Passion Points: Active/Adventure
Olaf Thorgrimsson, a founder of Luxury Adventures, a high-end travel outfitter based in Iceland, spoke to Indagare about what not to miss on a first visit, as well as the unique outdoor adventures to be had in the country.
What inspired you to launch a high-end travel operator in Iceland?
When I first came up with the idea in the late ’90s, people thought I was crazy. I was told that high-end travelers would never come to Iceland. But now we see that not only are they visiting, they are so appreciate of the kinds of customized services we offer, where they are taken care of from the moment they arrive. We work hard to come up with flexible itineraries, making sure that our clients stay at the best hotels, try the newest restaurants and get a maximum variety of activities and sights. Of course, the amazing landscapes help us when it comes to the wow factor.
What should no first-time traveler to Iceland miss?
In terms of natural attractions, the main ones are the geysers, the hot springs, the waterfalls and the glaciers, all located along the so-called Golden Circle. The black sand lava beaches on the southern shore are incredible, and of course you can’t come to Iceland without trying some Icelandic fish. One of my favorite restaurants, Ó in Reykjavík, prepares it in a traditional but sophisticated way.
What would you suggest for a traveler seeking real adventure and activities in Iceland?
There is so much to do: snowmobiling on the glaciers, which are not just smooth white surfaces in Iceland, as they have cracks that you can see—one of the reasons you should go with an experienced guide. Whale watching is another favorite, especially for families. Boats depart from Reykjavík or from the northern town of Husavik, and in summertime the viewing is fantastic. We also arrange for people to go rafting in glacial rivers, cave diving and ice climbing. A lot of people also come to horseback ride on Icelandic horses. This is very special, since horses have not been imported to Iceland since the early settlers’ times, and if a horse leaves the island, it can never come back. The Icelandic horses have five gaits, as opposed to just four, and we can explore parts of the countryside that are impossible to get to on foot or even by car. We’ve designed special horse expeditions for ten days, taking groups of more experienced riders through the highlands.
Also, the salmon and trout fishing in Iceland is very good, though the permits are expensive. We have a ton of celebrities who come for the fishing, including Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson and Eric Clapton; they like it here, since there’s no paparazzi. And if you have time, we suggest flying to the more rugged north side of the island, where you can see high heat areas where the lava is still warm, and visit a gorgeous green lagoon in which you can bathe. It’s a forty-five-minute flight from Reykjavík, so we have groups back in the city for dinner.
What are some of the most amazing special excursions you can arrange or have arranged for clients?
We like to say that nothing is impossible, and if a client has his or her heart set on a particular excursion or attraction, we will make it happen. We’ve arranged for lunch on top of a glacier, reached via helicopter, where we prepared the food and served it on fine linen and china, with the most spectacular views. We’ve had Champagne toasts at the Arctic Circle on the island of Grímsey in the north; we arranged for one group to have nighttime access to a small hot-spring lagoon in the countryside for a private bath and freshly made mojitos.
What makes Iceland a good destination for families? What would you suggest for an itinerary with children?
First of all, it’s probably the safest place you’ll ever visit. And kids generally find the nature fascinating. Imagine you’re in a super Jeep crossing a glacial river or driving along black sand beaches. Or you’re whale watching or horseback riding in the middle of nowhere. As for meals, we can certainly offer more child-friendly food if they don’t want to try Icelandic trout and lamb, though our clients generally bring along pretty adventurous kids who try it all.
How long is an ideal trip, and what would be on an ideal itinerary?
I would say five to seven days. For the first and second days, I would suggest visitors explore the sights along the Golden Circle route and along the southern shore. Then, you’d spend a day in the glacial valley of Thormork, and drive to the east of the island to see the glacial lagoon and national park there. Another day would be spent at Landmannalaugur, in the highlands, where you can get a massage in a hot river and where the landscape seems like you’re on the moon. Another day would be devoted to the Snaesellsjokull peninsula, west of Reykjavík, which has an amazing glacier and, as some people swear, very special energy; many return from Snaesellsjokull saying they feel completely recharged. And one day would be totally focused on activities, like whale watching and horseback riding. But of course, all of our itineraries are customized, so it’s entirely up to clients how active or inactive they want to be.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Reykjavík?
For high-end dining, I like Seafood Cellar, Silfur, Fish Market, and Ó and Laekjarbrekka for classic Icelandic cuisine. When I want something local and basic, I head to the Saegreifinn, which translates in English as the Sea Baron (Geirsgata 8; 354-553-1500; www.saegreifinn.is) where you can get incredible lobster soup prepared with ultra-fresh lobster and whale meat (order it medium rare). And for delicious Icelandic burgers, go to Búllan (Geirsgata 1; 354-5111-8181).
What kind of person is your ideal client?
I love working with families, because it’s fun watching the kids react to the landscapes and nature.
If you had to choose a favorite sight in Iceland?
I adore the Skaftafell National Park, on the east side of the island, where I’ve gone many times with my wife, Linda, to watch the midnight sun. And going home to Grandma, to the village in the east where I was born. But there are no sights there, only memories.
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For information on traveling to Iceland or preferred rates at individual lodges and special trips offered by our partners, contact our bookings department at 212-988-2611 or by sending an inquiry
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