Tip of the Month

Each month we highlight a place of interest around the globe that we consider as unique as Borgo di Vagli. The tips are selected as they either show respect for the environment, nature, and architectural beauty or are deeply indigenous to their individual origin. This month we have chosen to highlight our Norwegian friend and well-known travel and property journalists Tom Anderssen and Bjørn Kjos’ trip to Iceland.

by Tom Andersson

Winter tourism in Iceland has more than doubled over the past three years. I visited the saga Island in the west to find out why. Looking at Iceland, Bjørn Kjos said recently in a debate about the future of Norwegian tourism, they are doing everything right. And now they are really about to take us off the northern lights too!

Iceland is not a big spot on the world map, and nor are the many who inhabit the little island kingdom either. But more than 300,000 Icelanders and a magnificent nature are all available to attract a multitude of tourists. Earlier they came mainly in the summer; Winter tourism belongs to the Alps, and in Norway!

But Bjørn Kjos is right: Icelanders do everything right and can show an increase of 58% in winter tourism from their main markets over the past three years. And it is not just the northern lights that draw; Icelanders are simply getting some real winter thieves! So we leave Norway, and go to a least winter-cold island - before heading north to find out what attracts an ever-increasing number of visitors.

It's a propeller flight from the local airport in Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland's second largest city. Not a long journey - but a journey from the relatively urban in the capital to the wild landscape on the north side of Iceland. This is a landscape of wind and weather seen on Norwegian TV series "Innesperret". It is a winter storm that blocks the inhabitants - a very realistic scenario, if we are to believe our local guide Halldór Óli Kjartansson.

"We are experiencing some winter storms up here in the north, yes. But that's part of the landscape and the experience. Here we live in and for nature, and I think many people are just looking for this as one of many ingredients in the adventure, says Halldór.

And the adventure hits you immediately. The landscape is so powerful, and at the same time fascinating wrath that it is in the heart of your heart. Some people will be scared of the rough and inhospitable landscape, but they are probably looking for a beach in the south rather than in northern Iceland midwinter.

We are definitely not on a holiday, but looking forward to a nice week where we really will use the landscape. And we start with the real kings of the landscape: the Icelandic horses.

The Kingdom of Icelandic Horses

Half an hour in a jeep to the west from Akureyri lies the beautiful fjord of Skagafjörður. Here we are in the heart of the Islandic Horses kingdom; nowhere on the island is the breed of these beautiful animals as extensive as here. It is also here, at Hólar, that the famous Landsmót takes place. Landsmót was organised for the first time 50 years ago, and is the most important annual event for island horses - and of course for anyone who loves them.

"The Icelandic horse is protected by law here in Iceland," explains Ingvar Örn Ingvarsson, Project Manager for Islandsstofa, and a well-known travel success on our trip to the north and east side of the saga island.

"This means, among other things, that it is prohibited to import horses to Iceland, both to keep the horse race pure and to prevent diseases.

Landsmót will take place at the end of June early July, so we will be watching a show in the five different gaits of the island horse - which is probably the most distinctive. For an inexperienced rider, it is good for both buttocks and backs after a ride-on ride, and then it is a pleasure to have a bath afterwards. And because we are in Iceland, the bathroom is obviously outdoors - despite the season, or maybe just the same.

Heat sources

Iceland is a volcanic island, and nowhere in the world do you find more lava than here. The volcanic activity is highly vibrant, which creates, for example, hot springs that provide energy and hot water to the whole island. The hot springs are also one of the most important ingredients in the daily life of Iceland - and in the country's tourism industry.

It's time for the first trip of the tour. We drive out to the sea gorge, and the hot springs at Grettis.

"Grettis is named after Grettir the strong," says Viggó Jónsson, local artist and owner of the farm in the ocean gorge and the ground that also includes the hot springs. "My grandfather bought the place in 1934, and with a break it has been in the family's own side. The sea battles over the mountain here and straight into the hot tub. For a while it was impossible to swim here, so we built a stone-wall between the coal and the sea.

The stone-wall is not dense and from time to time a splash from the ice-cold sea passes over the wall and into the coal. Someone who is tough enough for a dip in the ocean?

Only Norwegian Julie volunteered, and once again proves that women are, after all, the strongest gender. And perhaps she also shows that Icelanders, after all, originate from us Norwegians.

Activities on the snow

Not everyone is aware that there are several beautiful resorts in the mountains around Akureyri. The sun has long gone down as we climb uphill towards Hlidarfjall, and the floodlights offer the ground on powder snow and brilliant conditions. No wonder Icelanders themselves put the skiing holiday here and that it is precisely here that the Icelandic Alpine team is in training. The view of the hill, the city and the fjord is majestic and we know that there are more adventurous experiences a place down there.

With its 14,000 inhabitants, Akureyri is a big city in Iceland, but a small town after all other measurements. The cozy streets create winter idyll, and a homely frame after long days out in the wild landscape in the north. Here we get warm and a little rest in front of the night's remaining adventure:

Dog sledding at midnight

We hear the beams in the distance. The six huskies have been out all day, and they will benefit from action when a small group of amateurs will each lead their dog sled along the irrigated waters of Akureyri. Probably the dogs are well-trained, because the drive is surprisingly fine - except for all the breaks to the right or left, when the three huskies in each span get the scent of tempting survivors from like-minded ones.

If you are lucky you also see the northern lights on the midnight train with a dog sled. We get a flap of the northern lights in the night sky before it's cloudy again.

Alven's Castle

The next morning the snow settles. It's the way it's going to be when you've got your legs and labs in between the strange steep information in Dimmuborgir. Here at home we connect the name more with a well-known Norwegian black metal band, which has actually obtained its name from here. For Icelanders, Dimmuborgir is, on the other hand, the castle of the underground, where the people according to the folklore have their headquarters in Iceland.

Icelanders have a nice relationship with their elves. Nobody believes in the elves ("except grandmother," as all younger Icelanders say), yet they add roads and other infrastructure beyond places where it is widely known that living lives.

Many of the stepping stones are made of elves that did not get back underground before the sun rose and thus became a rock. Others once again have the form of famous and unknown creatures like Tor with the hammer or Christmas celebrity in profile - all according to our accompanying guide. Dimmuborgir is the closest we will "create" tourism on the north side of Iceland, where a scenic terrain may be so good without the flirtatious commercialisation the place is exposed to.

Suser departed
Myvatn is one of the most beautiful areas in this part of Iceland. From here there are national parks and wild areas all the way to the other side of the island - and from here we will drive snowmobiles. In Iceland, riding a snowmobile is not regulated in the same way as in Norway, and consequently this is an integral and popular feature of tourism here. And surely it's great to sneak off the snow in a landscape so adventurously beautiful that it takes off your breath, unless the sense of speed makes it.

After the trip, we have lunch at Sel Hotels Myvatn. We have heard the words about the restaurant's pinned icebergs, which turns out to exceed even our fragile expectations. If at all you should be on the north side of Iceland, you should indulge in the experience of the hotel restaurant's roe for lunch.

Myvatn is otherwise best known for the amazing bathing resort Myvatn Nature Baths, which has taken a natural hot spring a step further into the comfort zone. Here is a cafeteria, and a small shop selling everything from knitting to Icelandic chocolate with liquorice.

We order white wine and locally-brewed beer, and let ourselves sink into 40-degree blue-blue water, while the snow drops mildly and colours are louder white. Life does not get better than this.

To the east

We will continue, from north to east. The trip from Akureyri to the small town of Egilsstadir, the journey continues into the mountains, now with the huge jeeps with the even more enormous wheels that Icelanders love to drive in the snow with. We follow the mountain road as long as it reaches Laugarfell, and when the road ends, Páll Gudmundur Ásgeirsson releases air out of the tires to give more grip on the snow. Paul points to a little dot against the snow, far away: "It's the cabin," he said proudly. “Here I welcome guests during the summer, but also groups up here in the winter. The hot springs are, of course, one of the reasons people come here, in addition to the hiking opportunities here in the mountains.”

Paul tells us that it is untouched and undeveloped nature all the way to the west - across Iceland. One of Europe's largest wilderness areas, if you want to believe the sympathetic islanders.

The huge jeeps take us to Paul's little paradise, which upon closer inspection turns out to contain a number of bedrooms and sleeping places for a small battalion.

"The best in the world is to lie in the hot coal outside the cabin with a cold beer, when the sun has gone down and the stars are shining in the sky - no light pollution here.” Imagine that the Northern Light takes over and flames over the sky. Just then, you realise that Laugarfell is the epicentre of the world. Right now, this is where you will be, and no other place on the globe.

We peel off winter clothes and lower us down in Paul's hot spring. And know that he is right.

Dennis and Tórdur

We leave Egilsstadir, driving through the area that houses the entire crew that plays the second season of the TV series "Fortitude" here and takes part in the local resurrection that actor Dennis Quaid is supposed to be here right now to cover the lead role in future season. Everyone in the village has signed up as extras and waits for suspicion of being called to the set.

We, on our side, have more than enough to be extras in the magnificent landscape of the valley between Egilsstadir and the neighbouring town of Neskaupstadur. A few years ago, the small community was struck by a big snowy dragon, something the cemetery on the outskirts of the city is carrying a low-profile message about.

A little past the cemetery and up in the valley lies Skorrahestar, where Tórdur Júliusson is king in his kingdom. Here the colourful farmer lives up to his island horses, and after a small ride in the horse garden he invites us into the farmhouse for coffee and pancakes.

"But first, I'd like to sing a little song for you, which I usually do when we have guests," he says when everyone has sat around the table and the fresh pancakes are tempting.

We may miss the finer nuances of the text, to put it carefully. But Tórdir's pleasure to sing for us is more than enough to cope with the lack of understanding of content.

Testicles and rotten sharks

Tórdur Júliusson's hospitality is simply not unique in Iceland. If you ask us, Icelanders themselves, despite all the great scenery, are the biggest attraction. Then it also feels like quite a correct end to our stay on the east coast of Iceland that we have been invited home for dinner to a regular family in Neskaupstadur.

"It was the local tourist office's idea, but we thought it was nice to meet some visitors," says Sígrun Víglundsdottir a little shy.

She has never done this before, and is probably a little excited about how it will be all about - and how the guests will respond to the food. "We have prepared a little traditional Icelandic food for you," says Gudmundur Höskuldsson, father of the house. He invites us to the table and presents the dishes that stand in line and in front of us: “Here we have smoked lamb, salted lamb, lamb breast, dried fish, soured saushode, smoked saushohe, testicles and the famous rotten shark ... the one with a lid on it. You do not have to eat if you do not want it.”

We think all of us, swallow heavily and allow it to happen. The one who dares ... And it turns out that it is all right when we first get over the urban fear of all that is "disgusting" to the beast. Well, everything may not be as good after all: The famous rotten shark is being described by starring Gordon Ramsey as "the worst flavour on the planet," and we can only agree with it.

The evening becomes a memory of life. The madness comes quickly, with both hosts and guests. When the last testicle is consumed and the local brewed beer is drinking, strangers have become friends.

And we have succumbed to the last rest of resistance to the crush in Iceland. Let our friends and distant relatives in the west keep their northern lights. Let them steal our winter tourists and continue to enjoy every one of them. We are simply bitten by Iceland and the only question we are concerned about when leaving Iceland is: When will we come back?

5 things to do in Iceland in the winter

1. Ri Island Horse
The slightly small-grown, but powerful island horse is like the terrain in Iceland. If you have a little horse-riding experience, a trip of two to three days will give you an adventure and an experience you will never forget. Why not ride from self-catering cottage to cottage in the terrain to the sea at Neskaupstadur? Proviant you arrange yourself, and you rent the horses here:
Island Horse www.skorrahestar.is

2. Bath in hot springs
These are all found on the volcanic island, and Icelanders use them just as the British use their pubs. The bathrooms are gathering places where the last sladden is divided - preferably over a cold beer or glass of wine. The most famous bathroom is The Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik, but it's so charming to find a kulp out in the snow. You can still find a good snack in Myvatn Nature Baths outside Akureyri.
Hot Springs www.myvatnnaturebaths.is

3. A dog sledge
Sure, you can do it, if you've never had much to pat a dog earlier. And, of course, it's fun to master the old art of driving slopes of houses! Choose between day trip and evening trip, both of which have their charm. But keep in mind that only the nights at night give you the opportunity to see northern lights. Easily accessible from Akureyri, where you will be picked up at the hotel by the organisers.
Dog Sledging www.myvatnnaturebaths.is

4. Drive snowmobile
Iceland does not have the same regulations as we have in Norway, which provides snowmobile driving as a tourist attraction air under the wings. Organised tours from Myvatn, and even the beginner finds the mood feeling fast. A great way to see the beautiful scenery.
Snow mobile tours www.myvatnnaturebaths.is

5. Go skiing
The mountains around Akureyri offer great alpine opportunities, with several impressive facilities close to the city. This is the island's ski resort, and even blasted Norwegians will thrive on the slopes. Annually there are competitions for the world's freestyle elite here, which come over and over again to experience the magnificent terrain. The facility in the mountains right by Akureyri is most popular and easily accessible.
Skiing www.hlidarfjall.is


In Reykjavik we stayed centrally and well at the Hilton Nordica Hotel before leaving for Akureyri.

In Akureyri, Icelandair Hotel Akureyri is an attractive and good choice, with a cozy reception bar as both whims and invite to a nightcap after the day's outdoor activities.

We went on to the eastern side of Iceland and found two fantastic hotels in areas where one would not expect to find them: Gistihusid Lakehotel www.lakehotel.is in Egilsstadir, with a lovely little spa in the basement and Hildibrand Hotel www.hildibrand.com in Neskaupstadur. Here the rooms of apartments are converted into hotel rooms, with 60 square meters to romp on.

Back in Reykjevik from the wilderness in the north and east, we pampered in one of the seven suites in the brand new VIP wing at the Icelandair Hotel Marina down the harbor. Here, too, the standard rooms are of a high standard - and the breakfast alone is almost worth the entire stay.

Eat well In Reykjavik: In Iceland you will find astonishingly high number of very good restaurants, many of which focus on traditional Icelandic dishes. In Reykjavik we recommend the newly opened Food & Beverage, and of course the famous lobster soup at Sægreifinn in the fishing boats.

A fun experience for groups (minimum two people) is also a visit to Salt Eldhus, www.salteldhus.is where you stand for cooking - though under the guidance of the house manager.

In Akureyri: In the town itself you eat well at Bautinn, www.bautinn.is and travel west to Saudarkrokur at Skagafjordur, Olafshus www.olafshus.is is a fun and local place for lunch.

At Myvatn: At Sel Hotell Myvatn, www.myvatn.is/en/the-hotel we ate the best meal of the trip in a fantastic roar, so it's worth taking the trip here just for that reason.

In Egilsstadir: Gistihusid Lakehotel www.lakehotel.is/ens-veitingar started its business as a restaurant and has retained its good cuisine until today.

In Neskaupstadur, in the east of Iceland, we tested the exciting concept "Meet the locals" www.meetthelocals.is and ate dinner at home with a family. Perhaps the highlight of the trip, which is highly recommended!

Activity links:
Skiing: www.hlidarfjall.is
Sea fishing: www.drangey.net
Dog drive www.inspiration-iceland.com/en/winter-travel/husky-tours-winter
Horse show www.landsmot.is
Bath: www.drangey.net/#!grettislaug-english/c1ypu,
www.myvatnnaturebaths.is, www.laugarfell.is, www.bluelagoon.is
Snowmobile: www.myvatn.is/en/tours/snowmobile
Jeep tour: www.easthighlanders.com
Riding: www.skorrahestar.is


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