Iceland Self-Drive: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Iceland Self-Drive: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Snæfellsnes in western Iceland is one of the most diverse areas in the country. It will show you black and yellow beaches, cliffs, waterfalls, caves, mountains, lava fields and much more – and all of this is watched over by the magnificent Snæfellsjökull glacier.

It’s debatable whether the glacier is the entry to the Center of the Earth (as Jules Verne seemed to think), the meeting point of aliens or a mysterious and powerful energy center, but I can tell you for sure that it’s absolutely gorgeous. Snæfellsnes is conveniently located within day-tour-distance from Reykjavík, so don’t miss it while you’re in Iceland. You have the choice of taking a guided tour or renting a car and driving yourself, but since you’re reading a self-drive article, I’ll assume it’s the latter.

 

Here are some of the major attractions in Snæfellsnes – there are too many to cover all of these in one day, but you can either pick and choose which ones to see, or you could even spend the night out there and do all of them. You won’t be bored if you do – there’s a lot to see!

10 things to

12 Surprising Facts About Icelandic Volcanoes

12 Surprising Facts About Icelandic Volcanoes

We Bet You Didn’t Know These Facts About the Most Volcanic Place on Earth

1.     Iceland is one of the most volcanic places on earth. Iceland has about 150-200 volcanoes, dormant or active. This is because it’s situated on the creatively named “Iceland Plume” between the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia. Tectonic boundaries exist all over the earth, feeding fresh magma to the surface, and they create for instance Hawaii and Reunion island, but by far the biggest island caused by this process is Iceland!

2.     Iceland is divided in two by volcanoes. The east of the island is on the Eurasian tectonic plate, and the West is on the American one. In fact, Iceland also has a “micro-plate” in between the other two, all to itself.

NOTE: Not an actual photo. Iceland is not constantly on fire. (It’s only on fire SOME of the time.) (Image Credit: The Volcano House)

3.     Iceland’s volcanoes are running east! There are 22 active volcanoes in Iceland, of which 13 have erupted since the Vikings settled here in 874. The exact number of volcanoes is

Iceland Self-Drive The South Coast

Iceland Self-Drive: The South Coast

Iceland DIY (Drive It Yourself) – The South Coast

The South Coast is probably the second most popular sightseeing day trip from Reykjavík after the Golden Circle. (For a self-drive tour of that; click here.) To the south, you’ll usually go on route 1 as far as the town of Vík, with looming mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, stopping at different natural wonders and sites along the way, and then turn around to head back. The major sights include two waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, black-sand beach Reynisfjara by Vík, and possibly a hike on Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

There are a lot of ways to see the south coast, including any number of tours, but if you want to rent a car and Drive It Yourself, here’s how you do it:

 

Getting off on the right foot

Reykjavík is incredibly simple to navigate, as there are three ways out of town; route 41 west, route 1 north and route 1 south. You are, you might have guessed, going on route 1 south. What you do is you find the main road Miklabraut in town and follow it west, past two gas stations on the right, and

Iceland Off the Beaten Track

I’ve lived in Iceland my whole life, and I feel like it doesn’t matter how much I travel around it there are always so many places I have left to explore. So when people come here for a few days and see only the most popular places, they are missing out on a lot.

 

It’s not only the scenery and natural phenomena of the less visited places, but also the history and the culture of Iceland that often gets overlooked.  So whereas I can see why people who are here for the first time would go straight to the Golden Circle, I’d really love for more tourists venture a bit off the beaten track to get a deeper experience of what Iceland is truly like.

 

So if you’re looking for something with a little different flavour, think about renting a car and setting the course for these less well-known locations in Iceland.

 

  1. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve (The West Fjords)

This protected area is perfect for hikers and nature-lovers. It was used as farmland until the mid-20th century, but now it’s inhabited only by foxes and birds. There are no roads for driving there, so you have to take a boat from Ísafjörður. Hiking in

Long haul holidays how a strong pound lets you go further

The UK summer is well and truly over, the days are getting shorter and the dark months are closing in. But, with the pound strengthening against many international currencies, now is a good time for British holidaymakers to plan an escape to warmer climes this winter.

According to figures from Post Office Travel Money, sterling has strengthened against the currencies of 16 out of 27 major long-haul destinations in the past year. The most marked increase is against the Brazilian real, where sterling is up by 57%. In Brazil, £1 will now buy 6.3 reals. Other destinations where the pound will go further include Malaysia, Mexico and South Africa.

“In recent weeks sterling has been moving up in value against almost every long-haul currency compared with earlier in the year,” says Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money.

This has been matched by falling prices at many resorts, according to price research co-ordinated by the Post Office in collaboration with local tourist boards – adding to the increase in value for money for British travellers.

Here’s a look at the winter-sun destinations where the pound has strengthened the most over the 12 months to September 2015.

Brazil

With sterling

Landmark Trust opens John Fowles’ former home for holiday rentals

An 18th-century seaside villa that was the home of acclaimed author John Fowles until his death in 2005 is now available for self-catering holiday rentals following an eight-year restoration project by the Landmark Trust.

Belmont, a Grade II-listed building in Lyme Regis, has been restored to its former glory by the historic buildings charity at a cost of £1.8m. The Regency building, which sleeps eight, is already fully booked until the end of 2016.

John Fowles lived in the villa for almost four decades, from 1968, and much of his work was competed there, including his best-known novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman (also a film), which is partly set in Lyme Regis.
Interior of Belmont, Landmark Trust property in Lyme Regis, Dorse
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Interior of the renovated Belmont

Fowles hoped Belmont could be enjoyed by many people in the future, particularly other writers. As well as being available for holiday rentals, the house will host annual study weeks for creative writing students.
Food in fashion: Dorset’s restaurant and hotel scene
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Belmont was also owned by pioneering 18th-century businesswoman Eleanor Coade, who established a successful artificial stone business that led to Coade-stone being used in many Regency buildings across the

Ai Weiwei the star attraction at Helsinki Art Museum reopening

The Helsinki Art Museum has reopened with an exhibition by influential Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, following a year of renovation that has seen gallery space more than double.

Inside the 1930s Tennis Palace, a culture and shopping space in the city’s downtown area, the museum holds over 9,000 works of art and is one of the most popular cultural attractions in the city. The renovation work extended the museum into the glass-domed gallery on the second floor of the building, increasing the public and exhibition space to 3,000 square metres.

The Weiwei exhibition includes two previously unseen new works: White House, reusing an entire residential house from the Qing dynasty as a comment on China’s urbanisation, and Garbage Container, a work based on the tragic story of five homeless boys from China’s Guizhou province who died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The renovation is part of the plan to create a museum district in the city and is the first of a number of major openings expected in Helsinki in the next few years. Ritva Viljanen, deputy mayor of Helsinki, said she hopes investment in the arts in Helsinki will encourage visitors from across Europe to visit the city.

“The

Canada’s Algonquin park: How the call of the wild inspires novelist Tessa McWatt

My family moved to Toronto when I was three and I feel very Canadian in many ways. All my formative experiences took place there, but as an immigrant; I was born in Guyana, South America. I’ve lived in the UK for 18 years now, but I still feel displaced.

For the quintessential Canadian wilderness experience Algonquin provincial park, 300km north of Toronto, is the place to go. It is enormous: 7,653 sq km. Huntsville is the major gateway, and a good place to stock up with camping and fishing supplies.

With more than 2,400 lakes and 1,200km of streams and rivers, the best way to get around is by canoe. You paddle across a busy lake – Canoe Lake or Opeongo, say. Then you portage for a couple of miles – your canoe on your head, your pack on your back – to the next lake. After two portages, there are very few people around. I’ve camped for a week without seeing a soul.

The lake is everything. You swim in it, drink it, rehydrate your dry food with it, cook with it and bathe in it (with special non-polluting soap). The water is pristine, so clear and

Beirut’s funky Metro al Madina cabaret club

Pre-civil war (1975-1990), the Beiruti neighbourhood of Hamra was peopled with poets, academics and revolutionaries. It was considered Beirut’s cultural heart, and you were never far from a theatre or cinema. Today, though more rambunctious, Hamra is still bursting with that artistic spirit, and some of the city’s new talent is nurtured at Metro al Madina, which was “built from rubble and ashes with love and hard work”.

The car horns and drills fade way away as you descend two flights of stairs to enter this underground bar and gig venue. Waiters in big-collared shirts with embroidered name badges serve sazerac cocktails, made with rye whiskey, syrup, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters and lemon zest.

Napkins are emblazoned with the venue’s logo, a nod to the Paris metro sign. The tables are see-through plastic, the chairs old-school folding cinema seats. It feels retro, but then in the bar there are bright white walls and pink neon lights. The crowd’s a fairly mixed bag, with a selection of artistic types – puppeteers, painters and filmmakers – usually propping up the bar.

The main concert space, built

Let’s go to Oban Scotland

Why go now?
To witness Scotland’s biggest Gaelic cultural festival, the Royal National Mòd, a celebration of music, highland dancing, drama, sport and literature (9-17 October, ancomunn.co.uk).

What else is there to do?
Dine on spanking fresh fish – Oban is known as the seafood capital of Scotland – and sample a dram at one of the country’s oldest distilleries. Visit both McCaig’s Tower, a 19th-century monument with views across the bay, and the ruins of Dunollie Castle on the edge of town. Walk along the new path from Ganavan beach to the fascinating Ocean Explorer Centre (free). Support Oban Phoenix, the town’s recently rescued, community-owned cinema.

How about further afield?
Oban is the gateway to the western isles and the place to start an island-hopping holiday. There are year-round ferries to 25 inhabited islands, including Mull, Iona and Islay.

Anywhere for dinner?

Try fresh seafood from the stalls on the ferry pier by the harbour, or the specials at the Oban Fish & Chip Shop, such as local monkfish scampi. The renovated Waterfront Fishouse

Tbilisi’s cultural revolution

Few countries embrace their national stereotypes as wholeheartedly as Georgia. Ask the average Georgian about the traditions of this former Soviet nation in the Caucasus and you’ll get a rhapsody about calorific 12-hour supra feasts, wine downed at a gulp from hollowed-out rams’ horns, loquacious toasts to the Virgin Mary and Saint George, and Kalishnikov-toting mountain shepherds who drink moonshine out of hand grenades. Souvenir stands in the capital, Tbilisi, hawk felt hats and daggers, and the city’s restaurant menus are full largely of cheese-drenched khachapuri bread and khinkali dumplings, approximating the rustic mountain style. Until now.

I’ve lived off and on in Tbilisi for five years now, and I’ve seen its historic heart transform (though prices remain remarkably low – a room in a guesthouse can be as little as £15, the cost of a decent meal in a midrange restaurant half that). Unpaved alleys populated by stray dogs are now pastel boulevards leading to speakeasy-style cafes. Old-guard restaurants with a casino aesthetic are giving way to more eclectic places catering for middle-class Tbiliseli, rather than wealthy foreigners.

In the wake of regime change – the nationalist Georgian Dream party was elected in 2012,

White Christmas guaranteed festive season skiing breaks

CHRISTMAS

In swanky Val d’Isere, France, Christmas means live music, parades, carol concerts and festive menus, plus a visit from Father Christmas. Prices at Chalet La Vieille Maison, a three-star catered chalet, have been reduced by £400pp. So a stay from 19-26 December is now £645pp with chalet board (breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner) based on 12 sharing, including flights from Gatwick, with igluski.com. There’s also free ski guiding or coaching for all guests, and lift pass and ski hire for one. The chalet is a converted farmhouse, with beams and exposed stone.

There’s 15% off a week’s self-catering from 19-26 December, at Résidence Cami Real in Saint-Lary Soulan (ernalow.co.uk) in the French Pyrenees. It now costs £118pp based on six sharing the apartment. Take the train via Paris to Lannemezan (from £167pp, an hour from St-Lary by coach) or fly to Toulouse with easyJet (from £245pp). The apartments are in the centre of the village, with use of an indoor pool. A new gondola takes skiers to the slopes in eight minutes.

Spot skiing santas and take in Christmas mass at the church in La Plagne, France, part of the vast Paradiski area. There is £150 off

A family-friendly ski resort with amazing slopes Ozen Oisans France

Before I had kids, my dream winter break was all about mixing great snowboarding with a good après scene involving live music and big jugs of beer, while a powder-tastic snow movie played in the background. Post-children, I still want the snowboarding to be amazing – I actually crave that more than ever – but the need for a good ski school with friendly staff has replaced any desire for late-night après. And for everything to be nearby, as lugging kids and kit around together is the least fun thing you can do on a snow holiday.

Oz-en-Oisans in the French Alps scores highly on both counts. It’s a small, pretty, traffic-free resort with a fir tree backdrop wherever you look. It was purpose-built in 1989 but doesn’t look it, as most of the buildings are made of wood and stone. The ESF ski school in the village is excellent and the staff kind and caring. You’d think that would be a given, but you’d be surprised at how many parents have bad ESF experiences, especially in the bigger resorts, myself included. Here, the instructors remembered my two children’s names, greeted them nicely every day and genuinely

What’s new in ski resorts for the season

More off-piste in Japan

The archaic ban on off-piste skiing in many Japanese resorts (Niseko aside) typically sees ski patrols chasing skiers who dare leave marked runs, and confiscating their lift passes. This is changing. Furano, in Hokkaido, has until now been very strict, but going off-piste is now tolerated, and piste exit point signs have been added to indicate backcountry areas. Contact a local guide at journeyintojapan.com.au/furano

Two US resorts become one

Two of the US’s premium resorts are joining together in holy matrimony this winter to create America’s biggest ski area. Funky Park City (which hosts the Sundance film festival in January and has a wild west base with saloon bars) and nearby The Canyons (extensive and varied but with a soulless purpose-built resort village) are both in Utah and both owned by Vail Resorts. Together they’ll be known just as Park City (parkcity.com) and will have a new interconnecting gondola.
The pick of Utah ski resorts

Sleep in an igloo, France

Village Igloo de Blacksheep (from €99pp in a five-person igloo, blacksheep-igloo.com) at Le Dou du Praz above La Plagne Village in Savoie is one of a growing number of igloo collections in the Alps.

Travels with locals 10 great B&B and guesthouse hosts around the world

Thierry and Estelle Violot-Guillemard: Les Nuits de Saint-Jean, Burgundy, France

Staying with a winemaker is often a special occasion, but little can compare to the welcome given by the burly, moustachioed Burgundy vigneron Thierry Violot-Guillemard and his wife, Estelle, at their rustic B&B. She is the one who pampers guests, preparing a big breakfast in the morning, advising on the best local restaurants or which village is hosting a morning market.

There is a huge kitchen that everyone can use and a cosy living room with leather armchairs around a stone fireplace. In the early evening, though, it is Thierry who takes centre stage for a tasting of his wines, leading guests down narrow stone steps to his ancient cellar stocked with thousands of bottles of precious vintages. He is a fifth-generation viticulteur, with plots in the Burgundy vineyards of Volnay, Beaune, Monthélie and Meursault, but pride of place goes to the organic pinot noir he makes from Pommard itself. And, after a lengthy tasting session, Thierry often disappears in the depths of the cellar to pull out a dusty bottle of one of his favourite years. Many visitors come back each year, while serious enthusiasts even plan their holiday to

Olympic snowboarder Dom Harington on Morzine France

Although born and bred in Yorkshire, I’ve been snowboarding for almost 20 years and moved to the Portes du Soleil just over a year ago. Spread over 14 valleys between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva, it’s one of the world’s largest ski areas and a great place to live. I chose Morzine because we used to train in the halfpipe there and I made friends and contacts who started businesses and made lives here.

The Mutzig Challenge at Bar Robinson is one of several urban myths (or true stories) about what people get up to here. Mutzig is a 5.5% beer best enjoyed in halves, but the challenge is to drink 10 pints. Not many people have walked away from this feat – at least not in a straight line.

Triathalons are bad enough in the UK, but in the “Morzine to Chamonix triathlon of discomfort” the swim is done in a melt-water lake and the run and cycle are through the Alps.

One of my favourite runs is the Satellite – an easy hike and a mellow off-piste run. In such a large ski resort, there’s a lot for everyone, from beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders,

Sheffield’s real steal a cutting edge city break

Sheffield is famous for its cutlery, in which my interest is fleeting, usually around mealtimes. But it has also just been awarded the accolade of Best Value City Break in the UK by TripAdvisor, which annually rates the most affordable British cities for an overnight stay. In other words, Sheffield probably has a lot more to offer than spoons. I gave myself two days to find out what, and in that time I discovered boutique hotels, open spaces, excellent pub trails, art and culture. The first thing I found, however, was a bear pit.

If you’re the kind of person who takes a mini-break in order to wind down, a walk through the Sheffield Botanical Gardens is a perfect start to your visit. Quiet, contemplative and packed with plants from all over the world, meandering paths lead you through Asian, Mediterranean and Himalayan herbaria… until you chance upon a fully restored bear pit. It dates from 1836, but has been resolutely bear-free since the 1870s, when local legend has it that a child fell in to it and was eaten by a cross one.

Today it houses a 7ft-tall grizzly made of steel, part of a citywide art installation that reflects Sheffield’s

Great little ski resorts you may never have heard of

Where Most people have heard of St Johann’s more famous neighbour, Kitzbühel. What they don’t know is that this Tyrolean town has a similar medieval centre, with frescoed buildings and old coaching inns, but lower prices. It has 43km of pistes and 17 lifts.
Why This is a good destination for beginners and intermediates, with nursery slopes on the gentle meadows behind the station. There’s a good choice of ski schools and those who fancy a day off the slopes can try hot-air-ballooning.
Book A week at Pension Mair costs £469pp B&B including flights from Gatwick: crystalski.co.uk.

Les Saisies, France
Where The village is in the beautiful Beaufortain valley, 30km from the town of Albertville. It has 192km of pistes and 81 lifts.
Why It’s known as a cross-country resort, but the downhill skiing is mainly gentle and ideal for beginners. This is a great place to find your legs on pistes that aren’t too steep and hairy.
Book Hameau du Beaufortain flats cost from £245pp based on six sharing: ernalow.co.uk.

Peyragudes, France
Where This purpose-built ski area in the Pyrenees is close to the Spanish border, with 60km of pistes and 17 lifts. It has an ultramodern lift system, comprising

The perfect beginners’ ski resort Zakopane Poland

For me, learning to snowboard was a painful process, spent fighting the elements over a bleak weekend at Cairngorm Mountain in the late 1990s. But I was lucky; for those who live further from the hills, getting into snowsports can be even harder. It can involve paying a small fortune for flights, transfers, accommodation and lift pass – just to spend all week on the lower slopes, watching others head for the peaks. For this reason, it’s wise to avoid super-resorts when you’re only looking to pick up the basics.

On a recent visit to Zakopane, at the foot of the Tatra mountain range in southern Poland, I discovered what may well be the ideal destination for beginners. Sorry Scotland!

My cheap flight to Krakow got me within two hours’ drive of the resort, where the guys from WhiteSide Holidays (one week from £389pp with lift pass, transfers, lessons, ski hire and self-catering accommodation) met me for the last leg. They’re on hand all week to shuttle guests among the many small resorts that surround the town, sometimes ticking off two in a day.

As most offered pay-as-you-go lift passes, we only paid for the runs we did. A full

Powder on the doorstep in Grimentz Switzerland

The bombshell came as our small group sat in the warmth of the Bendolla mountain restaurant, finishing our coffees, fiddling with our avalanche transceivers and half-listening to a briefing by our backcountry guide for the morning, Brit Nick Parks. “And then,” he said, “we just abseil down into the top of the run.” Hang on! What? I’d heard of people doing this in super gnarly resorts like La Grave, macho beardy ski-mountaineers usually, who eat icicles for breakfast. Was I really going to have to dangle on a rope like Sly in the Cliffhanger poster, snowboard between my teeth?

Seemed like it. Two hours later our small group was huddled on a snowy crest, taking turns to drink little cups of hot herbal tea from Nick’s flask to recover from our hard hike from the limits of the lift network. We’d climbed to a col below the Becs de Bosson peak, and up through deep powder along a ridge to the top of the steep S-shaped couloir that was our target descent. Many times that week I’d stared up at the S from the village below – a streak of white carved into the cliffs like an