A round trip by car is a good way to experience the diversity of the island state’s landscapes in the North Atlantic. The road network is thin and four-wheel drive is highly recommended for some excursions. The Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 proved its talent as a robust all-rounder on a tour to discover and explore fjords, lakes, glaciers, geysers and volcanoes. Feature courtesy Lulop Automotive
REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Iceland is a country of contrasts on the north-western edge of Europe, and island state in the North Atlantic, close to the Arctic Circle, famous for its hot springs, huge ice fields… and volcanoes.
Traditional horse-breeding is still as successful here as is internationally significant aluminium production. Tourism has also recently become increasingly important thanks to the island’s pristine natural beauty, the fascinating variety of landscapes and the contrast created by active volcanoes and snow-covered glaciers.
A weekend trip is not enough time for exploring Iceland’s main attractions but the special charm of the island is revealed on a round trip. While Iceland’s road network is scanty – many places are only accessible on gravel roads, and the most important road link, Ring Road 1, is no exception.
It’s been developed into a multi-lane motorway around the capital city, Reykjavik, while some other sections of the Hringvegur are not even asphalted. The Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 (combined fuel consumption: 6.5 – 6.2 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 149-142 g/km) is the ideal all-rounder for going on an Icelandic adventure amid glaciers and volcanoes.
Its ALL4 all-wheel drive system distributes power from its turbocharged, 131kW, four-cylinder petrol engine between front and rear wheels as required on any surface and in any driving situation and the cars. 16.5cm of ground clearance is sufficient even on rough surfaces.
Luggage volume of 450-1390 litres, depending on how the seating is arranged.
Ring Road 1 runs along Iceland’s coast for 1350km, sometimes adjacent to the coast, other times more inland. The starting point is the ferry pier in Seyðisfjörður, where the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4 sets rubber on Icelandic soil for the first time.
On the way south, the road follows the coastline, which features many fjords, for about 200km. Soon Vatnajökull comes into view. With a surface area of more than 8000 square kilometres, it is the largest glacier in Europe and at the centre of the national park of the same name, which includes picturesque river landscapes, waterfalls – and active volcanoes.
Further along the route, detours into the interior lead over unpaved roads, across gravel deserts, and through seemingly unreal landscapes of cooled lava rock. Near the village of Selfoss, it’s worth leaving Ring 1 and heading north for about 60km to see a spectacular natural spectacle.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
The two-tier Gullfoss waterfall together with the neighbouring geysers forms the “Golden Ring”, one of Iceland’s greatest sights.
After returning to the Hringvegur, we soon reach the island’s capital. More than 60% of the 350 000 Icelanders live here and in the neighbouring region. Reykjavik is a modern metropolis with a lively art and music scene as well as two special landmarks.
The Perlan geothermal power plant, together with restaurants and leisure facilities, is located under a large glass dome and uses hot water from deeper layers of the earth to heat not only the city’s residential buildings but also the pavements of the main shopping streets.
A similarly spectacular example of Iceland’s modern architecture is Hallgrímskirkja, (right) built on a hill in the centre of the city. It was designed in the 1930 but took five decades to complete.
ONE PLACE, TWO CONTINENTS
The concrete pillars on the front, reminiscent of basalt columns, are particularly striking. A viewing platform on the 74.5m tower allows visitors to look far beyond the city limits into Iceland’s natural landscape.
On the northern section of Ring Road 1 the landscape is also characterised by the contrast between the icy glaciers and the hot springs, whose water rises from the volcanic interior of the earth.
Iceland lies on the so-called Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The North American and Eurasian plates meet directly under the island – which is why hot thermal water and molten rock rise to the surface and keep changing the island’s landscape.
Technically, it is possible to put one foot in America, the other in Europe.
The Cooper S Countryman ALL4 makes full use of its all-wheel drive on a detour to the Vestfirðir peninsula and its many rugged fjords. The craggy coastal landscape of this Arctic region in the extreme northwest of Iceland is mostly only accessible via unpaved gravel roads.
The path to the fishing village of Reykhólar, in the far west, leads past massive mountain formations of volcanic origin. After the strenuous tour we relax in one of the natural pools, which are widely used in this region and are pleasantly warm in all seasons.
Just like its breathtaking natural beauty, the island’s history as a base for trade and fishing can be seen in almost every village along Ring Road 1. In Sauðárkrókur it’s worth stopping to refuel at the Verzlun H. Júlíusson general shop, which still exudes the charm of the early 20th century.
The small town has a fishing port and is also considered to be the main Icelandic horse-breeding centre. Nowhere else on the island will you find more horse farms than in the region around Sauðárkrókur.
Iceland’s varied nature has more surprises in store even after having travelled more than 1000kmon Ring Road 1 and having gone on numerous trips across unpaved terrain. Near Reykjahlið, the blueish shimmering geothermal water in Jarðböð Cave really invites you to take a dip.
Going for a walk on the steaming sulphur gas-fields of the surrounding area is also a great thrill. And Europe’s mightiest waterfall also awaits in Iceland’s north. The water masses of the Dettifoss waterfull plunge about 100m into a gorge of about the same depth.
The magnificent landscape and the many ways you can experience nature at its most pristine make Iceland such an exceptionally alluring destination. And in spite of the sporty temperament of the Mini Cooper S Countryman ALL4, the beauty of the island simply makes you want to “slow down”.
Only on the way back to Seyðisfjörður’s pier, however, travellers should not trundle along but should rather get a move on in order to board the ferry on time. Because the ferry that connects Iceland with the rest of Europe leaves port only once a week.