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Landmannaleið, Iceland

GPS: 64.002897252767, -19.12723026941

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Founded in 1979, the Fjallabak Nature Reserve is considered one of the most beautiful regions in Iceland. Covering an area of 450 km², it is made up of three glaciers supplying a multitude of rivers and lakes in ancient volcanic valleys. The landscapes of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve are provided with a prodigious mineral environment, generated by the simultaneous action of fire, water and ice. They are more broadly part of the Highlands of Iceland, a huge wild and sparsely populated region. It is through its situation on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, that the intense volcanic activity of the archipelago has its origin. This has shaped Icelandic landscapes for 150 million years and the plates continue to deviate by some 3 mm per year.

In exceptional geothermal activity, the Fjallabak Nature Reserve is sculpted by its various craters including the most active stratovolcano Hekla in the country. This Icelandic protected area offers constantly changing mountain landscapes. It is also often compared to Yellowstone National Park (United States) or to the Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia) for its numerous fumaroles and hot water sources gushing from the highlands of Landmannalaugar. Meaning “the hot baths of the local people”, this rugged massif alone testifies to the intense volcanic activity of the foundations of the region of the south of Iceland. Craters, lava fields, solfataras, hot water basins and ash deposits are characteristic of the natural sites of Fjallabak and Landmannalaugar.

Despite poor vegetation, the wild lands of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve are full of fantastic colouring. They will delight hiking enthusiasts as much for its many trails traversing rhyolite massifs (multicoloured rock from ancient eruptions) as geothermal enthusiasts for its various formations of fumaroles, geysers or hot springs. According to the minerals, the volcanic rocks present a formidable rainbow of colours: blue and black from the obsidian lava stone (vitrified under the effect of rapid cooling of the lava), yellow from sulphides, red and orange from iron oxides and then green from lichens (Iceland foams).

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  • The valleys, hills and rhyolite mountains of the Landmannalaugar massif; sparkling colours emerging from the Fjallabak Nature Reserve
  • Hekla, Bláhnúkur and Brennisteinsalda volcanoes ; the caldera of the Torfajökull volcano; the Laugahraun lava field (old lava flow dating from 1477) ; the Jökulgil and Brandsgil gorges; the eruptive crack Eldgjá (series of deep gorges and craters attached to the Katla volcanic system to the east of the reserve)
  • The diversity of multicoloured landscapes (desert, volcanic, lunar, mountainous, snowy, green landscapes…)
  • The smokers, geysers and other geothermal formations; the magnificent decor of the Rauðibotn volcano
  • The multiple lakes (Ljótipollur, Bláhylur, Kirkjufellsvatn, Frostastaðavatn, Hrafnabjargavatn…) and rivers (Ytri-Rangá, Skaftá..)
  • Swimming in hot springs and geothermal pools all year round
  • Hiking (natural sites of Bláhnúkur, Brennisteinsalda and Háalda), on horseback (Landmannaleiđ track) or in mountain biking (Laugavegur trail or Brennisteinsalda hike)
  • The many natural sites near Fjallabak: waterfalls (Sigoldufoss, Hólaskjol and Ófærufoss), the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull (southerner), the Vatnajökull (the largest glacier in Europe) in the east as well as the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range (to the north)
  • The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon event in July (55 km race); the Réttir (transhumance of thousands of sheep in autumn)
  • Hekla volcano is the place of many beliefs, myths and legends since the Middle Ages. It would have projected more lava in volume than any other volcano in the world. Until the 19th century, the popular European imagination believed that this volcano led directly to the gates of hell.
  • During your stay, you will no doubt have the opportunity to cross Icelandic horses. They come from a race unique in the world. This was introduced by the Vikings from Norway to colonize the archipelago at the end of the 9th century. This horse breed is a mixture of Celtic ponies and Nordic horses from Norway. It has not been crossed with other races for more than 1,000 years (the importation of horses has been continuously prohibited in Iceland since the 10th century to preserve this species unique in the world. Resistant to the harsh local climate, this small saddle horse has always occupied an important place in the daily life of Icelanders. Nationally, almost one in five inhabitants on average has a horse (the total population of horses in Iceland is estimated at 75,000 individuals per 365,000 inhabitants).
  • Helped by volunteers, farmers in the Fjallabak region carry out the country’s largest transhumance each year in the fall (called Réttir). This tradition was born 1,000 years ago and brings together several thousand Icelandic sheep. Their wool, known to be of high quality, is used to make lopapeysa (traditional sweater from Iceland). The Réttir event takes place just before the arrival of the first snows in the Icelandic highlands. It is celebrated in number around a hot lamb soup, folk songs, dances (Réttaball) and local alcohols in a festive atmosphere.
  • During the same period, a large transhumance of horses was held in the north of the country. After several months left alone in Icelandic nature without barrier or contact with humans, horses are gathered by breeders so that their owners can shelter them before winter arrives. This event marks a deep cultural relationship between wild horses and the Icelandic people.
  • Although the summer period offers the best conditions for visiting Iceland, the rivers on the reserve can often become impassable at this time of year due to the melting of glaciers (including in all-terrain vehicles). Some roads are closed to traffic until the beginning of July.
  • The Laugavegur trail, connecting the mountain ranges of Þórsmörk and Landmannalaugar, is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in Iceland (it is marked by yellow and red markers). This large hike can take place over several days (with tent accommodation or mountain refuge) and lends itself well to the practice of mountain biking. The presence of an experienced guide will serve as assistance and technical support.
  • If you prefer to join the Fjallabak Nature Reserve by road, be sure to comply with the rules of conduct aimed at preserving its unique ecosystem in the world (the off-piste is prohibited). For your safety, check the weather conditions every day before resuming the wheel and make sure of the good condition of the roads or the passage of the rivers by questioning the motorists that you will meet during your route.
  • Beware of the often capricious weather even in summer and the temperatures that can vary quickly in this Icelandic region. Provide adequate equipment to protect yourself from the wind if you plan to hike on foot or by bike.
  • Less known to travelers, the Syðri Fjallabaksleið trail leads to the superb volcanic lands of the Rauðibotn crater and then to Hólmsárlón Lake in the south-east of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve (count three hours of walking). Another alternative is to head for the Mælifell volcano, Strútur Mount and the Strútslaug geothermal pool to the south (including the Strútsstígur track 75 km long).
  • If you approach a geothermal site, be sure to stay on marked paths to protect this fragile heritage (stalling can cause significant damage).

Where to eat

  • Systrakaffi
    (for all tastes)
  • Gamla Fjósið
    (farm kitchen)
  • Hotel Ranga
    (gastronomic address)

Where to go out

  • Gjáin
    (ideal site for picnic)
  • Þjóðveldisbærinn
    (reconstruction of a Viking farm)
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur
    (narrow and sumptuous canyon)

Where to sleep

  • Hotel Fljotshlid
    (in the middle of the meadows)
  • Guesthouse Nonni
    (welcoming guest house)
  • Hotel Laekur
    (peaceful and modern)

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