By Mark Stratton
With natural wonders ranging from geothermal waters to an erupting volcano, Iceland is a must for clients looking for a truly unique experience.
Land of extremes
Whenever Iceland is in need of a dramatic reinvention this profoundly volcanic island is able to reach down into the bowels of the earth and conjure up something truly astonishing.
Two months before Iceland made it onto our travel green list a new volcano, Fagraldsfjall, emerged with a spectacular eruption in a desolate valley on the seismic Reykjanes Peninsula.
The volcano is growing explosively in size, day by day, yet remains an easy hour-long trek off road.
Amid a newly formed lava plateau of burning basalt, the coal-black fledgling cone is angry, erupting orange magma so intense it’s like staring at the sun.
With every pulsating eruption I’m warmed by the searing heat and left feeling I am witnessing before me the very essence of our planet’s formation.
An explosive relaunch
By constructing a nearby carpark and creating a trekking path to Fagraldsfjall – rendering this the most accessible erupting volcano on Earth - Icelandic tourism hasn’t hesitated in promoting it as a flagship attraction throughout this summer.
It’s a spectacular statement of reopening that will likely override cautions travellers have about holidaying.
Unlike the relative fiasco playing out with regards to travel by the UK government, the Icelandic roadmap to reopening is mature and considered. Explaining to clients the paperwork and testing around Covid-19 can seem rather daunting, yet Iceland is refreshingly clear and efficient.
The country currently accepts only fully-vaccinated travellers, or those with documentary proof they have had the virus. At the border, I present my NHS-app as proof of vaccination and take a free PCR-test on arrival. I am told to wait in my accommodation for the result. It comes back negative in just four hours.
Restrictions have since been relaxed so that those presenting a valid vaccination certification or prior Covid-19 infection (and therefore immune) no longer have to undergo a test at the border.
This careful reopening is yielding early results. “In May there were 14,400 foreign arrivals which is fourteen times more than in May 2020,” says Oddńy Arnarsdóttir, Project Manager with Visit Iceland. “Many are coming to see the volcano”.
It’s worth emphasising Iceland’s outdoors space is the perfect antidote to coronavirus fears. With the likes of glacial landscapes, great waterfalls, the bird-rich Lake Myvatn, and the geothermal Reykjanes Peninsula – where bathing in the silica-rich Blue Lagoon remains a wellness classic – visitors will spend much of their time outdoors.
It’s a destination for all age groups. Fabulous hiking will appeal to the fit and active, while the enduring appeal of driving Iceland’s Route 1 circular ring-road remains the most popular activity among travellers. Encourage clients to consider road trips between 10 to 14 days, so that they get the best out of Iceland’s stellar scenery.
“We are certainly seeing a demand for our fly-drive programme in Iceland and summer and autumn is an amazing time to discover the whole of the country, with beautiful colours, warmer weather and longer hours of daylight for exploring and being outside,” says Andrea Godfrey, Product-Manager at Regent Holidays.
She says Iceland currently accounts for over a quarter of their business – from the multiple destinations they offer.
Best of Iceland
Whale-watching wonders: From pods of streamlined orca hunting herring to the spectacle of breeching humpbacks whales, Icelandic whale-watching is thoroughly memorable. Half-day excursions are offered by small boats from Húsavík in the north. It’s an activity that should feature on most itineraries
Sublime soak: Long before wellness became fashionable, taking geothermal baths in heated pools was enshrined in Icelandic culture. The most renowned thermal pool is the Blue Lagoon, south of Reykjavik. Now is a fantastic time to recommend its silky 37-40ºC pools while crowds – not least shoals of influencers and vloggers – are refreshingly absent.
Self-isolating Snæfellsnes: The very definition of self-isolation, the remote sausage-shaped Snæfellsnes Peninsula, in the shadow of Snæfellsjökull glacier, is ideal for those seeking secluded remoteness in self-catering cottages. The spellbinding lava-flow plains and craggy coast are magnificent for birdwatching and hiking.
Northern lights: Iceland’s drive in recent years for all-year round appeal has fashioned winter packages to enjoy the spectacle of aurora borealis. Hotels, such as the Northern Lights Inn, near Keflavik offer specialist viewing platforms. While sightings are never guaranteed, clients staying at least three nights have the best chance of spotting them.
New product: The Sky Lagoon opened back in April 2021. This is a wellness facility, par excellence, located six kilometres outside of Reykjavik on the coast. It’s quite different to the Blue Lagoon experience. The geothermally heated waters are crystalline clear, and you wade out into an infinity pool, creating an illusion of open ocean. A two-hour ‘Pure-Pass’ starts around £13.50pp and bathers are invited onto a circuit of self-treatments called the ‘Seven Rituals’.
Meanwhile, following the success of Iceland’s ring road #1, a new circular driving route to the remote Westfjords peninsula launched late in 2020. The 930km-long Westfjord Way guides drivers through dramatic scenery, via towering cliffs that are home to puffins, and epic fjords.
New hotels: Icelandair will launch their new 163-room Parliament Hotel in the second quarter of this year, operated in a franchise agreement with Curio Collection by Hilton. While the Marriott is on course for late 2021 or early 2022 opening of a new five-star property in the old harbour port area of downtown Reykjavik.
New tours: Tour operator Intrepid has launched a new high-end ‘Premium Iceland’ package that adds luxury to adventure. Its nine-day trip includes a hike to Fagradalsfjall volcano and a boat cruise between the icebergs of Glacier Lagoon. It costs from £3595pp.
Omega Breaks is promoting its five-day Iceland and the Northern Lights trip this November with expert astronomer, Pete Lawrence. Priced from £699pp, the organised tour includes flights, accommodation, a full day Golden Circle tour and a South Iceland tour.
Regent’s most popular tour is its Iceland Full Circle Fly Drive, which follows the 1300km ring road on a classic road-trip taking in many natural geothermal wonders and national parks. The 14-day holiday is priced £2,070pp, with flights, accommodation, and car-hire.