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TRAVEL: The wonders of beautiful Iceland

A view of the city of Reykjavic, Iceland. Picture: PA Photo/Handout.

A view of the city of Reykjavic, Iceland. Picture: PA Photo/Handout.

If you’re looking for a hip and action-packed weekend break, Reykjavik is an affordable choice, writes Albertina Lloyd.

Standing in a valley of ice and snow, with only the occasional black volcanic rock interrupting the seemingly endless expanse of white, I feel like I am on another planet.

In fact I’m in Iceland, just outside the capital Reykjavik, but this remote, alien landscape feels very far from home.

We left our hotel under a cloak of darkness this morning, in an off-road jeep that looked like something from a James Bond film.

Expensive air fares and the high cost of living used to make Iceland seem almost as out of reach as the moon. But with low-cost airlines now flying to Reykjavik, it’s a much more affordable holiday destination and young people are seizing the chance to see its amazing sights.

Now edge, a younger division of adventure holiday specialists Explore, are running long weekend breaks to Iceland aimed specifically at people aged 18 to 30. I’ve tagged along for a four-day adventure.

Most of my fellow travellers are single people aged in their 20s, and we quickly regress to children - sledging down banks of snow and giggling as we hurl snowballs at one another.

As our guide drives us out across the luna landscape to see more picturesque waterfalls and volcanic phenomena, he seems to have a story or a fact about everything we pass.

This mysterious land is full of contradictions. In one afternoon we go from seeing a waterfall that has almost frozen solid, to visiting boiling geysers.

As we join a group of tourists gathered together, cameras at the ready, one bubbling pool suddenly erupts, shooting hot water and steam 15 feet into the air.

On the drive back to the city our guide plays some CDs, determined to show us there is a lot more to the Icelandic music scene than Bjork and Sigur Ros, and we all chill out to the indie tunes and catch a nap ready for another night out in Reykjavik.

The women all look incredibly glamorous in their chic capes and the men all seem to have stumbled out of a knitwear fashion shoot.

But everywhere we go everyone is so welcoming, greeting us in perfect English as we unwind scarves and make ourselves cosy in the warmth.

For a country with less than 400,000 inhabitants there seems to be a high proportion of artistic talent. Original art adorns the walls in every bar and cafe we visit, and there are more than enough choices of live music on offer.

Before a night of knocking back Brennivin, a local schnapps flavoured with caraway seeds, and Polar Beer, it is advisable to line the stomach.

There is plenty of fish on the menu, and it’s all fresh from the sea and delicious. But if you don’t want to splash out on a pricey restaurant, you’re in luck, because fast food is also big.

Vitabar, Tommy’s Burger and Laundromat are just a few of many hip hangouts offering gourmet burgers, and Iceland Fish & Chips is fish and chips like you have never tasted.

And if you really want something to write home about, lots of the bars and restaurants offer local delicacies such as puffin, whale and shark.

For those who aren’t too sensitive about eating the cute animals you may have been to see on a tour, puffin and whale are delicious - but I could have lived without the fermented shark with shots of Brennivin.

Every morning at breakfast the big topic for discussion is the Northern Lights. There have been a lot of dark clouds looming in the sky during the three days we have been in Reykjavik. Every night, crowds of tourists pile into buses and drive inland, chasing clear patches of sky in a bid to see the infamous fluorescent flashes among the stars, caused by electromagnetic storms.

But when the others talk disappointedly about standing around by a bus in the cold for hours for nothing, I am glad I took the chance to see the city instead.

On our last morning we visit the Blue Lagoon.

It’s definitely worth taking your swimming costume to Iceland as there are lots of public swimming baths in Reykjavik, filled with natural geothermal heated water.

But the Blue Lagoon is the ultimate experience. A giant outdoor pool carved into the black volcanic rock, the water is blue from the naturally occurring silica in the water and is thought to have health giving properties.

As we arrive, it is hailing, and all we can see is a long pathway, leading into black rock, with steam rising from behind.

I ask our guide: “Do you think we’re mad?”

He reassures me: “Don’t worry, the water will be warm.”

Soon I am relaxing in the steaming water, with a silica mud pack on my face, feeling cosy, despite the icicles in my hair. A man swims past me holding two beers above his head, and I know the in-pool bar is open.

My first impressions of Iceland were definitely correct - there really is nowhere else in the world like this.

KEY FACTS:

Albertina Lloyd travelled to Iceland with Edge.

Four day Iceland trip costs from £279 per person, including three nights guest house accommodation with breakfast, transport and the services of a group leader and support staff.

Flights are not included, but can be arranged through Edge. For more information visit Edge Adventures or call 0844 225 3135.

 

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