Think of visiting Iceland and it is likely you will plan a trip to the bustling capital city, Reykjavik. But I’ll let you in on a little secret; the east of Iceland is untouched, unexplored and picturesque. It’s the perfect remedy when your mind and body are crying out for a detox, as mine were before setting off to explore this incredible country. Little did I know I was about to stumble upon nature’s own wellness retreat.
From enjoying the ancient tradition of bathing in the geothermal pools to yoga and hiking on the wild beaches, the calming scenery helps me switch off, restore and press reset. In this beautiful part of the world, the sense of untamed nature is profound. After all, it is known as ‘the land of fire and ice’. The dramatic landscape is epic and includes mountains, waterfalls and lakes so still they mirror the hills and sky above.
I drive for hours through wild terrain and pass only a handful of cars. Unlike the crowded volcanic shores in the south of the country, the black sand beaches in the east are vast and serenely empty. The crisp air revitalises and I feel the tranquillity absorb into my soul. The ethos here is about slowing down, stepping away from technology, enjoying nature and using sustainable materials. It’s a tradition the locals are proud of and keen to protect by trying to welcome only responsible tourists.
It may sound surprising, but this sanctuary of calm is actually very easy to reach. A short flight from Reykjavik to Egilsstadir takes under an hour and flies over breath-taking scenery. Eglisstadir attracts hikers in search of hills, lakes and waterfalls. Explorers can treat themselves to a meal at the particularly special organic farm, Vallanes. This café-cum - guesthouse prides itself on its organic produce with everything from the sauerkraut to the tables and chairs being homemade. Vallanes – like much of Iceland – is wholesome and chic: exactly what trendy east London is trying to be but here you know it’s authentic.
The east is also in the midst of a cultural revolution: from festivals and new gig venues opening to the start of a local movement called Art Attack in the fishing town of Neskaupstadur. It’s clear the region is coming to life with a buzz of art, music, food and fun. After feasting on fresh fish pie at the newly opened Bait Shack, positioned right on the water, I watch touring musicians gig in front of a crowd of 40-odd locals. Many who moved away from the area are returning to open music venues, restaurants, cafes and microbreweries.
A drive along the magnificent coast, winding in and out of the fjords, brings me to Djupivogur. This ‘slow town’ is part of an international ‘Cittaslow’ movement, which aims to keep the pace of life relaxed and the produce locally sourced. The vibe is certainly chilled – the mayor himself takes me on a friendly tour of the sand dunes and I chat to locals about their decision to ‘live in the moment’ without the stresses of modern life. There’s no working after 5pm here!
By the end of my four-day trip my mind has cleared and my body feels invigorated. A night’s sleep after a day in Icelandic air is so deep, the ether should be bottled and sold in high-end spas. I’ve spent my days in the fresh sea air and my evenings gazing through unpolluted skies at the northern lights. I leave, vowing to adopt east Iceland’s calm approach to life back home.
Set in a renovated farmhouse, Gistihúsið Lake Hotel is the place to stay for laid back luxury. Enjoy a gourmet meal in the hotel’s superb restaurant, sweat it out in the spa or dare yourself to dip into the ice-cold plunge pool.
For spacious, modern apartments with an ocean view and full-servicing, stay at the newly renovated Hildibrand Hotel.
Spend the night in comfortable, cosy rooms at Hotel Blafell after sampling the exquisite, locally-sourced lamb in the restaurant downstairs.
Flights to Iceland
Icelandair runs flights to and from Iceland through Icelandair’s hub at Keflavik International Airport, serving more than 25 destinations in the UK, Scandinavia and continental Europe. The airline boasts personal in-flight entertainment and gate-to-gate Wi-Fi on all its routes. It also allows passengers to take an Icelandair Stopover for up to seven nights at no additional airfare on their journey between Europe and North America.
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