In the month of June, the sun hardly sets on Iceland, and summer can unfurl to longer than 20 daylight hours. Marked by intense geological activity, Iceland’s name confounds. The Nordic island country is the land of fire and ice, shaped by gorges, fjords, waterfalls, hot springs, and smoldering volcanoes—including a famous one that erupted twice in two years, after which the world got a primer in how to pronounce Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
It sounds rough, but rugged is more like it. And if nosing up to nature is what you’re after in this country—and you should be—go by horseback. There will literally be nothing between you and the gorges.
Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country, so they’re a breed unto themselves: pure, sure-footed, compact, hardy, and have a unique gait that makes for a smooth ride while traversing the unpaved terrains of Iceland’s highlands and beaches. Going by horseback is also the truly Viking way.
A “tour of a lifetime,” according to National Geographic Traveler magazine’s recently named list of 50, will set one back $3,995. Run by AdventureWomen and for women only, participants stay at traditional farms and guesthouses and ride 15 to 18 miles a day along the rough coastal beaches and cliffs of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, a finger of land that divides western Iceland into two great bays. It’s from here that you can catch a glimpse of the iconic glacier-covered volcano Snæfellsjökull.
Galloping through volcanic soil can mean you end up covered in soot at day’s end, but it’s worth it for a canter through the desolate, windy, and beautiful “north of the Wall” land as seen in HBO’s Game of Thrones series, says Anne DePrez, a lawyer from Indiana. She traveled through Iceland by horseback in 2011 and has signed up for another trip for this August, AdventureWomen’s one and only of the year.
When the saddle soreness settles in, head out by sea to the bird cliffs or spend a quiet afternoon exploring the fishing village of Stykkishólmur. Back in Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital, soak up the steaming and nourishing waters of the Blue Lagoon hot springs. The nine-day adventure wraps with a rousing Viking feast of lamb, fish, and Icelandic yogurt, though the beers are the real highlight.
Intermediate riders are recommended for this tour of a lifetime, and this is the summer to take the reins in your hands.