Having just revealed our next big trip next February will be Iceland – it’s quite fitting that this week I am featuring Phoebe from Lou Messugo. She and her family are based in the Côte d’Azur and are owners of a gite which is very popular with guests! Phoebe has spent many years travelling and living in Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia, so her blog has wonderful stories, tips and inspiration from all over the world, particularly France. Her Snapshots recalls the wonderful week she had in Reykjavik – from camping near glaciers and swimming – it looks like a unique destination.
Over to you, Phoebe…
What do you look for in a holiday?
I look for all sorts of different things and our holidays are rarely the same. When we lived in Paris the most important thing was guaranteed warmth and sun but now that we live in the South of France all year round that isn’t so important and in the 8 years we’ve been here we’ve had holidays in Iceland, Sweden, Austria, Northumberland and Wales, as well as more typically summery places like Croatia and Italy amongst other places.
This summer we’re doing a road trip through Poland a Germany. My kids are 10 and 15 and have travelled since they were a few weeks’ old and they love adventure, camping, beaches and actually they even like sight-seeing (I won’t go as far as “love”!) My husband loves hiking and I love culture. We all love food. So it usually falls to me to organize a holiday that takes everyone’s interests into account.
Where did you go?
Our last big family holiday (as opposed to long weekend or half-term break) was to Iceland.
Why did you choose Iceland?
We chose Iceland for many reasons but initially because I lived there as a teenager and desperately wanted to go back and show my family this wonderful and unique place. It appealed to everyone for its adventure activities, crazy geology (geysers, volcanoes, hot bubbling mud etc), midnight sun, hot springs for swimming in, bizarre food, even the extreme weather!
Me, my husband and 2 boys who were 9 and 14 at the time.
Where did you stay?
Iceland is horrendously expensive so the first thing we did was sort out a house swap. Without that we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Simple! We stayed in Reykjavik and also went camping for a few nights on the south coast. We also stayed with friends from my teenage years in their holiday cottage north-west of Reykjavik.
Our accommodation was a private house within walking distance of downtown Reykjavik. We swapped it with our own home on the French Riviera. It’s almost prohibitively expensive to eat out in Iceland so living in someone’s home was ideal as it meant we cooked most meals in the luxury of a well-equipped private family home. We also swapped cars with the family which reduced costs too.
The people we swapped with leant us their camping gear which meant we could explore further afield at almost no cost too. Iceland is the perfect place to do a house swap as it suddenly becomes almost reasonable in price having taken away the cost of lodging and car hire. We used homeexchange.com, the biggest house swapping site which we are signed up to and had used before.
Were there plenty of activities for the kids?
This wasn’t a holiday with classic kids’ activities but as my boys are no longer little there were plenty of things for them to do. They absolutely loved swimming in the heated beach in Reykjavik (and all the other naturally heated places to bathe), loved the boat trip to go whale watching, loved camping under the midnight sun, etc.
Your most memorable moment/s of the trip?
It was all so different from other holidays we’ve had it would be hard to single out one thing only, but hiking for 2 hours up a mountain to jump into a hot river in the middle of nowhere is something we won’t forget for a long time. Wallowing around in the milky waters of the famous Blue Lagoon spa was also another highlight as was driving through lava fields and viewing icebergs up close having broken off from Europe’s biggest glacier.
My little son was seriously impressed by the amounts of ash still covering the ground near the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. My husband and I went on an excellent pub crawl with Icelandic friends one evening, experiencing the famous Reykjavik nightlife. It’s quite a unique experience coming out of a bar at 2am in the daylight! And talking about these Icelandic friends, staying in their summer cottage and eating their home-caught, home-smoked salmon (and plenty of other delicious local food) was definitely a highlight.
Any sights, activities you want to shout about?
Something I knew about having lived there but isn’t exactly what you’d imagine when thinking of Iceland is all the swimming you can do…and MUST do. Because of all the geothermal activity there is hot water everywhere and enterprising people have built swimming pools and hot tubs in the most unlikely of places. We swam/wallowed around in all sorts of crazy places, including a heated beach in Reykjavik, just south of the Arctic Circle! Camping in Iceland is also another activity most people probably wouldn’t immediately think of but we had such fun even in some of the worst weather ever…it was still amazing, out in the open just under a glacier. Bring eye shades though if you can’t sleep in the light as it doesn’t get dark in summer.
Was it good value for money?
Iceland is unique and the sort of place that once in a lifetime experiences are had and memories made. For that reason it’s good value for money. But in reality it’s very very expensive so swapping your house makes it feasible and almost good value. We flew on a budget airline, booked 6 months in advance and actually the flights were reasonable. So by planning ahead and going self-catering, Iceland can be do-able and I’d say good value for such a unique holiday.
Your top tip/s for the area?
I wrote several blog posts about how to holiday in Iceland on a budget and where to swim amongst others. You can find them here:
Wear lots of layers and be prepared for the weather to change many times a day. Don’t get hung up on the weather. It can be really bad but it’s just part of the fun. It can also be rather nice – if you’re lucky (I only know that from living there not this particular visit!) And don’t forget your swimming costume!
Which photo is your favourite and why? Tell us the story behind it
It’s not a great photo, but I love it, for several reasons. Firstly, it’s very rare that all 4 of us are in a photo together, it’s only since my teenager has started taking selfies that we finally have a few. And secondly because this was our first night in Iceland, excitedly watching the midnight sun. We went out to a westerly point on the edge of Reykjavik to watch the sun set and absolutely froze! In July! But it was so beautiful and the kids were entranced. The sun only slightly dipped below the horizon around midnight before rising again and it didn’t actually get dark. It was a unique and magical experience which we’ll never forget.
Would you recommend to a friend? Would you go back again?
I haven’t stopped going on about our holiday and telling all my friends to go, but I’m aware it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. I rarely go back to places because there’s such a lot in the world to see, but yes, I’d go back in a heartbeat and my kids ask me all the time when we can return. I really lost my heart to Iceland.
What are the five holiday essentials you couldn’t live without?
• My camera
• Comfy shoes: birkenstocks for hot holidays/Converse-style sneakers/walking boots for not-so-hot
• My kindle
• A smart phone for Instagramming/Facebragging (and managing my business!)
• A credit card with no limit (dream on!)
What is your most favourite place in the whole world and why?
I really don’t have ONE, I have plenty of places I adore but I can’t pick out one over all the others. Both Sydney and Hanoi are very important to me, as is Paris and my home where I live and run a gîte now is one very special place. This blog post explains more.
If you would like to be featured on Holiday Snapshots, please email me at [email protected] and I look forward to including your travel stories.