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Travel: Best places to visit in winter wonderland, Iceland

© PASnowcapped peaks in Iceland.
Snowcapped peaks in Iceland.

It’s hard to imagine a vehicle weighing more than two tonnes could be tossed like an autumn leaf in a gust of wind.

But as I lie awake in my camper van, rocking back and forth, I’m considering all eventualities. More of a washing machine spin cycle than a relaxing lullaby cradle, the movement has been keeping me awake for some time.

Extreme weather patterns are to be expected in Iceland as the Nordic country edges towards its winter season, sending most travellers scurrying towards log-fired lounges or spa-quality hot springs. But hardier types can take advantage of crowd-free campsites and prices that are a fraction of hotel-based holidays.

Camper van road trips have been increasing in popularity. Many campsites remain open throughout the year, main roads are largely accessible, and spiked winter tyres make it safe to drive through snow.

My main concern had been the cold, but my Happy 1 Auto van from Happy Campers is as snug as any boutique hotel room, with a heater powered by the car battery.

© Press Association Images
The southern section of Iceland’s Ring Road.

Although it’s the smallest model they rent, our two-person van is equipped with everything we need: a small kitchen with running water supplied by a tank, refillable at petrol stations; a gas stove; and a bed that folds up into a seat.

My partner and I have a plan to literally go where the wind takes us, using Iceland’s official meteorological service, vedur.is, to direct our travels. But one sight we are determined to visit, whatever the weather, is Mount Fagradalsfjall, the volcano which, after a 6,000-year hiatus, has been erupting for the last six months – the longest the country has seen in the past 50 years.

When we arrive at the Reykjanes Peninsula, the monster is sleeping. But hiking across solidified lava fields is an opportunity to witness the almighty strength of forces gurgling at our planet’s core.

Taking the steep, challenging route (currently, there are two pathways), I find myself almost at eye level with the main cone, shredded at the edges and stained with an atomic palette of chartreuse and mustard streaks.

Small fishing village Grindavik has the closest campsite to the site. At night, hungry strategists fill the large kitchen with clattering pans, whirring laptops and crumpled paper maps, creating a scene that sits somewhere between the Cabinet War Rooms and MasterChef.

We decide to head south to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach the following day. Its basalt column cliffs and solitary sea stacks found fame in Game Of Thrones, but in winter fewer set-jetting location fans have turned out.

Another popular black sand stretch lies further east, the Jokulsarlon glacier lake, backed by steep, serrated mountains forging into the sweeping snow scenes of Vatnajökull National Park.

© Press Association Images
Skogafoss waterfall.

A holding bay of bergs and floes preparing to make their final journey out to sea, the glacial lake is a spectacle. Even more impressive is Diamond Beach opposite, where sculpted blocks of ice shimmer like gems on the shore.

When the weather map indicates a whiteout is on the way, we prepare to return west. And it’s during a night spent at Camping Hofn, that our van starts to rock – but fortunately not roll.

Paying attention to the elements is essential in Iceland. A tablet uploaded with live maps and a chat room service sits on our dashboard, ensuring we’re aware of any warnings, road closures and possible travel delays.Take it slowly and sensibly, however, and there’s nothing to worry about.

In fact, during our six-night trip the only vaguely life-threatening episodes involve arguments about duvet hogging and who can get into their pyjamas first.

But if you’re willing to compromise on sleeping space, the benefits of winter camper-vanning are manifold: fewer crowds and greater freedom signpost the perfect road trip.


P.S.

By law, every camper must book into an official campsite every night; expect to pay between £8-£12 per person, generally including use of washrooms, showers and cooking facilities.

During low season, there’s no need to book in advance, adding to the spontaneity that’s at the core of a true road trip.

Factfile

Play (flyplay.com) offers flights from Stansted to Reykjavik four times a week from £30 one way, inclusive of taxes. Happy Campers (happycampers.is) offers a Happy 1 Auto from €115/£97 per day in low season.