Last week my colleague Nika and I ventured off to Iceland to update our knowledge of the island, focusing on an ‘off the beaten track’ adventure of discovery. For a long time Iceland has been an attractive destination for incentives, meetings and events with the capital Reykjavík just 3 hours flight time from London. It is still as popular as ever.
We wanted to see a different side of the destination and also inspect some of the major MICE event spaces, hotels and activities. We were hosted by Anna Valdimarsdóttir and Helga Kristín of our partner DMC, CP Reykjavík.
Iceland is the least populated country in Europe with just 330,000 inhabitants. Almost 80% of the country is uninhabited meaning that the landscape is largely unspoilt, offering a tranquillity that makes you feel at one with the surrounding nature – a major reason many visit the destination. The landscape is highly unusual with much of its terrain consisting of plateaux, mountain peaks, and fertile lowlands. There are many long, deep fjords and glaciers, including Europe’s largest, Vatnajökull. The glacier included on the popular Golden Circle tour is the mighty Langokull (‘The Long Glacier), situated in the midwest highlands. The usual touristic approach is from the east side where super jeeps take you up to the glacier then the journey can be continued by snowmobile.
Our approach was from the western side, a path far less trodden. Our super jeep for the journey was immense! I’m a bit of car boff so got the facts on it, it’s made of two vehicles welded together namely a 2001 Ford Excursion at the back and a 2016 Ford F-350 pick up at the front. It has two fuel tanks totalling 250 litres and averages a lowly 20kpg thanks to the 6.7 litre engine, an absolute beast!
Our destination was the world’s largest Ice Tunnel which is dug into the Langokull Glacier. We drove up to a station part way up the glacier where we donned our much-needed snowsuits, thanks to the freezing conditions and strong winds, before venturing on an exhilarating snow mobile ride up to the Ice Tunnel. We started our private tour by entering a 250 metre long tunnel before having a briefing by the guide and fitting crampons, required to give traction on the cave floor. Our helpful guide shared facts about the excavation and explained how the various ice structures and crevices are formed. A few fun tunnel facts for you: The project took 4 years of preparation with the help of Iceland’s top engineers, geologists, glaciologists, artists and architects. The excavation took 14 months from March 2014-May 2015. The tunnel is 500 metres long and is dug 25 metres below the surface of the glacier, with 200 metres of solid ice still beneath you. We walked through a crevasse that was 40 metres deep and a few hundred metres long. A truly unique experience!
Bearing in mind it’s a 2 hour drive to the Ice Tunnel from the western approach, but also a 2 hour drive up to the Eastern side of the glacier, my view is that the ‘pull’ of the Ice Tunnel experience offers incentive groups a unique experience in their programme. It’s a great alternative to the usual ‘Golden Circle’ tour, with the only experience you miss out on by taking the western approach being the geysers. The geysers are a phenomenon well worth seeing, however I would recommend to our agency clients who are looking to incorporate an exciting, ‘WOW’ experience in their incentive programme, that they sell in ‘off the beaten track Iceland with a visit to the world’s largest Ice Tunnel’ as the strapline for the destination. It’s worth missing out the geysers for this reason in my opinion!
En route back to Reykjavík we visited the Hotel Husafell, one of the National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World located at the base camp of the Langokull glacier. Combining the comfort of a luxurious hotel with exploration of the unique wonders of Icelandic nature, it would work well for a night’s stay in conjunction with Reykjavík. The hotel has 48 rooms, 3 meeting rooms and its own geothermal baths. Nika made a friend!
No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Thanks to Anna’s unrivalled connections, we were lucky enough to be invited to experience the brand new Retreat Hotel and were the first guests to try out their spa and private lagoon without a tourist in sight. We were treated to a full spa ritual experience which involved smearing ourselves in algae, mineral salts and silica causing much hilarity, we all came out looking 10 years younger! We would highly recommend incorporating a night’s stay at the hotel which includes 24 hours use of the spa facilities and private lagoon.
We stayed 2 nights in Reykjavík, our first night was at the Canopy by Hilton hotel, a contemporary new lifestyle property and our second night was at the colonial style Konsulat Hotel, the newest addition to the oldest part of Reykjavík. We loved everything about the Canopy hotel, very contemporary design, luxurious rooms, extensive buffet breakfast and the service was outstanding. The Konsulat Hotel we felt was a couple of notches below however it has its place. The first 5 star international hotel, the Marriott EDITION, is due to open late autumn 2019 but they will not accept any group bookings until 2020. So it’s probably safest to consider the hotel from January 2020. The hotel is located in Reykjavík next to the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.
The leading 4 star hotels in the city are the Hilton (the largest meetings hotel), the Grand Hotel and the Fosshotel Reykjavík, all great options for larger meetings and events. We also visited the boutique Alda hotel which opened in 2014, a modern property ideal for smaller incentive groups. One of the advantages for groups staying in Reykjavík is that the city centre is extremely compact so it’s very easy to walk around, often saving on coach transfers to restaurants for example.
The nightlife in Reykjavík centres around the main shopping street; Laugavegur. Here guests will discover all manner of restaurants and bars, some authentically Icelandic, others dedicated to movies such as the Lebowski bar. All comfortably within walking distance. In May 2011 the impressive Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavík was completed, this has encouraged a significant uplift in event interest to the destination. We enjoyed a superb dinner in Harpa’s Kolabrautin restaurant.
In Iceland today you can find almost anything your culinary heart desires. The plentiful selection of restaurants offer a wide variety of both foreign and Icelandic dishes inspired by locally sourced natural ingredients. Fishing is an intrinsic part of Iceland’s culture and heritage with cod and haddock being popular specialities. The lamb in Iceland is also world-renowned, there are more sheep than people on the island! On our second evening we ate at the Food Cellar Grill & Cocktail bar, situated in a 160 year old building in the city centre. They serve Brasserie type food, elegantly prepared and focused on the finest Icelandic ingredients. The food was out of this world! Our farewell lunch was held at Bryggjan Bistro & Brewery located in the Harbour. The beer is pumped directly from the brewery and the venue offers a relaxed and informal dining experience, ideal for a dine-around or casual lunch or dinner venue.
As for the team at CP Reykjavík , they are the only pure MICE focused DMC in Iceland and are also the leading ‘go to’ DMC for the local market. The 14-strong team bring together many years of experience across all sectors of incentive travel, events and conferences. We have known and worked with Director and seasoned events professional Anna Valdimarsdottir for many years, having formerly represented her previous company in the UK market. We look forward to introducing you to the team!
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