The tiny island nation with a population of 320,000 has long seemed off limits to all but the most intrepid, its geographic isolation and misleadingly inhospitable name giving travellers pause. But now a new wave of adventurer is discovering what’s always been true of Iceland: that this so-called land of fire and ice is, quite simply, one of the planet’s most awesome and awe-inspiring places. With many new hotel openings each year, our list of favorite properties keeps expanding giving travellers access to the most incredible experiences in a range of regions.
Just over an hour’s drive southeast from Reykjavik, the capital and gateway to active explorations, lie Hotel Ranga and Hotel Grimsborgir. These properties are great bases for exploring the valley of Thórsmörk, which takes its name from Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightening, and has proven itself as one of the country’s most popular hiking destinations. The hotels also give great access to the Golden Circle, the popular nature-tourism route through the southern part of the country, whose key stops include Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur Geysir and Thingvellir National Park, for snorkelling in crystal clear waters between tectonic plates.
The region northwest of Reykjavik is a compliment to the southeast and easily combined in an itinerary. Hotel Husafell, is well located for travellers to explore the ice tunnels on Langjokull glacier, bike alongside the whale fjord (Hvalfjörður) – so named for the significant number of whales which historically were found here – and go lava tube caving.
Northwest of Husafell is small Hotel Budir on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where birdwatchers can hike along the dramatic cliffs which are home to a multitude of nesting bird species, horseback riders can gallop on sandy beaches and hikers can tackle the spectacular mountains.
The most remote on our list of favorite properties is Deplar Farm, a luxury experience not to be missed, sits on the northern shores of Iceland surrounded by 3,000-foot peaks where heli-ski enthusiasts can ski from mountain tops to the ocean’s floor. In summer, Deplar Farm offers some of the island’s most far-flung fishing, scenic kayaking and whale watching.