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Iceland Chronicles
Lunar Landscapes, Infinite Glaciers
by Penelope Dackis

The picturesque capital, Reykjavik
Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, is simultaneously quaint and modern, charming and futuristic

Iceland is not a popular travel destination, but a recent study found it to be the happiest spot on earth. On a recent visit, we saw why its 300,000 inhabitants — listed in the phone book by first name — have a lot to smile about. Under their feet sits the world’s largest magma pool providing enough geothermal water to heat more than 90 percent of their homes. The denizens, who descended from the Vikings a thousand years ago, also enjoy a sustainable supply of hydroelectric power derived from the country's enormous glaciers and abundant rivers.

When you first set foot in Iceland —a mere four-hour flight from New York—you arrive with the feeling that this is what it must feel like for astronauts when they land on the moon. In fact, astronauts used to train on this northern European island nation (the size of Ohio) that sits in the North Atlantic Ocean. The volcanic landscape is positively lunar, with acres of pitted lava fields stretching to the horizon in supernatural splendor.

Your first stop must be the magical Blue Lagoon, appearing mistily near the airport, and a great place to unwind after your flight. The approach to this luxurious outdoor spa is completely otherworldly, with its fields of jagged lava rocks dotted with steaming pools of fluorescent aqua. Milky rivulets thread across the black terrain glistening in the sun, which hangs out until past bedtime in the summer months.

The Blue Lagoon Spa Shopping in Reykjavik
The Blue Lagoon Spa holds six million liters of mineral-rich geothermal seawater
There's plenty of opportunity for traditional, and not so traditional, shopping

The lagoon itself is massive, holding six million liters of mineral-rich geothermal seawater, renewed every 40 hours and renowned for its healing powers and skin care remedies. The silica is especially curative and can be ladled directly from chalky deposits in the water and applied to your face and body with immediate results. Small quantities of the stuff are sold for large currency in the spa shop, so be sure to stock up while you’re in the water. Signature treatments are offered on an air mattress in the lagoon, including an algae wrap, salt glow and silica massage. Don’t miss the spectacular Lava Bar & Restaurant afterward, where the fresh fish fare is as great as the view.

When you emerge from this setting, entering any city would be a surprise but Reykjavik is astonishing. Simultaneously quaint and modern, charming and futuristic, Reykjavik offers the ultimate cool adventure. The world's first rental hydrogen cars are available from Hertz which are well-suited to exploring the city's tidy, colorful streets.

Since there are more sheep than people populating the country, the trendy Nordic boutiques are filled with wool products, as well as fine jewelry. Try a shot of Black Death at the Ice Bar, or at one of the many hip clubs around town. We recommend dinner at prir Frakkar. Be sure to try the whale sushi, although our favorite culinary experience was dining on bread baked in the earth (underground magma doubles as a convection oven) slathered with butter, which we consumed in the crisp, outdoor air with geysers erupting nearby.

Prir Frakkar restaurant The Ice Bar
The noted prir Frakkar restaurant
Try a shot of "Black Death" at the hip Ice Bar

Neck-craning natural wonders can be found around every bend: glaciers, fjords, volcanoes, waterfalls and fields filled with lupines and lava. Horseback riding through the lava landscape is a great way to see the sites, or drink in the view from the many outdoor hot tubs (called “hot pots”). The locals swim and relax daily in the numerous geothermal heated pools.

Other summer highlights include white water rafting and whale watching. Or take a trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, northwest of Reykjavik and visit Hotel Hellnar for a yoga class at the foot of the majestic Snæfellsjökull Glacier. There, as you're enjoying the cobalt waves of the Atlantic rhythmically slapping against a black lava beach, you'll feel like you're exploring one of the world's last unspoiled natural wonders.

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