“Do you trust yourself going on a trip to the South?”, asked Grapevine’s editor-in-chief on the first day of my internship. “Does a bear shit in the woods?”, I thought, trying not to let my bubbling excitement show too much—they are quite cool at the office you know—before I nonchalantly replied: “Sure, if you guys trust me.”
A few days later I was rushing down the streets of Reykjavik, armed with my phone’s GPS, trying to find the bus station. I had my silver hat on (so my group could find me if I got lost, I figured) and my backpack stuffed with extra sweaters (trying to be Icelandic street chic). You see, I didn’t really know what to expect from this tour, which had been arranged by Visit South Iceland, also known as the South Iceland Marketing Office.
However, it turned out to be a jolly good day, where I got to see where a Hollywood movie was shot, sip on a mojito made with skyr, and feel some good vibrations. If you’re one of those who also thinks The Golden Circle is old news, or you’re curious about what’s cracking on the Southside, here’s what went down.
The Lava Tunnel
Does wearing a helmet with a head lamp and exploring magical tunnels older than the pyramids of Egypt excite you? Then the Lava Tunnel “Raufarhólshellir” is definitely worth a visit.
After an colourful and captivating one-hour tour, I was left feeling a range of emotions. At one point the guide and lava expert, Hallgrímur Kristinsson, asked us to stand completely still, close our eyes and listen to the water drops echoing around the tunnel. I swear I’ve never felt more zen. Praise be! And then I went from being all zen, to kinda starstruck. One scene from the Hollywood movie “Noah”, starring the actor/hunk Russell Crowe, was shot in the tunnel. Praise be, again!
For the more adventurous people, there’s an option to continue further into the lava tube, which is actually one of the longest ones in Iceland. Read more about it here: https://thelavatunnel.is
Konubókastofa women library
I have always supported female empowerment, and Konubókastofa—a library museum consisting solely of books by Icelandic female authors—is a great example of that. When entering the small but cosy library, Anna Jónsdóttir welcomes us with coffee and an introduction. When Anna was a literature student she discovered that female Icelandic authors don’t get enough attention, and often end up being forgotten. So, in 2013, the Konubókastofa project took form and the building opened. Almost the whole book collection is made up of donations, with the oldest book being 113 years old.
Konubókstofa is open two hours twice a week, but appointments can be made upon request. Read more about it here: http://www.konubokastofa.is/
Skyrgerðin resturant and hotel
Man, the joy when I realised we were going to an old skyr factory for lunch. Skyr is my favourite dairy product since I moved away from home years ago, and the base of my food pyramid since I moved to Iceland (sorry mom, but as you might know by now after reading the Grapevine, food here is expensive, and I live too far away from Costco).
The restaurant and hotel Skyrgerðin, located in one of Iceland’s first skyr factories in the town Hveragerði, is an elegant and charming place rich with atmosphere. “If this room could talk, we would all blush”, said Erlendur Eiríksson, the manager of Skyrgerðin, referring to the wild parties that took place here back in the day, which featured performances from some of Iceland’s most famous bands.
Skyrgerðin honours Iceland’s skyr heritage by incorporating it into several courses on the menu. We were served a delicious skyr mojito (that will now be a consistent part of my already solid skyr diet). The liquid intake didn’t stop there though, we also got the chance to down some authentic Icelandic moonshine. Try it out yourself and feel the burn. I sure did.
Read more about Skyrgerðin here: http://www.skyrgerdin.is
Ljósbrá Stone Exhibition
Do you have a good eye for stones? I don’t, but I became intrigued when visiting the Stone and Mineral Museum in Hveragerdi, and will probably never look at stones in the same way again. The exhibition is located in the same building as a gas station, so it’s convenient to make a stop here to refuel your car and take a break, while learning about beautiful minerals. Make sure to have a chat with the well educated and passionate guide Hafsteinn Þór—whose family-in-law owns the collection—as he can teach you some neat things about geology.
As opposed to most museums, you’re allowed to touch and feel the objects freely. And admission is free. Read more about Ljósbrá here: http://www.ljosbra.is/
This year, the largest volcano and earthquake exhibition in Europe opened its doors. The experience is modern and interactive with plenty of opportunities for edifying yourself—and playing around with the state of the art displays. If you didn’t already appreciate the colossal and complex forces of nature, you definitely will by the time you leave. In one of the rooms you get the chance to experience a simulated earthquake, while in another part of the museum you can watch impressive footage of recent volcanic eruptions.
Tip: When entering the room with the gigantic volcano (see picture), take up your camera, put on the flash, take a picture and see what happens.
The LAVA centre is located by the Ring Road and therefore very easy to find. Read more about it here: http://www.lavacentre.is/
Hotel VOS is the very definition of intimate and cosy countryside idyll. It opened in May 2017, and is partly a renovated barn. Iceland’s most active volcano, Hekla, is located close by, and the distance to the Atlantic Ocean is only 3km, so you can easily take a stroll on the beautiful black beach while you’re there.
Hotel VOS is located in the oldest country village in Iceland, Þykkvibær, and is a true family business, which is reflected in the warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Read more about Hotel VOS here: https://hotelvos.is/
Midgard Base Camp
After a long day, it was nice to return home. Well, not home-home, but as soon as arriving at the Midgard Base Camp in Hvolsvöllur, I got a snug and homey feeling, so close enough.
The Midgard Base Camp is located in the most archetypical Icelandic environment, with snowy mountains in the distance, beautiful horses, and never-ending fields that would make any tourist’s heart skip a beat.
However, there’s nothing typical about the concept of the place, which offers visitors everything they could want—comfortable accommodation, a restaurant and bar, a hot tub and sauna, and an equipment store are all on offer, and you can book a variety of guided tours.
The staff are professional and their enthusiasm is contagious. We got a heartwarming presentation about how this mix of people from different places first crossed paths, and went on to become a welcoming little community.
So, whether you stop for a meal or a drink, want to listen to live music or relax in the hot tub, or feel like spending the night, I’m sure you’ll have a great time at the Midgard Base Camp. My dining companions enjoyed it so much that we didn’t want to go back to Reykjavík, but after some more refills of wine, I started to stumble a bit, and surrendered to the bus ride home.
Read more about Midgard Base Camp here: https://midgard.is