Iceland's devastating beauty: An ever-changing landscape

The Devastating Beauty of Iceland


In 100 years Iceland will certainly be a very different landscape, say experts.

The country lies right on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and, around 56 million years ago, this began to split apart. So the land is quite literally slowly being ripped at the seams.That's why there are volcanoes there.

See also: This video of Iceland will make you want to go there right now

See also: How to drive in Iceland

In fact, the whole of Iceland is made from volcanoes. These lie under glaciers, and when volcanoes erupt under glaciers, they are more explosive.

The largest and most destructive event in the past 1,000 years occurred in 1783, when an eruption produced and ash cloud that blocked the sun, killing at least a quarter of the population of Iceland.

This ash cloud produced the 'year without summer' in Europe.

Climate change has had a very strong impact on Iceland: glaciers are retreating visibly every year. We don't know quite how long there is left but within the next 100 -200 years there will be no glaciers left in Iceland.

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Iceland's devastating beauty: An ever-changing landscape

One of the first things people ask you when you come back from somewhere like Iceland is: "Did you see the Northern Lights?" The answer on this trip was yes, we did. Kind of. Our superhero action-man tour guide Ellert stood outside with us at the rural southern Iceland hotel that was home for two nights, Hotel Hekla, and kept watch for any signs of a night light display. And we definitely caught sight of the aurora borealis, although the effects on the camera were more vivid than the real-life show. Whether you see traces of the lights or a full-on green extravaganza is all down to luck, really. But, whichever way, it's still an amazing experience - and a good test of your photographic skills.

It's essential that you don't miss a dip in the mineral-rich hot water of the Blue Lagoon. Its fine silica mud conditions and exfoliates your skin, and buckets of the complexion-boosting sludge are placed around the lagoon to be used as a face mask. There's also a cool swim-up bar, a natural sauna and steam room, and amazing views. Located in the Svartsengi Resource Park and powered by geothermal energy, it's one of the most popular attractions in Iceland, with over 400,000 visitors a year. Entry is £25 per person, visit bluelagoon.is

Take a drive along the new south coast road to the lobster house of Fjorubordid for an unforgettable dinner. Located in the coastal village of Stokkseyri, it's a hotspot for Icelanders, and many Reykjavikians trek all the way there just for tea. It's easy to see why. There's no menu, you're simply served the starter and main for the evening, and we had lobster soup followed by lobster tails in garlic with warm, crusty bread and delicious sauces. It's sociable, get-your-hands-dirty fare that tastes utterly fantastic. Prices start at £22 for three people. Visit fjorubordid.is

There's food highlight after food highlight on a trip to Iceland, but never was a lunch so fitting - or more appreciated - than the warming, traditional bowl of Kjötsúpa (lamb soup/stew) at Gulfosskaffi after viewing the stunning Gulfoss Waterfall. The natural beauty of the water feature will blow you away, but, boy, is it cold - and the post-viewing authentic bowl of soup is the perfect tonic.

Just getting to the Langjökull Glacier through stretches of  stubborn, knee-deep snow is an adventure in itself. Once there, the very capable men from Mountaineers (mountaineers.is) will have you dressed in your boiler suit and helmet in no time, before giving you a quick demonstration on how to use a snowmobile. Then you're off. Quite literally, in some cases. The machines are reasonably heavy but the experience of shooting across the vast expanse of the glacier is nothing less than awesome.

Mountaineers of Iceland offers a one-hour snowmobiling trip on the Langjökull Glacier, including a Superjeep ride up to the glacier, Golden Circle tour (Gulfoss Waterfall, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park) and pick up and drop off to the hotel in Reykjavik for £182 per person. Book at mountaineers.is.

On the way from Hotel Hekla to snowmobiling at the Langjökull Glacier, we stopped off at Geysir, where we witnessed shooting towers of water from a number of geysers. It's a strange and inspiring sight but, be warned, the sulphur creates a rather pungent smell…

You might have heard the description 'ice blue', but the almost-turquoise colour of the landscape at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon on Iceland’s south coast is awe-inspiring. Jökulsárlón, which is 160 metres deep, lies at the base of the Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland’s largest ice cap which, in some places, is a kilometre thick. It's been the backdrop for a host of movie locations, with scenes from Die Another Day, Batman Begins and Tomb Raider being shot here.The journey to Jökulsárlón goes through some of Iceland’s most spectacular landscape, affording magnificent camera opportunities at the likes of the Skogarfoss waterfall, the black sand beach of Reynisfjara and the Skaftafell National Park.

Reynisfjara is a striking beach of black volcanic rock, that sits on the western side of the Reynisfjall ridge. Stacks of basalt columns sit on the black sand, which is surrounded by cliffs scattered with caves and wildlife.

The pure charm of Reykjavik will bowl you over; from its fizzing mix of cute gingerbread-style buildings to its endless array of museums, galleries, basement cafés and live music bars - all flanked by a stunning mountain backdrop - it's a pretty special city break. Head to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja Church - the tallest and largest church in Iceland with a 75-metre steeple - for magnificent views over the city (pictured). Stop in at the Settlement Museum for a trip down Viking memory lane, and have a coffee at a bohemian bistro/bar like Kaffibarinn, part owned by Damon Albarn. Grab yourself a Reykjavik Welcome Card, which costs £12 and gets you into many of the city's attractions. And for a modern, affordable hotel, lay your head down at the Radisson Blu 1919. See visitreykjavic.is

The Grillmarkaðurinn (Grill Market) is one of Reykjavik’s newest  - and most innovative - restaurants. Apart from the whale option (no need), the traditional Icelandic menu with a modern twist throws you into a deciding dilemma. The design is inspired by Icelandic nature with moss, basalt columns and fish skin used as decorations, and the general experience leaves you feeling like you stumbled across a really cool secret.Main courses start at £19, book at info@grillmarkadurinn.is or call (+354) 571 7777.

While you're in Reykjavik, definitely make a pit stop at the new Harpa Concert and Conference Hall. Its disco facade comes courtesy of artist Olafur Eliasson, and it houses four halls for music, as well as a lovely coffee shop with a breathtaking mountain vista. The £90m building definitely stands out from the rest of the rustic-looking city, and is well worth a peek.

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