A cruise round this impressive northern island reveals a country full of beauty, natural wonders and glorious food
A deafening roar accompanied the veil of floating spray illuminated by the afternoon sun. Both were signs that one of Iceland’s best-known attractions was near. Moments later, Gullfoss, the ‘Golden Waterfall’, came into view.
The splendour of the River Hvítá tumbling over this majestic two-tier fall into a narrow 200ft gorge never fails to impress.
As I sat motionless, staring at what is just one of hundreds of spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, I reflected on finishing one of my best adventures ever: circumnavigating this small northerly country, courtesy of Iceland Pro Cruises.
The 10-day circuit started and finished in Reykjavik and involved eight ports of call.
It had been the perfect way to explore Iceland, providing a taster of each area while enjoying the benefits of cruising, including full-board and comfortable accommodation.
Home during the adventure was Ocean Diamond, which features stabilisers to reduce roll and an ice-strengthened hull, ideal for exploring polar regions.
With a maximum of 224 passengers, it’s an intimate adventure cruise ship rather than a floating city. Its modest size means it’s able to visit the island’s smaller ports.
The company’s experienced exhibition team members organised exciting shore excursions at every stop and informative briefings about each day’s destination; they provided evening entertainment, too. Some of them, including expedition leader Örvar, are professional opera singers and regaled us with songs one evening.
By the time you returned to your cabin, the next day’s itinerary, including timings for excursions, meals, entertainment and details of the port of call, had been delivered to your room.
Everything was taken care of, so you didn’t need to worry about a thing.
I joined a cruise in June when Iceland, skirting the Arctic Circle, reaps the benefits of 24-hour daylight. Long days meant more time for admiring a landscape punctuated by around 130 volcanoes and Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier.
Even on board, I couldn’t resist the midnight sun’s entrancing qualities. Often, instead of catching up on sleep, I found myself on deck, mesmerised by the tranquil seas, snow-streaked mountains and the possibility of spotting whales – and I saw plenty.
With its stunning glaciers, powerful waterfalls, bubbling geysers, extensive lava fields and impressive mountain ranges, Iceland boasts some of Europe’s finest scenery and should be on everyone’s wish list.
We sailed overnight before dropping anchor at a new destination each morning.
Our first port of call was the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, nicknamed ‘Iceland in Miniature’, jutting out from the west coast.
Resembling an outstretched arm with a clenched fist, it was the setting for Jules Verne’s novel, Journey To The Centre of the Earth.
Among my favourite stops was Isafjördur, capital of the Westfjords region.
The ultimate rural retreat, sheep outnumber people in this remote corner. Tiny villages huddle stark mountainsides and dramatic fjords cut deep into the landscape.
I joined a shore excursion over the mountains to Dynjandi Waterfall, the highest cascade in the area.
Birds of a feather
The following day, we moored at Akureyri. Iceland’s second town, nestling at the head of its longest fjord, boasts pretty, tree-lined streets and lots to see.
An informative guide accompanied us to Lake Myvatn, a naturalist’s dream where in summer more species of duck flock than anywhere else on Earth.
Close by, we were greeted by a steaming landscape at Hverfell, where trails of vapour blew in the breeze and pools of mud bubbled like giant bowls of porridge, demonstrating that Europe’s youngest country is still shaping before our eyes.
Everywhere we stopped had its unique charm. I particularly enjoyed sailing down the fjord-strewn east coast before docking at the chocolate-box setting of Seydisfjördur, with its colourful houses scattered along the shoreline.
Here, I chose to explore alone and hiked into the mountains where the crystal-clear, unpolluted air afforded stunning views.
Further down the coast, Jökulsarlon, a deep glacial lake, wasn’t to be missed.
Below azure skies, I clambered aboard an amphibious boat and glided across the water.
We weaved our way between countless icebergs, glistening in the sun, which had broken off Vatnajökull, the glacier.
There were many highlights, including visiting Heimaey, largest of the Westman Islands and, sadly, our last stop.
This archipelago off the south coast made international headlines in 1973 when a volcanic eruption destroyed buildings and forced an evacuation of the island’s population.
Evidence of the eruption is still seen today.
Iceland is home to one of the world’s largest puffin colonies with half living among the cliffs of this jagged archipelago. It was a delight to sit atop the cliffs watching the orange-beaked birds swooping around the cliff face.
All too soon, we were sailing westwards to Reykjavik and bidding farewell to the ever-helpful crew and expedition team.
Over the years, I’ve explored Iceland by many forms of transport.
But cruising around the island aboard Ocean Diamond while being looked after by an attentive crew, enjoying first-class food and comfy cabins, takes some beating.
Great for food lovers
On board, you’ll be treated to a fine selection of dishes for lunch and dinner, including locally caught fish. If you’re on an organised excursion and will miss lunch on the ship, a generous packed lunch is provided.
Great for culture vultures
Before flying home, explore Reykjavik, the world’s most northernmost capital. Make sure the city’s art museum and 240ft-high Hallgrimskirkja Church, its main landmark, are on your itinerary.
Iceland Pro Travel UK (0845 606 6686; icelandprocruises.co.uk) offer 10-day cruises around Iceland during the summer. Early bird prices, valid for bookings made in 2016, are from £1,320pp in triple-occupancy cabin or £1,980 in a double.
Prices include cabin, full-board and evening presentations. Return flights from Heathrow with Icelandair (020 7874 1000) from £141.
A week’s Meet & Greet parking at Heathrow with APH Parking (01342 859 536; aph.com) from £109.15.
To book an airport hotel or overnight stay before flying, try hotels.com (0800 783 2390; hotels.com).
Woman’s Weekly Iceland cruise travel offer
Discover Iceland with a five-day fully escorted tour, from £959pp. Selected departures May to September 2017.
Price includes, return flights, transfers, three- or four-star hotel with breakfast and escorted tours, including Reykjavik, Eyjafjallajokull volcano, the Blue Lagoon and a whale and dolphin cruise.
For more details or to book, visit escorted.womansweekly.co.uk or call 01283 742 396.