Iceland’s unprecedented growth as a tourism darling has captured the world’s attention. Over the past decade, no land has intrigued more adventurers and nature lovers in a faster outcome than this pristine land of fire and ice, once a remote and isolated place. With its volcanoes and geothermal heat, glaciers and glacial lagoons, the country is a bit mysterious and a lot beautiful, which makes it a powerful draw. Travelers to Iceland more than tripled between 2012 and 2018*. A trip there is nothing less than memorable at a minimum; many vacationers rated their Icelandic getaway transformer. Whether you’ve already landed at Keflavík International Airport or have yet to experience the inspiring energy of this unique terrain, quench your wheelchair traveler’s thirst for wanderlust now by diving into the illuminating hardcover of 256 pages. Stunning Iceland: The Hedonist’s Guidewritten by Bertrand Jouane with evocative photographs of Gunnar Freyr. It is published this month by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins.
“Iceland is located just south of the Arctic Circle, between North America and mainland Europe, a place many would describe as the edge of the world,” author Jouanne begins in the book’s introduction. “Puzzling and paradoxical, this isolated island of just over thirty-eight thousand square miles was created from the convergence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and a huge amount of magma that erupted from its fault in the seabed, about twenty million years ago.. The last eruption occurred in March 2021 and lasted more than six months.
Yes, Iceland is still transforming in myriad ways: the active volcanic landscape; a growing commitment to environmental conservation; an incipient hyper-connectivity with the world at large; and an influx of immigrants.
Yet the draw that draws travelers the most – to the unspoiled windswept coastlines and serene mountain peaks, to the Blue Lagoon and Dettifoss waterfall, to the refreshing cultural events and heartwarming artistic gatherings – is the Iceland’s distinctive and independent vibe. Weird sometimes too. After all, Norse mythology is greeted with enthusiasm, filled with stories of mischievous trolls. It is the home of the inimitable Björk, world famous singer-songwriter. Especially in Reykjavik, its capital, a new breath of youthful vitality and vigor is rising – evidence of a new generation of chefs fusing modern flavors with local ingredients; bakers serving pastries to the rhythm of rock music; business-impacting entrepreneurs and inventors; organic farmers are changing the mindset of consumers; and hospitality mavens erecting boutique hotels and ecolodges. A prime example: Set in the middle of a lush, moss-covered lava field, the Blue Lagoon Retreat, built in 2018 near Grindavik, is a secluded and ultra-relaxing 62-room haven, overlooking a mineral-rich geothermal lagoon. “Massages can be practiced in the water to provide an intoxicating effect of weightlessness”, notes Jouanne. Its underground spa and its two restaurants (one is called Lava, the other Moss) are excellent. “Moss is led by a chef who takes his guests on a journey of Icelandic cuisine.”
Jouanne organizes the book to reflect the very different regions of Iceland, within which he maps essential travel skills; outlines revealing driving routes; profiles dynamic actors who make positive contributions; responds to local concerns and achievements; and indicates what is best and brightest. To absorb the most joy from Stunning Iceland, enjoy it as a fantasy escape. Make yourself comfortable, explore the pages; let yourself dream. Jouanne and Freyr take readers on wild journeys to waterfalls, rivers, fjords, glaciers, lava fields, calderas, canyons, ravines and plateaus. Also featured are Freyr’s bird’s-eye images, taken from the sky for a section called “Flying Over a Unique World”, which reveals rare glimpses of wild and nearly impenetrable parts of the island. It’s a treat for sure. Favorite tourist must-sees on the ground? Hikes on scenic trails and bathing in hot springs.
Stunning wildlife: See blue whales, killer whales, sheep, seals, white furry arctic fox and many species of birds.
Icelandic horses are as small as a pony in stature, but big in beauty. “Originally from Norway, explains Jouanne, this thoroughbred arrived with the first settlers and has never been crossed with another species for over a thousand years. Every summer, hundreds of these horses are released from farms to roam free, mingle and raise their offspring. Then, in September, the owners get together to sort and bring their horses home. This Laufskálarétt tradition is cherished as part of the many Icelandic folk festivals.
Fishing in Iceland is a refined feat; its fleet is one of the most efficient in the world, catching herring, haddock, plaice, redfish, blue whiting and the ever-growing cod. Every June since 1941, the town of Petró has celebrated a four-day sea festival.
“In the space of thirty years, says Jouanne, Icelandic cuisine has undergone a real revolution. If traditional recipes still have a privileged place on the island’s plates, its new cuisine, powered by young creative chefs, has some nice surprises in store. One of these stars is Chief Gisli Matt, which cultivates several of its own products and announces the precepts of the Slow Food movement. “The country has become the scene of an astonishing gastronomic revolution,” continues Jouanne. “Hungry for new experiences, Icelanders have transformed the disadvantage of their geographical position into an asset… the purity of local and seasonal products as an asset is undeniable.”
Jouanne leads readers through picturesque fishing villages; past farms, trading posts and lighthouses; and in maritime and art museums.
One of the many surprises: sensational surfers looking to conquer icy waves in the harsh weather northern fjords. “The tougher the conditions, the more intense the experience,” Jouanne says of the men and women “who represent boldness and strength…It’s their way of facing extremes and adversity. “.
For those who are much less daring, but who are delighted to be amazed, “the northern lights, which cover the [winter night] sky with their exquisite and surreal moving curtains, are followed by a symphony of spectacular colors during the late hours,” says Jouanne. “From late August to mid-April, festivals celebrate the Northern Lights, whose reflection in the waters and on the ice is an unforgettable sight.”
Jouanne and Freyr elegantly and honestly captured the beating heart of Iceland.
Note from Manske: *The current population of Iceland is approximately 355,000. In 2012, it welcomed 672,773 visitors; in 2018, the number of visitors rose to 2,342,241 – an incredible increase which then fell precipitously due to the economic downturn and the global pandemic. In 2018, tourism revenue accounted for 42% of the Icelandic economy. This nation – filled with wonder and wanderlust – is now aiming for a more thoughtful approach to tourism and development.
For online access to trip planning: contact Visit Iceland.