Alister’s field notes from Iceland

A rugged journey into the wilds of the south

We’ve always felt that ‘being there’ – on the ground, in the field – is the best possible way for us to refine the trips we plan for our travellers. To get our hands dirty (metaphorically, but sometimes not) is a huge part of what we ‘do’.

And this is especially true of Iceland – one of our all-time destinations; making a regular occurrence on the ‘must do’ lists of our travellers. But a luxury holiday/vacation to Iceland has many forms and facets, despite its relatively diminutive size. To get to know it better, we need to ‘see’ it better. We need to be there.

That’s why, recently, we sent Alister, Shashi, Janine, Elena and Steph on a full-bore research trip to the brooding wilds of southern Iceland.

This is their story, as told by Alister. But before you read, you can watch a short film about their expedition below.

Langjokull – crossing the glacier

The surface of Iceland is like a book. In its wild, tormented geography you can ‘read’ its history – the forces that gave rise to it. When you arrive at Reykjavik, poised at the edge of all this wilderness, you can begin to sense this ‘big’ beyond – the weight of volcanoes, lava, mountains, ice. The city – we slept at the very chic, very metropolitan Saga Hotel – was a moment to collect ourselves before we lunged fully into the interior.

This began by heading into the majestic landscapes of the Golden Circle – heading first, as if in pilgrimage, to stand in the lees of Irafoss waterfall and, later, its mighty cousin, Gullfoss.

From here, we changed our mode of transport – climbing aboard a series of gutterally-growling snowmobiles to cross the white-blue surface of Langjokull – the so-called ‘long glacier’. The name is something of a red herring, playfully un-declarative. The glacier itself is a place of profound and glittering beauty, an ancient river frozen into a great wall of twisted ice.


Thakgil – into the great green canyon

Thakgil has the richest of green, the smokiest of black – a series of canyons that surge deep into a hidden landscape from the more well-known surrounds of Reynisfjara beach (famed for its charcoal reaches of dark black sand). Beyond the canyons themselves – whose caves are smears of beautifully rich black stone – is some of the best and most euphoric hikes and hiking in Iceland. You learn not to mind the rhythm of the weather – the landscapes taking on a different guise beneath sun and rain. It is infinitely memorable.


Reynisfjara – the black sand beaches of Iceland

One of the most compellingly striking images of Iceland are those of its black sand beaches; places of ethereal grandeur formed by the erosion of black volcanic rock. Reynisfjara is perhaps the most famous of all, its horizon being the entire span of the wild Atlantic. Out to sea, you’ll spot the knife-like towers of Reynisdrangar – a monolithic splay of fingers that rise from the water.

We traversed the length of the beach by buggy – a waggon train of black-orange vehicles that purred their way through a place of such beauty that it almost escapes words. Almost.


Our hotels in Iceland

Beyond the urban oasis of Saga, we rested up at some of the best hotels in Iceland – each one curiously linked to the landscape in which it sits. Beyond our own immediate comfort, this is a necessary part of testing our trips – checking in with the staff of hotels we know and love. This included the charming Torfhus Retreat and the magnificent Sandhotel. Where the former revels in its Icelandic authenticity (a series of black, pitch-roofed huts nestled in the emerald green of the wilderness), the latter is a stylishly evocative modern ‘retreat’ in the heart of Reykjavik. A very perfect place in which to unwind and reflect after your journey into the heart of the Icelandic interior.


Final thoughts

Our journey into Iceland was comparatively energetic, adventurous; of hikes and snowmobiles and buggies. And we spent much of our time in the environs of the south and the legendary Golden Circle. There are other regions – and other ways to see and experience them. Not least this fulsome foray into the lesser-known Diamond Circle, famed for its rust-shaded lava fields and the spectacular mystique of Eyjafjord – a regular haunt for whales and dolphins. As ever with Black Tomato, the choice is yours.

Discover your own Iceland

We’ll tailor your trip entirely around you – from the ground up (even to the skies above).