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It’s been a tough year for various reasons. I don’t think I need to elaborate, right? So when the opportunity came along, and two vaccines later, we hopped on a flight to Iceland. This time was my third, and guess what- I’ll go again. I simply love Iceland, so I’m biased. I love the vistas, the food, the ease, nature…

First time in Iceland, I rented a car (manual shift, mind you), and encircled the island in approx 12 days. Other times, I stayed for up to a week. Each visit had its own character.

So here are a few of my favorite Icelandic things. Please note that in no way the following is a limited list. There are many more places, foods, and things to see, do, and experience- it would make you scroll down endlessly should I list everything I’ve tried and enjoyed (and I didn’t even mention the horses, sheep, black sand beaches, and more). So, if you’re going to Iceland- you’ll have to figure out your interest priorities, distances and time. Also- allow some time with no plans at all- just driving around or hiking/walking, meeting locals, and bumping into an event you didn’t know about. Let the opportunities happen on their own. Of the pointers listed, the ones with two stars, are my absolute favorites. At the end of this post, see some practical info about visiting Iceland, Covid, etc’.

All photos were taken by me (or hubby), unless otherwise noted. Click photos for bigger image.

Typical views when driving in the country

See and Do

Volcanoes. Known as the land of ice and fire, there are glaciers, alongside of approximately 130 volcanoes in Iceland, active and inactive. The volcanism of Iceland comes from the fact that the country sits directly across the Mid Atlantic Ridge. This ridge separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and since the tectonic plates are divergent, magma rises to fill the space between them in the form of volcanic eruptions.

  • ** Fagradalsfjall volcano. As you exit the Keflavik airport, the swirly smoke rising from Fagradalsfjall can be seen 25 km (15 miles) away. The Fagradalsfjall volcano decided to fully erupt in March 2021. Of course we had to see it up close, and so do you. A day before our return, we drove to the site, parked the car, and started our 90 min hike up the mountain. Of course it can be done quicker, depending on your fitness level (or just take a helicopter tour). The path is clearly marked, and you’ll see other hikers on your way. Getting closer, one starts hearing the volcano whispers and rustles, and then… the view, the magnitude. The lava erupts every 10 minutes or so. It is an amazing site, not to be missed. Visiting this volcano is best on a day when the wind is low. Strongly suggested are good hiking shoes, layers of clothes (for both warm weather and cold, or wet), snacks, water, and you better not forget your camera. Eruption clip here. Note- if you’re bringing a drone- watch out: some got the treatment Icarus got (aka: melt).
  • * Kerið Crater. Located in the Golden Circle area, on Rt 35. A beautiful, serene blue volcano crater lake contrasting the red volcano rock around it and some of the greenery moss and plants. Pay 400 ISK (~$3.5) and walk around the lake, then climb down to the lake.
  • Eldfell volcano. Eldfell volcano, situated in Heimaey, the biggest of the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) off the mainland, and the one inhabited. Eldfell volcano came to international attention in 1973 with a devastating eruption which began without warning, destroyed many homes and caused for a mass evacuation. Today, the 200 meters (660 ft) tall volcanic cone of Eldfell is a nice (steep) climb up, with great vistas of Heimaey and the port, as well as the many shades of volcanic red soil and rocks.
Heimaey seen from the top of Eldfell Volcano
  • Viti Crater. Located near lake Myvatn in Northern Iceland. A huge crater, about 300 metres in diameter. The crater was formed during a massive volcanic eruption, and now filled with magnificent blue water.
Viti Crater near lake Myvatn in Northern Iceland. 

Gaysir and Strokkur. If you’ve been to Old Faithful (Wyoming, USA), then you’d know what Geysir (the original name for geyser) is all about. Gaysir and Strokkur share the same thermal field along the Golden Circle, but the original geysir is now dormant. Yet its brother Strokkur will spout water and steam every 6-10 minutes. Strokkur is a fountain geyser, which means it erupts from a pool of water

Beautiful pool just before the geyser eruption

** Waterfalls. If you circle the whole island, I promise you’ll see many waterfalls along the way, some more popular than others. Allow yourself to get off the ring road and explore the less touristic ones.

A detour off the ring road to see another small waterfall. Not even sure of its name. Lovely
Stunning Goðafoss in northern Iceland

** Kvernufoss. Waterfall that is half-hidden away in a gorge in South Iceland, yet very close to the ring-road. It is located on the east side of the popular Skógafoss waterfall.

Kvernufoss, Iceland
Kvernufoss, Iceland
Faxafoss, Iceland
Faxafoss, Iceland

** Glaciers. More than 10% of Iceland is covered by glaciers and there are many tour companies that’ll take you on a glacier tour. Just off the ring road (Rt 1), as we were circling the island, we stopped at Jökulsárlón glacial lake. You can walk around, take in the magnificent (yet sad) views of the blue waters dotted with broken chunks of icebergs. On the spot, we decided to take a zodiac boat tour to see part of the glacier. Amazing!!

Jökulsárlón Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Lagoon
Ok, this is a funny one, but that’s what they make you wear before heading to the glacier. Jökulsárlón Lagoon

** Thermal hot pools. I’m sure by now- everybody has heard of the ever popular Blue Lagoon, right beside Keflavik airport. With so many tourists just stopping over in Iceland for the day, the Blue Lagoon expanded their facility. Well, three times in Iceland, and I chose NOT to go there. Instead, we have opted for the local geothermal pools, where Icelanders go. If you have not been to one of those- its as if you have not really been to Iceland. Dipping in the thermal waters is a big part of Iceland’s culture, and locals enjoy the pools everyday, every season. Almost every town has at least one of those. Some of the pools are expensive and luxurious, while others are local and reasonably priced. Some are totally free, as they are spread out in nature, in many places, and you can look them up. A word: rules of hygiene are taken very seriously with regard to the pools and all visitors are required to shower thoroughly without a swimsuit before entering the water.

  • Vesturbæjarlaug. Not far from The Pond in Reykjavik. Locals and international students fill the hot baths of this geothermal pool. We loved the atmosphere and came here several times, to enjoy the hot baths, sauna and steam room. Entrance is 1600 ISK ($8.5). When you’re done with the pool, all clean, soft and tired, head across the street to a cute and cozy cafe, for a nice cappuccino and pastry or soup, at Cafe Vesturbæjar.
  • Laugarvatn Fontana. Along the Golden Circle and bit more upscale, this pool has magnificent views of Lake Laugarvatn, along with a steam room and saunas. Also a cute cafe for all your beer and coffee needs. A word: I recommend renting out their robe (not just a towel). Even in summer, it can be quite cold out of the pool, so a robe does a great job of keeping you warm. If you’re adventurous, act as the locals: they go into the lake for an icy swim, and from there- straight into the sauna, and the hot bath. Another cool feature here, is that since the facilities are part of an active natural geothermal area, for a small fee you can join a short tour that shows how they actually bake rye bread in the boiling ground.
Sleek lakefront thermal pool, Laugarvatn Fontana
Sleek lakefront thermal pool, Laugarvatn Fontana
  • Mývatn Nature Baths. One of my favorite geothermal pools in Iceland, located about an hour drive, east of Akureyri, in North Iceland. After a long ride (when encircling the island) it’s such a treat to enjoy those hot, blue mineral waters. After your long refreshing dip in Mývatn, head over (by car) to Vogafjós, a cute farm-restaurant-cafe for a fresh meal made of excellent ingredients, and good coffee (and you get to see some happy cows).
Mývatn Nature Baths, Northern Iceland. Photo credit: Judy Shacham
Mývatn Nature Baths, Northern Iceland. Photo credit: Judy Shacham
  • Sky Lagoon. Ok, I admit, this is a fancy shmancy pool, 10 min car ride from Reykjavik, trying to compete with the Blue Lagoon. Since it opened just a month before my arrival, and its brand new, and it’s much cheaper than the other one, we decided to try it. We were lucky as the pool was at 75% capacity, which means it wasn’t so crowded. With an in-lagoon swim-up bar, sanuas, steam room, salt rub, and best of all- an amazing view of the ocean, I won’t lie- it was exceptional.

Churches. If you love architecture, or monumental buildings, you’re in for a treat.

** Hallgrimskirkja. The famous largest church in Iceland, and the most central one in Reykjavik, for you can see from almost anywhere, and never lose your way. It’s worth going into the church and checking its massive space inside, as well as paying the fee and going up the elevator to see the city. If you’re lucky (or just check in advance) you’ll attend a vocal concert in the church.

Reykjavik from up above- Hallgrimskirkja

Urban and Rural

Reykjavik, Akureyri. Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland, and Akureyri is sometimes called the capital of the north. While the latter is smaller, they are both fun to explore, eat, visit the art scene (museums, galleries, and outdoor arts), enjoy a festival, walk and check the little stores and colorful houses. In Reykjavik, it was fun taking an introductory walking tour with a guide.

Little Towns around Iceland. Get the feel of how Icelanders live, and enjoy some of the most beautiful places.

Restaurants and food.

I’ve already mentioned above some of the restaurants near some of our favorite places. There’s good food everywhere, and in Reykjavik there are many choices (including Nepalese, Moroccan, Japanese, etc). It’s hard to decide between all of them, but here are a few more:

** Geitfall Seafood Restaurant. If you’re driving around the island, when at the northern part of the island at least one restaurant is worth the detour. It’s a long detour so calculate your schedule. Usually they are closed for winter, so before you go, check to see if they are open. I had one of the best fish soups, made from freshly caught fish. The scenery is pretty spectacular too- kind of wild.

** Cafe Loki. Time and again we go back to that cafe and it’s never disappointing. It’s in Reykjavik, smack across the big church. Not to miss: Icelandic meat soup which is the traditional soup you’d find across Iceland- basically made from lamb and veggies. Also try their Skyr cake with cream & rhubarb syrup. Skyr is the local yogurt (kinda).

*Sæta Svínið Gastropub. For one of the best slow cooked lamb shanks (cooked for 12 hours). This place tends to fill up quickly, so try and make reservation, or arrive early. Reykjavik.

** Cafe Floran. Tucked away from the touristic center, the botanical gardens are a relaxed haven, and more so is this cute, cozy cafe, with good light fare using the plants and herbs of their greenhouses. Reykjavik.

Tranquility at Cafe Floran, Botanical Gardens
  • Reykjavik Art Museum Cafe. What’s better than combining art and food? Enjoy a stroll in the museum to learn about Icelandic artists, and then enjoy good pastries and coffee, or salad…
Currently on exhibit Eggert Pétursson

** The Soup Company. Back to traveling. On the ring road, when visiting the black sand beaches of Iceland, go into Vik and check out this cute, scenic town, and in it, this cute, tasty soup restaurant. Not only are their soups so delicious, but they refill the soups for free!! We had the hot red lava soup that’s served inside their homemade whole loaf of black bread, and the meat soup. We also had good desserts and tasty local beer.

Red Hot Lava Soup

** Slippurinn. Should you decide to venture out of the mainland into the island of Heimaey, to try and spot some puffins, climb the volcano, or just hangout with sheep, be sure to reserve your spot here. Located in an old fish processing factory, Slippurinn serves dishes made with produce from locals, as well as wild plants foraged on the island. Unique dishes and drinks, such as Lovage.

Lovage

Practicalities.

Flight

Iceland is now open for vaccinated tourists, but you should always check the most updated info, as the list of countries they are allowing in- changes. Make sure to have your vaccine card, and that the second dose vaccine was taken at least 28 days before your flight. Better make a photo of your (and your group’s) vaccine cards.

Within 72 hours before your flight, you need to pre-register every member of your group.

You must wear a mask during your flight, unless eating.

If your flight attendant offers you a sleeping eye mask- take it. You may need it in Iceland 🙂

Upon landing in Iceland,  you will need to undergo one screening test for COVID at the border but are exempt from quarantine if the test is negative.

US tourists: within 72 hours of your flight back home you must get a negative covid PCR test in order to be allowed on the flight. In Reykjavik, it is very easy and fast. Make an appointment online for each person in your group a day or two before.

Car

Renting a car is a must if you want to be independent and reach places outside of Reykjavik. We had very good experience with Blue Car Rental, as well as with Procar. Since we knew we were going to use the car not just on main roads but also on dirt roads (every detour from the main road is usually a gravel road), we added a full coverage insurance.

Be aware that at times, especially on high places, there are very strong winds, so make sure when you step out of your car to hold tight to the door and close it. We’ve heard of car doors that were ripped away, and the insurance didn’t cover this damage.

Also don’t be tempted to drive faster than the legal speed. Police is out there even if you don’t see them, and you will be fined.

If you’re planning on encircling the island, make sure you have at least 12 days, so that you don’t find yourself driving for hours without having the time to enjoy the places along the way and at your destinations.

Accomodations

We stayed at hotels, hostels, Bed and Breakfasts, AirBnB, mountain cabins, and even a Mongolian yurt. They were each very clean, some more stylish, some more rustic, with/without breakfast- but each had its own character. In one of our visits in Reykjavik we had fun staying in a Hostel (btw- they also have private rooms), where we met people from around the world and had very nice conversations. That’s all the fun!!

Valhalla Yurts. We had the most special stay in a yurt in the midst of the golden circle. Our hosts were super nice, informative, and they spoiled us not only with breakfast, but also with pastries every evening. The yurt is stylish, cozy and colorful, and accommodated 3 adults.

Guesthouse 1×6. On one of our visits, we returned the rental car in Reykjavik, and the last day and night- spent in a cute guest house in Keflavik. The breakfast was so good, and they had their own private hot bath outside. The host took us the next morning to the airport to catch our flight.

Icelandic Summer

We’ve visited only during summers so far. On our last visit, the day we landed, we experienced 4 seasons in one day: we had hail, snow, rain, wind and warm sun. The trick is to wear layers, as well as bring a thin rain jacket, hoping you won’t need it. On the northern part, and higher places, it would get windier and colder, so bring a hat. Don’t forget your swimsuit.

Summer means long hours of light. Mid May, the sunset was at 11:00 pm, and even after that it wasn’t completely dark. Sunrise was around 4:00 am. It’s fun, cause you get energy to do and see more things, no need to rush so much. Having said that, if you like to sleep earlier, make sure to draw the curtains, and if they still allow some light in… use the sleep mask you got in the airplane.

Now that Iceland is open for tourists and especially this summer, I expect there will be many tourists. We were lucky to be there just now, after Iceland’s opening but before the masses. We had all of the different attractions almost to ourselves. May is also considered off season, so prices are cheaper. If you’re thinking to visit sometime in the future, see if you can go in May.

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I discovered khichdi while attending a week long yoga-meditation retreat, where we barely ate anything but khichdi, which was light on the stomach, yet fulfilling and soothing. Ever since, I’ve been making it often, as it is super easy to make, my family loves it, and it’s very comforting.

Usually this Indian dish, typically a porridge like consistency, is made of rice and lentils, but I’m trying to cut the rice out. My khichdi is made with quinoa and lentils, but you can easily substitute the quinoa back to rice. If you like a dry consistency for your khichdi, add less water.

The quantities of the recipe are meant to make a pot full of khichdi, especially during winter time. We just keep eating from it… If you want less- half down the ingredients (but not the time).

Btw- like any of my handmade bowls? get in touch with me, or take a look at my Instagram #ayeletspottery    🙂

you’ll need:

  • 1.5 cups (soaked) organic quinoa
  • 1.5 cups (soaked) organic lentils
  • 4 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 11 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ajwain (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons cilantro
  • squeezed lemon

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How to:

  1. Start by soaking the quinoa and lentils in clean water for an hour (can be done in the same dish). Rinse under running water and drain. Set aside.
  2. Press SAUTE on your instant pot. After 30 seconds, add the coconut oil, and once melted, add the cumin and bay leaves.
  3. When bay leaves turn brown and cumin is popping, add the quinoa, lentils, water, salt, turmeric and ajwain.
  4. Turn off the saute, mix everything once. Close lid with vent in sealing position. Change the instant pot setting to manual or pressure cook mode at high pressure for 23 minutes.

After the pressure has naturally released (or you’ve manually released it) stir the khichdi. Scoop some into a bowl, add cilantro and lemon on top. Enjoy!

notes:

  • Use any variation of lentils.
  • Feel free to add any diced veggie: cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, peas, etc’ – anything you wanna get rid of, really- fresh or frozen.
  • Like it spicy? add some red/green chilli or chilli powder. Play around with added garlic, onion. Prefer a sweet twist? add 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom powder, ginger and cinnamon to taste (instead of cumin, ajwain and cilantro). You can add some coconut milk instead some of the water. Garnish with raisins, cashews and/or almonds.
  • Overnight, the khichdi will absorb the water, so if you like it porridge -like, add more water next time you heat it. Also, if you like it less “soupy”, reduce the water a bit, or change the quinoa to rice.

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I’ve read a lot while planning our Morocco trip, and figured we should visit Taroudant known to be “little Marrakech” on our way to Imlil, before we actually visit Marrakech. The heart of Taroudant is a small market, and perhaps, if you want to get some shopping out of your system, after spending some time in Morocco, this place could be a bit cheaper and less intimidating.  So I bought some moroccan glass tea cups, and we enjoyed some m’semen and tea in the market. All in all- a cute little manageable market town.

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M’semen guy in the Medina’s square. Couldn’t have enough of those

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Ahhh.. Sabres in Hebrew, or prickly pear fruits that we miss so much. Juicy, sweet and cheap.

Where did we stay? Again- off the beaten track, a few km away from the medina, at Riad Anma, where Marc, the Belgian owner knows everything about meats. Its located on a quaint road. We had some lovely time just catching our breath chilling in the pool or on the rooftop, while enjoying a tasty breakfasts and a dinner.

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Superb views of the Atlas mountains from Riad Anma’s rooftop

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Riad Anma’s pool

But the big discovery was a true amazing gem located outside of the city, that I wholeheartedly recommend making an effort to visit. Since not too many people visit Taroudant to begin with, and because you need transportation to get there, we had an elevated dumbfounding experience visiting and strolling this unique palace, that was almost, entirely, just ours for the day. It really helps to have your own car and driver.

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On our way to the palace. Views of the Atlas Mountains

Claudio Bravo was a celebrated Chilean painter, noted for his hyper realist still lifes and figurative paintings. Bravo who was born in 1936, traveled and worked around the world, but fell in love with Morocco, and somewhere in the 70s he built a magnificent palace, gardens and all, about 10 km north of Taroudant. Everywhere you walk in the palace says art, every little corner was well thought of and designed. Numerous paths invite you to discover sculptures, an abundance of exotic plants and at least three pools. It’s an oasis amid the red and yellow hues of the desert. Today, the palace is both a museum to Bravo’s life, art and collections, as well as a fancy hotel. I encourage you to take the tour lead by the knowledgeable Bashir Tabchich who was Bravo’s assistant, and to our understanding, inherited Bravo’s palace. After we got a closer look around the art and the beauty of the different rooms and halls, and got to ask many questions – we ended our tour at a patio, located near a lake, and were offered some Moroccan tea, pastries and fruit. The views were marvelous. From here on- I’m letting the photos of Palais Claudio Bravo do the talking.

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*A word of advice: besides the market and Bravo’s palace, we booked a tour to see the palm oasis and kasbah outside the city, an hour drive away. I DID NOT like it one bit. They offer a donkey ride around and some explanations. I felt sorry for the poor looking donkeys, and declined the ride. The scenery is nice, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for this. It definitely felt like a tourist trap. Statistically, it has to happen at one point or another when you travel a lot…

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The Kasbah

We left Essaouira and headed to Taroudant, traveling through Berber country. It felt almost as if we were in the midst of a biblical landscape.

Goats

On our way we stopped to stretch our limbs, and watched cute goats go wild after Argan trees.  A word of advice, though: some greedy locals have begun to exploit the poor goats to make money by tying the goats to the trees just to attract tourists looking for a good shot, and charge a fee. If you love and respect animals, and care for the environment, don’t cooperate with this conduct. By all means, stop on the way, where you can rest, and watch the goats in their natural habitat, free and happy.

Goats onroute to Taroudant
Goats can be seen climbing Argan trees and nibbling its leaves
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Ahalan goaty

Argan Oil

Around Morocco you will notice many vendors trying to sell Argan oil or products containing the oil. The Moroccans boast the many benefits of the oil: great for hair (shine) and skin (moisturizer), health (lower blood pressure, cholesterol, prevent oxidation), and culinary (seasoning and flavoring).

I am sure you will also notice the men at the front of the stores, while the women who work on producing the argan oil, are quietly seated at the back of the store, or nearby, but are not involved in the selling process. Recently, more and more vendors will advertise  “women co-operatives” as their argan source. Unfortunately these are not always genuine. Please try to investigate, before buying, that the shop is indeed using an accredited all-women cooperative (which is usually supervised by the UCFA- Union of Argan Oil Women Cooperatives), that benefits women, especially Berber or Amazigh women at remote places, and part of the Moroccan heritage.

We visited the remote village of Tighanimine to purchase some Argan products directly from Coopérative Tighanimine, that runs solely by women, for women.

Argan products

Besides, when traveling to far off places, you encounter unexpected, fun things.

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Well, tajines are pretty much expected, but still nice to taste different variations
Touching base with the ocean
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Camel caravan. Never seen so many camels altogether in my life.
Passing Agadir in a flash