Looking for somewhere cool to travel in summer? Try Reykjavik, Oslo or Helsinki
Many people make a beeline for the beach in summer, but you have other plans for the holidays. If you fancy grabbing your raincoat instead of your swimming costume, here are three cool destinations that you might like. Next stop – Reykjavik, Oslo or Helsinki!more info
Dreams of Lava & Ice in the Icelandic Highlands
Iceland is prolific in place-names which are difficult to pronounce, recall and, of course, spell. Landmannalaugar is one of these but, once you have travelled to this oasis nestling in multi-coloured mountains, where spouting thermal springs, sulphurous vapours and fumaroles melt the ice, this musical, fifteen-letter name becomes a simple word you will never forget. On the contrary – each time you utter it, hear it or read it, you will be transported to that natural paradise which has irremediably become part of your very existence.
Landscapes From Another Planet
Here, in this remote spot, which can only be reached in a 4x4 vehicle – in summer, several 4x4 buses ply the route daily from Hella – begins one of the most popular and spectacular hiking trails in the country and, indeed, on the planet.
Officially, it is known as Laugavegur, which translates roughly to “thermal waters route”. It is usually negotiated from north to south for a distance of 56 km as far as Þórsmörk. The hike then continues another 26 km from there to Skógar along a trail known as Fimmvörðuháls. Along this route, which takes from 4 to 6 days, endless scenic surprises await the traveller, from rhyolite mountains with indescribable colours to fields of fumaroles, glaciers and waterfalls, and deserts of lava and active volcanoes.
Laugavegur is the most popular stretch of the trail and is divided into four accessible stages of from 12 to 15 km, with stopovers at Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Emstrur and Þórsmörk. Experienced walkers can complete two stages in one go as there are few slopes and the daylight hours are particularly long in the northern summer. Þórsmörk has a station for 4x4 buses so you can take one back to Hella.
Continuing along the Fimmvörðuháls trail from the Þórsmörk valley, the slope becomes steeper and some areas are more exposed and windswept. This stretch can be divided into two spectacular stages with a stopover at the Fimmvörðuháls shelter. This stage is probably one of the most amazing ones in trekking. It takes you past the Mýrdallsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers, and across a lava field that emerged during the famous 2010 eruption – which grounded so many flights – culminating in a long descent on which you can admire a total of 24 spectacular waterfalls, with the legendary Skógafoss as the final flourish.
Dates: Open from June to September.
Difficulty: In good weather, the route is easy as far as Þórsmörk, and moderate up to Skógar.
Weather: Weather conditions in the Icelandic Highlands can change drastically in a few hours, even in summer. You should keep checking the weather report at shelters and abide by warnings issued by rangers and the shelter managers.
Navigation: The route is signposted in early summer with yellow stakes placed every few metres. In the event of being overtaken by fog or bad weather, it is useful to have GPS with route tracking. However, bear in mind that the route can vary slightly from year to year, particularly at river crossings.
Gear: Essential to have mountain footwear and warm clothing.
Food: There are no restaurants or grocery stores anywhere along the trail, and they do not serve food in the emergency shelters. However, you can pay for camping or an overnight with a credit card. Thus, you have to be self-sufficient and stock up with all the food you are going to need during the hike (reckon on a minimum of 1 kg per person per day).
A Roof Over Your Head: You need to book in advance to sleep at the shelters along the route. For certain summer dates, this requires booking several months ahead and the trekking agencies usually hog most of the available places.
Camping: There are camping areas around the shelters and they are always pay sites. You don’t need to book ahead, however. Some have showers and rubbish collection. Others only have drinking water and toilets. It is advisable to take a light tent that can withstand strong winds.
Rivers: Avoid crossing rivers at their narrowest point, as that is where they are deepest. You should wear tightly-fitting waterproof sandals to prevent them being ripped off by the current.
Guided Treks: If you prefer to travel light – without having to carry food or camping equipment – want to ensure a reservation in the shelters along the way and enjoy the company of a guide, the specialised agency Tierras Polares covers the whole route in July and August in the course of an 8-day trip, of which six days are spent trekking. Prices from €1,595.
Day Tour All Year Around: You can also visit Landmannalaugar on a Super Jeep Tour. The super jeep is a 4x4 vehicle with oversize tyres which can take you into the Highlands any time of the year, and pick-up is at your hotel in Reykjavik. Price per person: ISK 35,000 (€250).
Venture into the wonderland of the Icelandic Highlands – book your Vueling to Reykjavik here.
Text and photos by Sergio Fernández Tolosa & Amelia Herrero Becker (Con un par de ruedas)
Where to Eat and Drink in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the ideal starting point for an adventurous road trip along endless snowy roads, sometimes surrounded by vegetation, lunar landscapes and fascinatingly intriguing rocky backdrops. The geography of one of the most enchanting countries in the world consists of lakes, mountains, volcanoes, fjords and glaciers, among other spectacular landscape features. Its capital, Reykjavik, is a trendy paradise dominated by middle-class inhabitants. There you may bump into Björk enjoying a cappuccino in the carefree environment of a café where top quality food is served. To assist you in the choice of great dining options in Reykjavik, we have chosen 8 restaurants you can never go wrong with.
1. Lava Restaurant
Aside from being situated in a fairy-tale location, the Blue Lagoon restaurant is representative of Iceland's creative cuisine. Its chef, Viktor Orn Andresson, who was named best Nordic chef of 2014, offers creative, organic cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh fish and vegetables. Here you can see the geothermal waters and lava formations of the Blue Lagoon open-air spa by just looking out the dining room's glass walls. Alternatively, an outdoor bathe in these warm medicinal waters can be enjoyed regardless of the freezing ambient temperature, while indulging in Icelandic avant-garde cuisine. Their dishes range from mutton tartar with spicy radish to garlic and crayfish soup, to delicious cod with citrus fruits.
Charming restaurant with spectacular views, located by the harbour. This delightful eatery is always busy thanks to their delectable seasonal cuisine, fresh produce – lovingly prepared – and a no-nonsense approach. They boast a great international wine list, with slightly higher prices than the rest of the menu, in addition to a wonderful choice of lavish dishes, some among the best we have ever tried – the harbour-style tuna (lightly roasted, with garlic chips), cod tongue with garlic and cherry, and creamy lobster risotto. Undoubtedly a must.
A visit to Reykjavik is incomplete without gazing up at the stunning Harpa building. Located by the sea, it houses a macro concert and conference hall that won a Mies Van Der Rohe prize and is the headquarters of the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra and Opera. After a photo shoot of this glazed building and a sneak-peak at their design store, we can take the lift up to the 4th floor to Kolabrautin, its snazzy restaurant. While soaking up what is likely the best view of the city, you can enjoy a well-blended fusion of Icelandic and Italian cuisine, accompanied by a blissful cocktail or a glass of wine. If you would rather venture into one of the numerous eateries of the main street – Laugavegur, a paradise of art, design and fashion shops, cute cafés and restaurants – you can always move on to Kolabrautin after supper for some drinks.
4. Café Babalú
From the cosmopolitan sophistication of the last three options to the informality of this enchanting café. Café Babalú welcomes anyone at any time of the day, with an original and picturesque ambience and a menu that ranges from homemade cakes to soups, sandwiches and vegetarian pies. When approaching it from the street you'll see a pretty yellow house and, on entering, you'll be greeted by an interior of various types of vintage furniture. This renders Babalú the ideal location to enjoy the marvellous view from its glass front while clutching a massive cappuccino with both hands. Their cheesecake is the city's most popular.
5. Te & Kaffi
This bookshop café is a required stop. From its terrace you can sit back and watch Reykjavik's placid everyday life.If the weather is not on your side, you can take a seat at an indoor table and enjoy a large coffee and an equally remarkably-sized slice of cake. Meanwhile, you can flip through one of their art and design books in a pleasant and cosy atmosphere. This chain of cafés can also be found in some shopping centres.
One of the first things that will strike you when you set foot in Reykjavik is that Icelanders love huge cafés and homemade pastries. Indeed, the city is teeming with establishments packed with surprisingly slim hipsters, considering the amount of cakes they put away. One of the busiest cafés in town is Mokka, frequented by local artists, where their wonderful waffles are a must-try. No Wi-Fi connection here but, so what?
7. The Laundromat Cafe
As most things in Reykjavik, this place is super cute but, take note, their hamburgers are among the best you will find here. A totally kid-friendly spot with a playroom, this delightful café with wood-panelled walls is just as trendy as it is cosy. Bright, spacious and charismatic, The Laundromat Café is always lively and – yes – you can do your laundry here.
8. Slipp Bar
Like other buildings across the road from Reykjavik harbour, the bar of the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina is a tribute to Scandinavian good taste (to the point it may give you Stendhal syndrome). An overnight stay at this soberly charming three-star is well worthwhile, and you'll almost fall asleep to the lullaby of the waves. Both Slipp Bar and the hotel are exquisitely decorated and are ideal spots to spend an afternoon in Reykjavik. Here you can enjoy a mid-morning coffee, a snack in the afternoon or a cocktail in the late evening, always with views over the sea and a designer lamp above you.
Feeling hungry? Check out our flights and discover Reykjavik's fabulous cuisine now!
Text and images by Laura Conde (Gastronomistas)