‘We recommend that you do not drink from the tub,’ Ester Lif Olafsdottir, manager of Bjórböðin Beer Spa, advises me.
It’s not normally necessary to warn people not to slurp from the bathtub.
But then a bath isn’t normally full of beer.
At this recently opened spa at Árskógssandur on the north coast of Iceland (£113 per couple), big wooden tubs are filled with ‘young beer’ (yeast, barley, water but no alcohol, as it’s bad for the skin), plus bath oils, for a relaxing warm bath.
It wouldn’t taste good. But there’s a beer tap next to the tub anyway so I can pour myself a cold Sumar Kaldi, the brewery’s refreshing beer, whenever
So just remind me again, why am I about to have a bath in the stuff?
‘Yeast is the “secret” ingredient,’ Ester explains. ‘It’s very good for your skin and hair.’
But I’m not in Iceland just to soften my skin. I’m here to drive the Arctic Coast Way, a new route across the little-visited north of the country, far from the volcanic, often crowded south-west.
The route covers 560 miles of coastal roads between north-west Hvammstangi, a three-hour drive from Keflavik International Airport, and north-east Bakkafjörour. Working around the peninsulas that jut out into fjords and the North Atlantic Ocean, here are mighty mountains, black sand beaches, fishing villages and wide bays where whales come to feed – and, yes, beer to soak in along the way.
From Hvammstangi I head up the Vatnsnes peninsula, stopping at Illugastaðir to check out a colony of harbour and common seals, then circle around to Hvitserkur, a tall, impressive basalt sea-stack off the coast known as the Troll of the North-West.
Local legend claims it’s the petrified remains of one of Iceland’s giant trolls, who was caught in a ray of sunlight and turned to stone…
As I drive from Sauðarkrokur towards the mountainous Troll Peninsula, I spot stocky Icelandic horses roaming by the side of the road, high above the glistening fjord.
Bjorboðin is further south on Eyjafjörður fjord, a fine way to warm up from the brisk weather. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989 but the country’s making up for lost time with a surge in craft beer brewers, including Kaldi, the company behind the spa.
An oval tub, large enough for three at a push, is prepared for me in a private room and I have that aforementioned soak in warm, yeasty, ale-y, brown water (it’s more blissful than that sounds).
Regretfully getting back on the road afterwards, I reach Akureyri, capital of the north, and sail out from the harbour next morning into the silvery waters of Eyjafjörður fjord on a hulking whale-watching ship (£67pp).
An hour later, a noisy spout of water from a blowhole tells us there’s a whale in the water: a humpback.
There turn out to be three, all ‘socialising in some way’, according to onboard whale expert Babsi Neubarth.
The nutrient-rich waters off Iceland’s north coast are feeding grounds for humpbacks and other whales, including minkes and orcas.
The humpbacks we see stay at the surface long enough to take a few good breaths. Before each deep dive, they raise their flukes, the patterns as unique as a human fingerprint.
‘This one ahead is Depill, pronounced “depilt”,’ says Babsi of a 40-ton female she recognises. Depill is a nice name meaning ‘dot’, after the dots on its
Not all the whales are so lucky. Two bloated whales in the fjord who spent time together and are quite fond of each other were recently awarded the names Vladmir Spoutin’ and Donald Hump.
I see more humpbacks in Skjálfandi Bay, offshore from the fishing village of Húsavik, and at night, up in the dark hills above town, a mesmerising display of Northern Lights, the only sighting of my trip.
From Húsavik, I drive deep into the rarely visited north-east to hike around the horseshoe-shaped canyon at Ásbyrgi and watch white water cascading over Dettifoss, one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls. Few people make it out to the remote Melrakkaslétta peninsula.
At the tip, I turn off to Hraunhafnartangi lighthouse to stand at the northernmost point of mainland Iceland.
Walking along the rocky beach, just three kilometres from the Arctic Circle, it’s stormy, wet and cold. There’s never a beer spa around when you really need one.
More awe-inspiring Iceland landscapes
The Vestfjarðaleiðin (Westfjords Way) is a circular driving route that claims to be one of the most scenic and cultural in the world.
The Westfjords peninsula was created by the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, with deep fjords that provide a route laced with cliffs, craggy mountains, valleys and unique fauna.
Click here to find out more
The Diamond Circle
A new touring route in North Iceland connects some of Iceland’s most spectacular sites.
These include Goðafoss waterfall, My’vatn lake, Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi canyon and the town of Húsavik. The Goðafoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland.
Click here to find out more
The Sky Lagoon
This astonishing 246ft-long geothermal ocean-side ‘infinity edge’ wellness lagoon has opened in Karsnes Harbour, Kopavogur, just a few minutes’ drive from Reykjavik’s city centre.
It offers expansive ocean vistas, Northern Lights (hopefully) and dark sky views, and tickets start at £48.
Click here to find out more
An 11-night self-drive Arctic Coast Way trip, including car hire and accommodation, from £1,484pp excl flights. Flights from London to Reykjavik (Keflavik) from £147 return with WizzAir.
For more info, see arcticcoastway.is and northiceland.is.
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