5 reasons to travel to East Iceland
Award-winning travel writer and photographer, Will Gray travelled to Iceland with Discover the World in September 2015 focusing on the wonders of East Iceland. Find out what he thought of one of the country’s most spectacular and lesser visited regions.
So, what exactly are the highlights of East Iceland? Curious to find out more, I recently spent a week exploring the enigmatic East Fjords. Here are five good reasons I found to book those direct flights for next year…
1. Some of Europe’s best hiking
The East Fjords are right up there amongst the finest walking locations in Europe. One day you could be leaving fresh tracks on deserted black-sand beaches strewn with driftwood, the next you could be following reindeer trails deep into mountains, scrambling amongst glacier-tumbled boulders or setting your sights on a spectacular horsetail-plume waterfall. I spent a day hiking in Borgarfjordur Eystri in the north of the region, but there are enough mountain and coastal trails here to easily fill a week if you’re a keen walker. The local hiking guides are excellent – they’ll put a spring in your step with intriguing insights into geology, wildlife and folklore.
It has that same heady mix of wild shore and rugged hinterland – in this case dramatic mountains etched with ancient lava flows – that’s constantly tempting you to pull over and gawk.
2. A world-class coastal drive
There were times while touring the East Fjords that I was reminded of other great coastal drives, like South Africa’s Chapman’s Peak Drive or California’s Pacific Coast Highway. It has that same heady mix of wild shore and rugged hinterland – in this case dramatic mountains etched with ancient lava flows – that’s constantly tempting you to pull over and gawk. Hugging the crinkle-cut coast, the road joins the dots between a succession of small fishing villages like Seydisfjordur and Djupivogur. Each one has a small, characterful hotel or two, making it a doddle – as well as a dawdle – to self-drive through this region.
3. A backdoor to the Highlands
No visit to Iceland is complete without experiencing the rugged interior – and the East Fjords offers a particularly interesting gateway. You can drive yourself if you have a 4WD vehicle, but I joined a guided superjeep safari from Egilsstaðir – one long thrill ride across volcano-pimpled plains right to the edge of the 8,100km2 Vatnajökull icecap. To walk up to this brooding monolith in the frozen heart of Europe’s largest wilderness is a thrilling and humbling experience. If you book just one excursion in East Iceland, make sure this is it.
4. Fine food and quirky culture
Raised on herb-speckled mountain slopes in the East Fjords, Icelandic lamb comes ready flavoured, while freshly caught cod – straight from the fishing boats – just melts in your mouth. I also enjoyed superb vegetarian dishes at Vallanes, an organic farm near Egilsstasir. Seydisfjordur, meanwhile, has one of Iceland’s best sushi restaurants. It’s also the cultural heart of the East Fjords with a thriving arts scene. Elsewhere, you can trace the region’s maritime history at some excellent museums.
5. Some great excuses for slow travel
East Iceland slows you down. The views are constantly vying for attention and the pace of life is relaxed. To explore the region properly, you’ll need more than a couple of days. One of the highlights of my trip was a day horse riding in Breiddalur, lazily making our way along the magnificent valley, wading through trout streams and climbing to secret waterfalls. Next time I’m in the East Fjords I’d like to lavish a day or two on sea kayaking, nosing about the fjords, looking for seals and puffins.
All images © Will Gray
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