Exploratory Ride in South and West Iceland

Since Iceland has become such a tourist destination and the riding holidays we offer in South Iceland into the Highlands are so popular, but with mountain hut accommodations where one room sleeps all, we have been looking for a new riding option that offered fun riding with hotel accommodations in a different area of Iceland.

We have found a new itinerary for us which combines riding in a different area of South Iceland and also in West Iceland. There is a great variety of scenery for those who want to enjoy the comfort of hotel accommodations at the end of the day with fun and easy riding.  You will appreciate the contrast between the fertile south and the west of Iceland which is dominated by glacial views of Langjokull and Ok glacier icefields.

Starting the trail

On the first day I was picked up in the town of Hella where I had spent the night and was transferred to Sydra Langholt for the first ride to the Secret Lagoon. We rode along through rolling hills with idyllic farmlands where young horses, sheep and cattle graze in endless green fields. We arrived midday at the Secret Lagoon where I enjoyed soaking away the weariness of traveling after a light lunch in the cafeteria or a picnic lunch out on the trail, depending on the weather conditions. Afterwards we returned back to the farm from where we transferred to the accommodations at the Hotel Fludir which is a lovely 3 star hotel. The small town thrives on mushroom production and growing other vegetables in the greenhouses of the area. 3 nights are spent at this hotel, which is located in the heart of the Golden Circle route with easy access to features such as Gulfoss waterfall and Geysir and Thingvellir National Parks.  The hotel is only 100 km from Reykjavik and features a garden area with hot tubs and an elegant restaurant. This makes it a great option for non-riding companions.

After breakfast on the second day the ride headed out from the farm into the highlands, riding underneath the basalt columns of Hreppholar with views of the Stora-Laxa river and the canyon. We enjoyed a picnic lunch by the sheep paddock of Hrunarettir before continuing on over the hills to Hvitardalur farm where the horses spent the night and we transferred back to the hotel for dinner at the restaurant. There is also a small restaurant across the street which is a little bit less pricey but meals in general are quite expensive in Iceland, which is something to consider since they are not included in the price of the ride.

On day 3 a ride into the uninhabited wilderness north of the valley of Tungufellsdalur brought more of the feel of riding in the highlands as we climbed onto a high mountain plateau, following tracks made only by sheep and horses. Along the way, distant glaciers came into view while we enjoyed the freedom of riding in the mountains.

Transfer to West Iceland

The next day started with a vehicle transfer to West Iceland via Thingvellir National Park, a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. As the weather had turned sunny and dry the transfer took us via the Kaldidalur Highland route which begins a bit to the north of Thingvellir National Park and to the west of the volcano Skjaldbreiður, which means “broad shield.”  The track continues between the glaciers Þórisjökull and Ok and leads up to the north. To the east of Reykholt the road comes out near Reykholtsdalur to Húsafell. Connecting South and West Iceland – what a stark contrast of landscape – it actually reminded me more of a moonscape with hardly any vegetation and remnants from volcanic eruptions everywhere.

After the 3 hour drive I checked into the luxurious hotel at Husafell, tucked away in a lush valley. The area around Husafell is a natural playground and perfect base to explore nearby Langjokull glacier, the highlands and Snaefellsjokull National Park. There is a geothermal pool adjacent to the hotel, a golf course and surrounding hiking trails. A tour into Langjokull Glacier and a visit to the world’s largest lava cave Vildgelmir showed what this area has to offer even for non-riders.

In the afternoon we met the new horses and the guides at Sturlu Reykur. From the farm we rode to Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful hot spring.  By providing 180 liters per second of 100 C hot water it has the highest flow rate of hot springs in Europe, and pipes carry this water all the way to Reykjavik for part of their hot water and heating supply. The route took us along a river and its valley, a lovely and peaceful afternoon.  Afterwards the transfer back to the hotel was early enough that we could soak in the hot tubs and pool before dinner.

The owners of the farm have been successfully breeding and showing Icelandic horses for many years and export horses to many European countries. They have also been running these trail rides for many years. The horses are fun to ride and to really enjoy a good tolt.

Langjoekull glacier

I was especially looking forward to the next day’s ride through dense birch woods along a small river that comes out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field, which is Iceland’s oldest. The lava flowed from the north western rim of Langjoekull glacier and entered the Hvita river. Afterwards we had lunch at the cafeteria by Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, both of which were spectacular.  Back at the hotel I prepared myself for the tour into Langjoekull glacier by putting on winter gear. This tour is booked through the hotel and takes about 3 hours. First a bus picks everyone up from the hotel and transfers the group to the base camp from where they take one of the biggest snow coaches I have ever seen to the beginning of the tunnels into the Glacier. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to enjoy one of the world’s greatest wilderness areas from the inside. Never before the Langjokull ice tunnels had anyone been able to see the beautiful blue ice at the heart of an ice cap glacier.

On the last day of riding we visited the little village of Reykjholt, following along the river valley where we had great opportunities with a fresh set of horses to experience the fast tolt.  Reykholt is one of Iceland’s main historic sites, a cultural center past and present. Snorri Sturluson, a famous medieval historian, politician and chieftain settled in Reykholt in 1206 and was killed there in 1241.

The most distinctive antiquity in Reykholt is the pool of Snorri Sturluson, called Snorralaug. The pool and the water conduit, leading water from a nearby hot spring, date back to the 10th century and are maybe the oldest preserved constructions in Iceland.

The Church of Reykholt represents a cultural and medieval center. The church was consecrated on July 28th, 1996. It is known for its good acoustics and has old church bells, Frobenius­organ, from the cathedral in Reykjavík, award-winning stained-glass windows and a soapstone baptismal font, which was a donation from Norway. The font and an altar from an older church in Reykholt are from around 1500, now the property of the National Museum. The old church in Reykholt, built 1896–97, was in use until 1996. It is now under protection of the National Museum and is open for all visitors. After a leisurely picnic lunch on site we rode back to the farm again along the river valley. Too soon we returned and it was time to say goodbye to the horses and the owners of the farm who showed us around this lovely valley.

This would be a really good riding option for couples who want to experience two different parts of Iceland but also have non-riding options available to make their visit to Iceland an all-around experience.

Written by Biggi Hayes