Day 1: Reykjavik
Even though most people are attracted to the volcanic island for its grandiose landscapes, its capital is also fully worthy of a visit! Blessed by the nearby Gulf Stream that is depicted on its blue coat of arms, the northernmost capital of the world has suddenly found itself ranked among the best places to live in and visit. The overwhelming presence of birds and water, intense cultural life, warm, welcoming cafés, diverse museums and clubbing fever that disrupts its quaint village image every weekend, are among the many appeals of this endearing capital.
Start in the historic centre that lies between the sea and Lake Tjörnin, on the spot where the first settlers set up home. Government institutions rub shoulders with cafés and shops and it is a pleasure to stroll past the colourful, modestly-proportioned edifices. Concrete, rock, corrugated iron, wood, statues and birds – each street corner brings its host of surprises. Then, make a beeline for the port and a visit to the maritime museum, followed by a stroll around Kolaportio flea market, held every Saturday and Sunday morning.
Day 2: Reykjanes peninsula
Reykjanes is a huge desert of lava fields. Even more dramatic when the sky is overcast, the dark landscape is dotted with tufts of silver moss, clusters of purple lupins and fumaroles that bear witness to intense geothermal activity. In the Middle Ages, there used to be a string of small trading posts along the coast. Nowadays, the inhabitants live on strips of land around the major fishing ports of Keflavík to the north and isolated Grindavík, in the south. The quintessence of Iceland, this unspoiled peninsula whose cliffs, continually battered by the ocean, provide refuge to many birds, is however often ignored by tourists. It is true that one of Iceland’s major sightseeing attraction diverts many a sightseer and rightfully so, because a trip to the Blue Lagoon will assuredly be one of the highlights of your visit.
Day 3: Gullfoss, the golden waterfall
Gullfoss, one of the country’s iconic sights, owes its name to the rainbow that can occasionally be admired, spanning the river like a bridge. Some 32m/105ft high, the waterfall cascades down in several stages, dropping first 11m/36ft and then 21m/69ft, changing direction and ending in an ear-splitting explosion of thundering water. The river continues to tumble down between the basalt organs of the 2.5km/1.5mi-long gorges, dug out over the centuries. This two-tiered waterfall is beautiful all year long: at its most powerful in summer or surrounded by glittering ice in the winter sunshine. When swamped in mist or in the dead of night, the sound of the crashing water becomes eerie and even more fascinating.
Day 4: a boat trip to the Westman Islands
From the coast, the Westman islands look like dark flames frozen on the horizon. Once on the ferry, it is possible to make out high cliffs, rimmed by white surf at the bottom and a thin line of grass on top. As you get closer, the boat slips through these natural ramparts into an almost enclosed bay to moor at the docks of a surprisingly large town, depicted by colourful rooftops. Fishing boats bobbing up and down on the water and the smell of fish set the scene, further enhanced by rusty coloured volcanic cones and the swooping flight of the gulls… Welcome to the Westman Islands, tossed like confetti on the waves of the Atlantic, fascinating and endearing. A beautiful way to end a long weekend in Iceland and to whet your appetite for a return visit…