Matador editor-at-large Paul Sullivan treats us to some of his landscape shots from the fascinating country of Iceland.
Highway No. 1 - A Road Through Nature
Iceland's main road (the "1") is around 800 miles long and circles the entire country. Since there is very little traffic on this island of 300,000 souls, not to mention a distinct lack of vegetation and wildlife, much of the time there's just the country's majestic nature - lava fields, glaciers, streams, lakes, and huge lichen-covered mountains - for company.
Northern Lights at Snaefellsnes
If you're lucky you might even see the famous Northern Lights (aurora borealis). This photo was taken on a trip around the Snaefellsnes glacier, one of the most stunning areas of Iceland and just a 2-3 hour drive out of Reykjavik.
Mountain and Horses, Snaefellsnes
Another scene from Snaefellsnes, this time taken during sunset. Due to its low population, much of Iceland is quintessentially rural, though with a crazy volcanic twist that makes the landscapes highly distinctive and memorable. Ever seen sheep or horses grazing peacefully in a lunar-style lava field? You will here…
Speaking of horses, the Icelandic breed is world famous. They're generally small - pony-sized in fact - and have special gaits. Fun fact: laws prevent animals from being imported to Iceland or returning to the country after they've been exported.
Another very special (and largely under-acknowledged) area in Iceland are the Westfjords. The oldest part of the island geologically, they've developed a unique community. Travel up here can be tough due to the deep, winding fjords. On the upside you'll often feel like you're driving through a fairy tale.
A great time to visit the Westfjords is in April or May when there's still a good chance of snow on the mountains, but when the roads are generally clear (they can be closed off during winter). Snow-based activities in the area include ice fishing, snowmobiling, and spontaneous snowman making.
The Westfjords region has generally been in decline since WWII and the fall-off of the fishing industries. Yet the tourist infrastructure is excellent and though many residents literally abandoned their houses and moved to Reykjavik for work, many others have kept second homes here.
In harsher weather you can see and feel how bleak the Westfjords (and other remote parts of Iceland) can be. Yet even foreboding skies, whiplash winds, and driving rain can't strip the country of its inherent and often unexpected beauty. The dominant forces of nature are felt everywhere.
Akureyri & Bluebells
On the other hand, Iceland is an absolute delight in summer. Contrary to popular belief, it's not cold during spring, summer, or even (sometimes) autumn. In fact, temperatures are generally at European levels, give or take a few degrees. But don't forget that the farther north you go, the less nighttime you're going to get. Akureyri (pictured here from across the fjord), is the second largest city after Reykjavik with 10,000 inhabitants. It's a popular place due to its exquisite setting, nearby whale-watching tours (in Husavik), and proximity to major natural attractions such as Lake Myvatn.
Akureyri Coast, Lundey Island
The coastline in Iceland's north is fascinating with its strange mix of luminous green lichen, steep cliffs, and sky-wide vistas. This shot was taken near Husavik, one of the great whale-watching centers of the world. In the background is Lundey Island, home to a multitude of bird life including puffins, black guillemots, fulmars, and arctic terns.
Lake Myvatn, an hour or so from Akureyri, is one of Iceland's most beautiful and mysterious areas. A mesmerizing array of lava lakes, bubbling geothermal areas, and volcanic craters, it's unlikely you'll forget a trip here in a hurry. It really is like paying a visit to the moon (well, presumably. And with a bit more water).
To the east of the Myvatn area lies the formidable Hverfjall. A kilometer in circumference, this looming black volcanic crater was formed around 2,500 years ago.
A wider view of Hverfjall takes in grazing horses, parts of Lake Myvatn, a snow-capped glacier, and the region's famed geothermal resources, which power the Myvatn Nature Baths - or the northern Blue Lagoon as it's known. This thoroughly modern spa area (see the building with the blue roof) has mineral-rich geothermal water, a cafeteria, three natural steam baths, and a 5000-sq.-meter geothermal bathing pool maintained at a constant temperature of 38-40ºC. Sploosh.
HverarÃ¶nd Geo Thermal Region
You can also see the bizarre formations created by that geothermal activity up close at Hverarönd, a collection of bubbling sulfuric mud, clay springs, and steaming rocks. Remember what I was saying about the lack of darkness in summer? This photo was taken at 11pm.