definitely makes all the difference.
Fit for foodies
Last time as on most of our trips, we ate extremely well. There is nothing better after a day out in nature, than a good meal, good wine, and the company of great friends.
We found an absolute gem for breakfast, just across from our hotel. GRÁI KÖTTURINN is easy to miss, but don’t miss it. It is small and cozy, with the walls covered with book cases. It is busy with a lot of locals. We were lucky we found a table. The food was fantastic. I had a Croque Madame and it was one of the best I have had outside France.
My first night, we have dinner in No Concept next to the hotel, ran by Michelin star chef Agnar Sverrisson. I have the langoustine soup, which is good, but not as good as the one I had in the Seabarron. We share the Burrata, the “Eyes Wide Shut” pizza and the veal “Milanese”. It is all very good, but it is the wine and the complimentary dessert that blows me away.
Last time we were in Selfoss, I loved the dinner we had at Tryggvaskali. As a results, I made reservations this time for Thursday night. The restaurant is located in the oldest building in Selfoss. And although it has new owners, the food is still as good as I remember. It is so good that we go back on Saturday night again. Both nights, we have our own private room. The staff is wonderful and Eugene makes friends with the chef. We enjoy the shrimp and vegetable tempura and spicy edamame as starters. We sample various main courses, from the vegetarian eggplant with barley and sunflower seeds, to duck breast with caramelized potatoes, beef tenderloin with crispy potato salad and the salmon barley and chili nuts. It is all delicious. The first night we share rye breadcake for dessert and the second night the typical Icelandic Skyr pudding.
The house we booked could not have been more perfect. A luxury villa, just 15 minutes from Selfoss. With 3 bedrooms, a cozy living room with fire place and outdoor hot tub. The kitchen was fully equipped with any tool or gadget you could possibly need. It was nice to be able to cook breakfast in the morning and not having to go out every day. We even cooked at home one night, spaghetti Bolognese di Eugene and Apple Crumble a la Govert.
We had hoped at least one night to see the magical show of the northern lights. Unfortunately, on the days that the sky is clear, the activity is low and on Saturday, when the activity as at level 4, which means good, the sky is covered in thick clouds. We can see the faint lights behind them, but that is all. Although disappointing, it means I will just have to come back for more magical Iceland: hot springs, volcanos, glaciers and waterfalls.
Photo credit: Hiske de Jong, Govert de Vries, Mariel van Tatenhove