Iceland - A Legend Come to Life
There is perhaps no nation on earth as alive with geothermal energy, proud culture, and ancient mythology as Iceland. With the assistance of the perfect local guide, an extraordinary day exploring the natural wonders of the Icelandic landscape is an ideal way to first become acquainted with this fascinating destination.
There are times when exploring Iceland feels more like discovering a new planet than it does discovering a new country. An otherworldly atmosphere pervades this island of endless diversity and seeming contradictions, with each new discovery beckoning further exploration. The landscape is alive with geothermal activity, resulting in vast moss-covered lava fields, steaming mineral pools in a surprising variety of colors, and geysers releasing their pressure high into the sky. Far from being defined only by this subterranean energy, Iceland is also characterized by the chilling subarctic latitudes it inhabits.
This is the land of fire and ice, where natural forces pull both directions from the center to create a coexistence of immense heat and biting cold. Here it is possible to witness the midnight sun shining brilliantly over the landscape in summertime, and the exceedingly long winter night illuminated by the wondrous Aurora Borealis. Where else on earth could you explore an ancient and imposing glacier by morning, then spend an afternoon scuba diving in some of the purest waters on earth through the chasm of the continental plate divide where Europe and North America are being forcibly, but ever so slowly, wrenched apart? Iceland is a nation set apart from all others with endless possibilities for exploration, adventure, and unique experiences offered nowhere else.
To properly explore the wonders of Iceland, on a recent visit I hired the services of an expert local guide whose insights and passions were an excellent window into this intriguing country. Gunnar was uncommonly tall and broad, with a mane of thick red hair and a full beard that appeared as much a permanent protection against the chilling climate as it did an expression of any fashion. Perhaps knowing how strikingly he called to mind the quintessential image of a Viking, one of the first things that Gunnar shared as we began our tour was how the Icelandic language was proven by linguists to be the closest to the ancient Nordic tongue of any language still spoken today. Gunnar then proceeded to give me a sample of his lyrical and resonant Icelandic, and afterwards – with a brief sparkle in his eye – invited me to try to recreate his pronunciations. I gathered immediately this was a favorite good-natured trick of Gunnar’s, and as I tried to wrap my tongue around the beautiful but entirely foreign syllables he laughed with me at the clumsiness of my best attempts.
We set out along the fabled Golden Circle to behold some of the most striking and exciting sights that are accessible by daytrip from the capital city of Reykjavik. From the thundering majesty of the Gullfoss Waterfall, to the solemn beauty of Thingvellir - where the democracy was first established in Iceland over a thousand years ago - every destination had a mystique and an energy that was undeniable in its resonance. Gunnar and I drove onward, away from the well-travelled route and up onto the ethereally blue ice of a highland glacier, which proved the common adage that Iceland experiences four seasons in a day. We endured a sudden blizzard that came quickly down upon us from what had been only moments before a clear July sky. While I hastened to bundle up against the cold, Gunnar kept walking unperturbed in his lighter summer apparel until the storm passed and the sun shone once more.
Every new vista in Iceland is a feast for the eyes - inspiring and beautiful. What I remember most from my Icelandic adventure with Gunnar are the stories and commentary he shared as we moved through this stunning and varied landscape. Passing the occasional small herds of local ponies and sheep, it was Gunnar’s recounting of the myths and legends of Iceland that truly brought the countryside to life. There didn’t seem to be a rock formation or a field that lacked in deep significance and, indeed, I would soon learn just how much life existed even in what looked to be empty stretches of land.
The first time Gunnar pointed out one of the areas on our route that was known to be inhabited by elves, I assumed this was yet another example of his humor that I had come to know throughout the day. I grinned at the suggestion, but was met by the earnest gaze of a modern-day Viking who was clearly not making a joke. It took only a moment’s clarification for Gunnar to assure me that he was entirely serious, and I would later learn that in a recent survey over fifty percent of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. Intrigued and fascinated, I pressed for more insights into these unseen residents of the local landscape and soon our journey was enlivened by folklore surrounding the legendary “Huldufolk”, or “Hidden People”. As Gunnar shared his stories, the already surreal landscape of unique rock formations we passed on our travels transformed into the dwelling places of these ancient inhabitants of Iceland. Indeed, even the very shape of the road we travelled was revealed to have been carefully built so as not to disturb any elven dwellings – a common practice in this country that blurs the line between myth and reality.
As Gunnar continued to guide me through the mysterious landscape of his homeland, and as I became increasingly steeped in the legends and lore of Iceland, I could almost have convinced myself that I could see elven figures darting just out sight when we came too near. In a place so otherworldly, and in the company of a proud Icelander who would swear to it, how could I say for sure that such a thing as elves didn't exist in this land of enchantment? Certainly if elves live anywhere, the wondrous nation of Iceland is where such creatures would choose to reside.
Kellyn Reed is the founder and CEO of Summit and Horizon Travel, specializing in curating authentic and luxurious global journeys to help you discover the very best the world has to offer. Ready to start planning your next amazing adventure? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to bring your ideal trip to life, and take advantage of our exclusive access to insider rates, perks, insights, and inclusions. We'll take care of every detail to ensure every vacation with us is your best vacation yet!