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Having lived in Kiruna, northern Sweden, as a child, I thought I’d pretty much seen it all when it comes to winter in an isolated cold environment. That was until I visited Iceland in December – when I realised I’d not seen the half of it.
It may have been while I was traversing a magnificent, ancient glacier on foot, or when I was posing next to a waterfall only to find myself being peppered by spray that had turned to ice in mid-air, or even as I was standing open-mouthed in awe as a geyser fired a jet of water and steam a hundred yards into the dark mid-afternoon sky.
However, I think the realisation that Iceland is incomparable to anywhere else on the planet finally sank in when I’d spent long enough there to find it perfectly logical to sit outdoors in the geothermally heated by-product of a power station while it was minus 11!
Things to do in Iceland
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon, to give it its proper name, is a perfect example of the locals’ ability to adapt the unique landscape to their own needs. Energy pumped into Reykjavik from the nearby power station is produced by simply boring into the lava fields to release the hot water beneath. This has created an area of pools of naturally heated water, around which a spa has been built.
Locals and tourists alike find themselves braving temperatures more suited to layers of down jackets, gloves and hats in little more than a pair of speedos. The hot water and white mineral-rich sludge the locals like to cake themselves in while they bathe in the lagoon are believed to be beneficial to sufferers of skin diseases like psoriasis (and are just downright relaxing for the rest of us).
You just have to ensure you keep as much of your body as you can underwater where it’s warm. I didn’t come away from Iceland just with healthy glowing skin, however. I also discovered that it may soon have yet another attraction to add to an already lengthy list.
Italian cryptographer Giancarlo Gianazza, who has obviously been reading a bit too much of Dan Brown, claims to have found clues that point to a hidden crypt deep in Iceland’s barren southwest corner (in the improbably named Hrunamananahreppur region). His theory is that the Knights Templar made the then dangerous sea voyage to Iceland in 1217 to bury treasures plundered from the crusades far from prying eyes.
The hope of Gianazza is that the geological surveys and digging they’ve been involved in since 2004 will soon unearth a crypt housing religious artefacts, including the Holy Grail itself.
This revelation was explained matter-of-factly to me by my Icelandic guide as he pointed out the site where they are digging for the crypt. He found it amusing that a group of foreigners would brave the cold to spend their days digging for hidden treasures of Iceland’s past when all around them they could enjoy the abundant treasures of its present.
Whether they end up finding the Holy Grail or not, I know for certain I’ll be heading back to Iceland in the not too distant future because I only scratched the surface of what the country has to offer.
“Geyser” may be the only word of Icelandic that’s made it into the English language (and we manage to mispronounce it!) but the sense of pride (and fun) the locals have when introducing their incredible country to visitors quickly rubs off on you.
Discover more Iceland winter highlights with our trips below.