''Welcome to the end of the road." These were Denni Karlsson’s first words to us as we stepped over the threshold of his Wilderness Centre at Egilsstadir – a little lodge house nestled in a valley on the edge of Northern Europe’s biggest wilderness.
He was being entirely literal in his welcome, too. The lodge represents the last stop before all roads end, with only the wild terrain of Eastern Iceland sprawling beyond it.
Stepping inside the centre felt like taking a journey back in time, with an authentic ‘back to basics’ interior seemingly unchanged since the house was first built in 1940.
Over a hearty dinner of lamb meatballs, roasted potatoes and rhubarb jam, Denni explained how he painstakingly renovated the property, having grown up on a neighbouring farmstead.
His ambitious refurb involved adding a bathhouse and hot spring spa, where you can take a dip in the sunken pool and marvel at the night sky with a glass of wine in hand.
He also built an on-site museum, which explores the folklore and history of life in the wilderness, from the explorers who first charted the unforgiving terrain to the family of eight siblings who built the lodge house with their own hands.
The museum itself is entirely immersive and at times feels more like an art installation, which is perhaps unsurprising when you find out that in a past life Denni worked as a set designer on Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars.
Climbing into bed in the old farmhouse, you can’t help but be struck by the sense of silence and stillness that can only truly be found in such a remote and unblemished location. Staying at the edge of such a vast expanse of wildland also offers the opportunity for adventure.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, one of Denni’s tours involves hiking to the abandoned Kleif farm where you can winch yourself across the frozen Jokulsa river in a wooden cable car.
The Wilderness Centre also offers riding tours and Super Jeep expeditions for those looking to make the most of Eastern Iceland’s lesser explored terrain.
Just an hour away on Finnsstadir Horse Ranch, you can take in the icy landscape on an enchanting trail ride led by Helga and Siggi, a married couple who guide visitors through the forest and across streams on their team of beautiful horses.
Alternatively, you can channel your inner Viking with a spot of competitive axe throwing at East Highlanders in Hallormsstadur.
Driving us from activity to activity was the formidable Helga from Tinna Adventure – a real-life superwoman and one of the most fascinating people you will ever meet. Mum to Iceland’s Strongest Man (seriously), Helga is a part-time mountain rescuer, keen hiker and knowledgeable tour guide who seemed most at home behind the wheel of her giant Jeep showing us the waterfalls and valleys formed by Eastern Iceland’s volcanoes.
If you want to thaw out after a day of adventuring, there are plenty of bathhouses and hot springs to choose from. And while many tourists don’t get far beyond the Blue Lagoon on a sightseeing trip to Iceland, venturing east allows you to take in an altogether different experience at the Vok Baths geothermal spa.
Opened in 2019, the baths are set within the breathtaking Lake Urridavatn. The site’s natural hot spring was initially discovered when locals noticed that part of the lake wasn’t freezing over when the rest of the surface turned solid with thick sheets of ice in the colder months.
Incorporated into the natural lake are two floating hot pools, where you can sit with a glass of champagne and watch out for the Northern Lights overhead – or plunge into the freezing water that lies beyond the pool edge. A sauna and swim-up bar add to the feeling of total luxury and relaxation at this hidden gem.
If you don’t have time for a trip to the Vok Baths, the Lake Hotel in Egilsstadir has a small spa with hot and cold plunge pools plus a sauna and stunning lake views.
But it is worth a visit for the food alone, with the fresh fish of the day (£23) standing out as a highlight on the menu. You won’t regret ordering a side of the crushed potatoes with crunchy wasabi and lime aioli (£5.50).
Just a 30-minute drive from here is Seydisfjordur, a magical town with a population of only 670.
Despite its tiny size, it has an impressive foodie scene, with a sushi restaurant and super-cool Skaftfell bistro that serves up pizzas in an understated and arty setting. Seydisfjordur is also home to the Rainbow Walk, where its Pride parade takes place, supporting the LGBTQ community. It offers the ideal backdrop for an Instagram snap and you can follow it to the town’s blue church.
Residents are keen to tell you the local lore about a major landslide that engulfed a number of homes but miraculously resulted in no loss of life.
The legend goes that the townspeople here were saved thanks to the crystal core of the mountains that tower over this charming little place.
A trip to Seydisfjordur wouldn’t be complete without a stay at the Hotel Aldan, where the simple interiors offer visitors a warm and welcome rest from the cold.
At times it can feel like we’re living in a world where there is nothing left to explore but a trip to Eastern Iceland leaves you with the distinct sense that you’ve experienced something that’s entirely unspoilt.
The wild and rugged terrain remains largely untouched from the frontiers first explored by the adventurers who have been honoured in Denni’s Wilderness Centre museum.
Whether you’re riding through the forest on horseback or submerging yourself in the natural waters of a hot spring, you can’t help but find a sense of peace in the seclusion and tranquillity that characterises this lesser explored region of Iceland.
For the sake of a 45-minute flight from Reykjavik, it’s certainly worth taking the path less travelled and venturing beyond the Blue Lagoon to find what awaits you at the end of the road.
Book the holiday
- Rooms at the Hotel Aldan in Seyðisfjörður start at around £73 a night- visit hotelaldan.is.
- Rooms at the Wilderness Centre near Valpjofsstaðir start at around £93 a night – visit wilderness.is.
- Rooms at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Natura start from around £100 a night – visit icelandairhotels.com.
- Rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott Reykjavik Keflavik Airport hotel start at around £85 a night – visit marriott.com.
Get there: PLAY flies from Stansted to Keflavik, Iceland, from £30 one way. Find out more at flyplay.com.
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