Blog TWHS Visits

Archipelago of La Maddalena

The La Maddalena archipelago comprises the Italian part of the future Strait of Bonifacio transboundary nomination. After having visited the Corsican side earlier on this Mediterranean trip, I also checked out this Sardinian location. It has a very different feel about it, nothing like the steep cliffs at Bonifacio. However it must be said that I did not visit the Corsican Lavezzi Islands (“miniature paradise of sandy creeks and crystal-clear water”) which may be more similar to La Maddalena. 

Between Palau (where I was staying overnight) and La Maddalena ferries sail back and forth in 20 minutes all day long. La Maddalena is the 'capital' of the La Maddalena Archipelago, a national park consisting of seven larger and many smaller islands. La Maddalena itself is a fairly large town, so for the real nature experience you have to go to one of the other islands. For example the neighboring island of Caprera, which is connected to La Maddalena by a dam. The island measures only 15 square kilometers, so I was going to explore it on foot.

The bus dropped me – the only passenger - at the Garibaldi museum. I had planned to do a hiking trail along the north coast from here, but I couldn't find the starting point! So I first walked to the other side of the island via the main road. The scenery here on Caprera is captivating: large boulders that seem to have fallen from the sky, surrounded by typical Mediterranean low plants and shrubs. The road goes through a lovely pine forest: the trees are all bend to the same side, crooked by the wind.

On the south side of the island I followed hiking trail #1, a narrow path through the bushes and along the coast. It ended after about 20 minutes in the village of Stagnali. I had read beforehand that they want to develop tourism here. There is a geological museum, but I found it closed. The rest of the village also seemed completely deserted and there are many dilapidated buildings. A dog angrily barked at me from afar. I left quickly.

I walked a little further southwards and then arrived at a large parking lot where I continued on trail #4, to Cala Portese. This one was also poorly indicated, but using maps.me on my phone and some sense of direction I manage to reach the end point. Cala Portese is a textbook example of what Caprera and the La Maddalena archipelago are known for: an idyllic beach. Due to the shallow sea, the sea water is very clear. I sat here on a rock for a while, enjoying the view. Later a guy arrived for a swim; in the distance an old man was fishing. We were the only 3 humans around.

Some practical notes on visiting Caprera to conclude. You can get there on the local Turmo Travel bus #1 (schedule), it departs from the Garibaldi column near the port in La Maddalena. Tickets have to be bought at the tobacco shop some 200m down the Via Oberdan. At Caprera, the bus does not go to the eastern side of the island (it does stop at the crossing towards it though). So if you want to explore that side, you’d have to walk over there right away or rent a bike / scooter in La Maddalena town. The connecting dam is walkable too, so as a last resort you always could walk to Caprera but it will add another 5km each way to your hike. There are a few small road side eateries on Caprera where they sell drinks and snacks. 

Els - 25 October 2020

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Blog TWHS Visits

Bouches de Bonifacio

The Bouches de Bonifacio (in English: Strait of Bonifacio) is the narrow, navigable waterway that segregates Corsica and Sardinia. This natural ensemble is on the Tentative List of France as a placeholder for a future transboundary nomination with Italy’s La Maddalena Archipelago. The countries are working on the establishment of the joint “International Marine Park of the Strait of Bonifacio”.

The Strait is named after the town of Bonifacio, located at the southern tip of Corsica. It lies on and against a massive rock, part of a rugged coast with vertical rock walls. I stayed there for 2 nights, with the plan to hike in the nature reserve and to make the crossing to Sardinia. “The strait is notorious among sailors for its weather, currents, shoals, and other obstacles.”, Wiki tells us. I certainly got to experience that!

The first day it rained from early on in the morning. Only late afternoon I was able to go out. I still wanted to do the coastal walk that I selected beforehand: the Sentier Campu Romanilu. It would take only an hour and a half. Clearly I was not the only one with this idea: all 50 to 80 tourists present in Bonifacio climbed the rock at the same time. However, we found the path directly along the coast closed: too dangerous, stones could fall down and one could be blown into the sea.

So we took the flat path on the top. This one is broad and normally very easy. But the puddles of rain from the whole day were still there. We managed to maneuver around them with some difficulty, til there was no way forward anymore. I then stuck to taking pictures of the coastline from a distance. You can see Sardinia well.

The coast is made of soft, white limestone. The sea has carved it into interesting shapes. The day before I had driven along part of this coastline with my rental car, that part somewhat to the west is actually prettier than this near Bonifacio. The proposed reserve consists of no less than 16 units on the French side, with a variety of ecosystems including open water (with dolphins), caves, cliffs and beaches.

My bad luck with Bonifacio continued the next day: I had a ticket for the 8:30 am ferry to Santa Teresa Gallura in Sardinia. The crossing, with Moby Lines, only takes 50 minutes. When I arrived at the port, there were already cars waiting and passengers in the terminal. But - no boat. The lady behind the counter had to tell everyone the same thing: boat canceled, too much wind and too high waves. No idea when it would sail, "maybe this afternoon, maybe tomorrow".

I decided to leave the same day by air, flying Figari-Nice-Rome-Olbia to end up in Sardinia after all. So in the end I did not see enough of the Bouches de Bonifacio to make a thorough judgement. But what I did see and experience I did not find special enough to warrant a WH listing.

Els - 18 October 2020

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WHS #739: Gulf of Porto

At spot #728 this is one of the lesser visited sites in Europe among our community members. It comprises a coastal area in northwestern Corsica, recognized for both its marine and terrestrial features. The cumbersome name probably doesn’t help to market it: “Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, Scandola Reserve” actually comprises one integral core zone with three distinct parts. Only the Calanche of Piana (the correct name should be the plural I think - Calanches of Piana) actually lies in the Gulf of Porto. The Gulf of Girolata is a bay of its own and the Scandola Reserve borders that bay as well.

I visited the site from Ajaccio with 1 of the 2 large companies (Cap Nava, Decouvertes Naturelles) that offer day tours there. My tour costed 59 EUR and we were out for 10 hours on a large ship with some 70 passengers. From Ajaccio it takes 2.5 hours to get to the core zone. If you’re not relying on public transport to get around Corsica as I did, you could start your trip from one of the smaller towns north (Porto, even Girolata). Tours with smaller boats will be available from there. I visited on September 23 and though the low season had started already, there were plenty of boats around.

The Scandola Nature Reserve lies at the northern end of the Gulf of Girolata. We had been crossing a very heavy rain shower on our way north from Ajaccio, but the sky cleared just right on time and the sun actually came out. This is necessary for the rocks to show their beautiful orange-red color. You can see these rock formations not only at the coast but also in the sea. It’s a bit like looking at the karst landscapes in Asia - some of the rocks have anthropomorphic or zoomorphic features.

Around lunchtime we were dropped off at picturesque Girolata, the only village on this coast. About 100 people live here and it can only be reached from the sea or via a footpath. This is the lunch stop for all boats, so there are plenty of restaurants. You can also go for a walk or enjoy the beach. At the beach I found lots of hairy balls, which I recognized from an earlier trip to Formentera as the remains of Posidonia sea grass.

We sailed back southwards, along the third part of this WHS: the Calanches of Piana. This landform covers a deep valley with steep slopes, partly submerged in the sea. It is less green than the Scandola Reserve. Its steep cliffs however are in the same shade of red. We saw an osprey nest up against one of the cliffs – this area upon inscription was one of the few places in Europe where ospreys reproduced, but in recent years they have been making a comeback elsewhere in Europe (even in the Netherlands). We did not see the birds - if I correctly understood the commentary of the French guide on the speakers, they were already on their way to their wintering place in Africa.

The Calanches are also known for their many caves. The small boats around us sailed in and out, but we also came close with our relatively large ship. The skipper always first pushed the nose of the ship against the entrance of a cave, and then turned 180 degrees so that the passengers in the back could also have a look. Just like earlier in the day at the Scandola Reserve, there was ample time to photograph every rock, view or cave.

Despite the fact that we rarely hear about it, like so many other WHS this has suffered from overtourism in the last decades. While an estimated 30,000 people visited Scandola each year in the 1980s, this had risen to 1.1 million between April and October 2012. The threatened and protected population of ospreys for example has been plummeting in the Reserve. “A joint Franco-Italian study … has shown that tourist activities constantly disturb ospreys at the end of their reproductive season, leading to a decline in reproductive success.”

Els - 11 October 2020

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Astraftis 14 October 2020

Well, often English sticks to the original plural form, that's why I intervened :-) However, we might try an interesting mixed form calancas, which sounds quite Spanish!


Els Slots 11 October 2020

Thanks Astraftis for pointing this out. In the Corsican language it is the same as in Italian, but translated into for example French, English and Dutch they suddenly get an -s at the end.


Astraftis 11 October 2020

Just as a very minor note, “calanche” is already in the plural form in Italian! ;-) The singular is calanca (or calanco, masculine). I know its meaning of particular eroded rocks, but here it should be in connection with “cala” (bay).


Blog TWHS Visits

Nice

Nice is a French city with 340,000 inhabitants. Tourism on the Riviera was born here, they say. And they want UNESCO recognition for that. I was there for 3 nights during a quiet September weekend. The tourist crowds had either returned home and back to work, or opted out because of the "Code Red" imposed by the French government on this region. However, urban life continued as usual and the anti-Covid measures were being followed in a half-hearted way. Obviously one cannot smoke and wear a face mask at the same time!

The city owes much of its monumental architecture to the arrival of wealthy foreigners who came to enjoy its pleasant climate. Many English and Russian aristocrats stayed here from the end of the 18th century on. Their villas can be found scattered around the current city. I started my exploration on foot in Rue Verdi, where there is some fine Art Deco and mosaics on the façades can be seen. Closeby lies the Museum of Fine Arts, located in the former Villa Kotchoubey. This orange palace is currently being renovated and has been closed to the public all summer.

I then walked down to the famous Promenade des Anglais - a coastal boulevard built in the 1920s on the initiative of the British. In 2016 this was the site of a terrorist attack with a truck, in which 87 people were killed. I don't know exactly where it happened, but I didn't see any blockages anymore or a monument. People nowadays jog, walk, cycle or skateboard up and down the long promenade again.

The most imposing buildings of Nice can be found along this sea boulevard. One to enter is the Musée Massena, which is an elegant early 20th century villa built in neoclassicist style by a Danish architect. It now houses an art collection and a city museum. It is worth a visit alone for its drawings of old Nice - for example, one where all the houses along the boulevard have the name of the (mostly foreign) owner written next to them.

The next day I focused on another part of Nice: Cimiez. This was built on the site of a former Roman town, on a hill northeast of the city center. Bus 5 will take you there. One of the attractions here is the Matisse museum - but I found it closed for 2 weeks to set up a new exhibition. I got off the bus there anyway, to have a quick look at the monastery of Cimiez and the monastery gardens. More interesting are the excavations of the Roman town Cemenelum. They can be accessed via the archaeological museum.

Half way down the hill lies the museum of another well-known French artist: Marc Chagall. Chagall is best known for his stained-glass windows, of which there are 3 exhibited here. But the museum also has 2 large mosaics by his hand and many colorful paintings and drawings. The museum is not that big but I found it very beautiful. Cimiez in general is a pleasant area to visit. It has a few grand buildings from the early 20th century too, such as the Ancien Excelsior Régina Palace and the Manoir Belgrano.

A bit out of the way, in the railway station area, lies the Russian Orthodox cathedral of Nice. This building too was created by foreign visitors to Nice: it was a gift from the Russian Tsar Alexander II to the local Russian community.

As other reviewers have remarked already, the impact of the “birth of tourism” on Nice is too fragmented to warrant a WH inscription for the whole city. I did enjoy Nice’s vibe in general though – it has many pleasant cafés, palm trees and lots of greenery. It felt both a bit French and a bit Italian (Nice only became part of France in 1860). I also thought it was in better shape than many other cities in southern France.

Els - 4 October 2020

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Mediterranean Alps

Monaco was my penultimate country to visit in Europe (only Moldova is left now). This tiny city-state has no WHS but it does have a transboundary candidate: the Mediterranean Alps. Monaco has been heading this proposal, allowing its partners Italy and France to have another go in the same year. In 2019, the 3 countries withdrew their nomination after a negative advice by IUCN. The idea is still alive though, it has a dedicated website and news reports suggest that they are aiming for the WHC of 2021.

When I zoomed into what this site entails for Monaco, it transpired that the Principality only participates in 1 of the 8 locations that comprise this TWHS. Furthermore, its contribution is only marine and that marine zone starts way off Monaco’s coast, kilometers far into the territorial waters. Probably because otherwise the anchored yachts of a Saudi prince or Roman Abramovich would have been affected or Prince Albert’s land reclamation efforts disturbed? To consider this a Monégasque nomination is a farce in my opinion.

To get a feel anyway for location 6 of this TWHS, the territorial waters between Cap Ferrat and Canyon della Roya, I hiked from the train station of Carnolès to Monte Carlo via Cap-Martin. Here, a few "Caps" or headlands border the nominated sea area. I used the former custom officer’s path, which has been relabelled ‘Promenade le Corbusier’ as it passes his Le Cabanon.

The day before I had already noticed how hot it can get here, so I left early. It is a 9km walk to Monaco on a paved and fairly wide path. There are a lot of benches along the route, probably set up for the many retirees that spend the winter at the Mediterranean coast. Along the way I mostly met joggers on their morning routine though. The route starts with a loop around the peninsula of Cap Martin, what I found in hindsight the prettiest part of the hike.

The Mediterranean Alps has been nominated solely for its geological values, or to be more precise its tectonic values such as “continental rift and associated volcanism”. It’s hard to explain in a few words what the oustanding value would be – IUCN found it too narrow and specialized to recognize. Especially this location 6 and the marine part have been criticized. I had no idea what to look out for, so I just photographed the pointy rocks at the shoreline which may be of volcanic origin. They also feature in images on the nomination website.

The path was easy to follow. After the Cap Martin peninsula you walk next to the railway towards Monaco, which with its skyscrapers can be seen from afar. It even directly passes Le Cabanon, a beach house by the architect Le Corbusier and one of the 17 locations of the WHS dedicated to him. Unfortunately it wasn't accessible - there are guided tours but this year from September on they closed until the next season. After a hot walk of more than 2 hours I arrived in the streets of Monaco. There is no border control, just a sign as if you were entering the next municipality. But visited country #117 it is!

Els - 27 September 2020

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Daniel Chazad 30 September 2020

In my opinion, they could have underlined the application by adding the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco with its direct association with significant oceanographic campaigns and the first maps of the world's ocean depths. It is one of the best examples of Baroque Revival architecture worldwide and was built on challenging terrain ("between the Alpes and the Méditerranée"). It would also honor Jacques Cousteau, who was director from 1957 to 1988. Ultimately, it would make it possible for ordinary mortals to visit a component of this (T)WHS without having to wear a wetsuit.


Clyde 29 September 2020

It's more of a way of 'awarding' at least one WHS per country; a tendency that became evident in recent years.


winterkjm 27 September 2020

I wonder if Monaco will provide an IUCN representative with a scuba experience within their territorial waters to prove there is some geological value?


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Tips for travelling to Iceland

In August I spent 11 days travelling across Iceland, mostly driving a rental car around the Ring Road. I covered all 3 WHS, 3 TWHS and some places of interest in between on this itinerary. Similar to Namibia or Mongolia, man has stayed on the fringes of this country and nature is intimidatingly prevalent. Find below my top tips for travelling to Iceland as a World Heritage Traveller.

Puffin at Ingolfshofdi

1. Take advantage of all its natural attractions being free to enter

Iceland may have the stigma of being an expensive destination, but the good thing is that all its natural attractions are free. This includes not only the ever-present pretty landscape surrounding you, but also top class sights such as Thingvellir Park, Vatnajökull, the geyser fields, Gulfoss, Lake Myvatn. To be able to enjoy all this without paying is a major drawing card of Iceland. The sites all look well-kept but have few amenities and no visible ranger presence as in the US for example.

2. Don’t expect to meet many Icelanders

In a normal (non-Covid) year, tourists outnumber the locals 6:1. Hotels, restaurants, tours - especially outside of Reykjavik - therefore are often staffed by young people from all around the EU. The effects are similar to that of the working holiday scheme in Australia. It does take away a bit from the authenticity as these youngsters probably know as little about their surroundings as you do yourself. And they don't at all look like that guy from the Skyr advert.

Landmannalaugar imitates Namib Sand Sea

3. Choose your tours wisely

The surge in visitors to Iceland over the past years – combined with the total downfall due to Covid – does not bring out the best in tour operators and beforehand it is hard to decide which one to choose for what, if any. I used them only to get to places where I couldn’t go with my 2WD rental car.

The tours on my trip were: Ingolshofdi Puffin Tour by FromCoastToMountains, Whale watching tour from Husavik by Gentle Giants, a Superjeep tour to Landmannalaugar by Arctic Adventures and the (private) tour to Surtsey by SACA. All come recommended, except the whale tour. These whale tours always seem to disappoint me; the boat also was too crowded and the itinerary unimaginative.

4. Allocate 10 - 14 days

To do a loop around the Ring Road, do some hiking and a tour or 2, see the 3 WHS and all TWHS (I skipped Breiðafjörður) it takes about 10 to 14 days. Reykjavik is often used as a stop-over destination only, but when you limit yourself to the southwestern corner of Iceland for only a few days you miss a whole lot.

Skyr mousse with white chocolate & cucumber sorbet

5. Enjoy the food

Don’t bring all the food with you as some budget tips suggest. I love exploring foreign supermarkets and trying out local snacks; Icelandic chocolate bars filled with salty liquorice taste really good! Especially the fish meals are excellent all around Iceland and the fish of the day usually costs a reasonable 25 EUR. Also expect a lot of hipster food culture (think food trucks, roasted cauliflower, pomegranate seeds), mixed with New Nordic Cuisine in the more expensive restaurants. The Skyr mousse desserts always are to die for.

Els - 20 September 2020

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Els Slots 20 September 2020

Regarding Breiðafjörður - the place to visit there is Flatey Island, but I believe there weren't any boat trips available from a place near the Ring Road when I did my research. It would also have added 1 or 2 days to my schedule.


Frédéric M 20 September 2020

Can I ask why you decided to skip Breiðafjörður? Logistic reasons?


Zoë Sheng 20 September 2020

One more tip: Don't go to the Blue Lagoon ;)


Blog TWHS Visits

Icelandic Turf House Tradition

Iceland isn’t a country to visit for its rich cultural heritage. It has Thingvellir as a cultural WHS, but that’s a cultural landscape with mostly intangible features. The capital Reykjavik has some modernist constructions of interest (the Hallgrímskirkja, several art museums and sculptures), but the rest of the country was quite poor and isolated until the beginning of the 20th century. A reminder of those times lies in the Turf House Tradition, a series of 14 locations on the Tentative List.

Most of those 14 properties lie close to the Ring Road. During my first attempt I was confronted with a closed gate at Keldur after driving 4 km on an unpaved road, so I decided to be more picky with the others as not all are welcoming tourists.

The first satisfying one lies 15 kilometers east of Skaftafell: the turf church Hofskirkja. It is the village church of the hamlet of Hof. This turf-roofed church, which is still in use, was built at the end of the 19th century. It is set in the middle of a contemporary cemetery, which is perhaps even more interesting than the church itself. Each grave lies beneath a small grassy mound.

My other visits are from the north of Iceland. The peat church Víðimýrarkirkja for example: its black-and-red exterior is the most beautiful of the series. It is accessible for most of the day, the caretaker seems to live next to it and he opened the church when he saw me and another couple arriving. There is an entrance fee of 1000 crowns (6 EUR), for which you also get a brochure in English. It's small and cramped inside: there are a few benches and an altar; the only decoration consists of the wooden carvings.

It was already getting late and I doubted whether to visit the turf farm Glaumbaer about 8 kilometers away. Fortunately I did, as I found it the most illuminating one on how the turf farms functioned. This site is also open to visitors and there were dozens of them present when I was there. A fee of 1,700 crowns (10 EUR) is charged. It is a large farm, consisting of 13 linked "houses" (rooms). They were made of a combination of turf, stones in a herringbone pattern and wood. Some of the houses date from the 18th century, the rest from the 19th.

If you'd want to spend time / money on only one interior, choose this one: it has one long corridor to which all rooms / houses are connected. It is very dark inside and it stays warm even in the winter. Each room had a specific function (storage space, kitchen etc) and the sleeping area could accommodate 22 people in 11 beds shared by 2 persons each.

This TWHS has a 100% thumbs up score from the 7 visitors so far and I’d wholeheartedly support that. The turf ‘houses’ are very fine pieces of vernacular architecture, which is a gap on the List. The site description on the UNESCO website is very elaborate, so the Icelanders must be preparing something….

Els - 13 September 2020

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Blog WHS Visits

WHS #738: Surtsey

When you look at my ‘Missing’ map, you can see that I have visited nearly all European WHS except for those tiny islands scattered here and there at the fringes. Last year was a true debacle in that regard, missing out on both St. Kilda and Skellig Michael in the same summer due to unfavourable weather conditions. The same risk applies to Surtsey, though it lies not so far out as St. Kilda. Also, unlike the other two, Surtsey is not served by scheduled boat tours and the once available flightseeing tours have been discontinued. So I did not dare to hope to reach it during my trip around Iceland.

Fortunately, those intrepid Norwegians Randi and Svein visited 2 weeks before me and proved that it would be possible. Just cross your fingers for calm weather and bring a stash of money (in Iceland this means: have a creditcard with a high enough limit). The go-to guys for a private charter are SACA. When I saw that the weather forecast for the weekend was sunny and calm, I contacted them by email on Wednesday. On Friday evening, when the detailed weather maps for the next day were available, the final decision was made to leave the next morning at 9 a.m.

So we went, captain Simmi, his adult son and myself on a so-called RIB, something that looks like a inflatable dinghy - but with a sturdy hull and the qualification "unsinkable". It is completely uncovered and has room for 6 passengers (which is really, really small). I was given a warm coverall to wear against wind and weather. They directed me to sit on the front bench and then we sailed out of the bay of Heimaey.

We first navigated between the other Westman Islands. These are grouped together in a cluster. Like Surtsey they are of volcanic origin, often not much more than rocky points. The largest puffin colony in the world lives on one of those islands with a million pairs breeding. There were still plenty around this late in the year. The grass on the slope was covered with white dots, all of them puffins. Later we also saw young bobbing on the water. Another island's cliff face is popular with nesting gannets. To see these large birds together in such large groups is really special. They had pooped all over cliff.

After we left the other islands behind, the trip to Surtsey was continued on the open ocean. The waves were a lot higher here and the boat was constantly hitting the water. If you sit in the front, you always get hit - this expedition is not recommended for people with back problems! But of course you have the best view. At one point we sailed through a large group of birds that congregated at sea. They flew all around us.

Surtsey soon came into view. The island is easily recognizable because it is bare, brownish and has the shape of a table mountain. Due to erosion by wind and water, the island is getting smaller every year; since its birth almost 50% of the surface has vanished. It has two volcanic cones and a lava field. On top of one of the cones are the remains of a lighthouse - it was supposed to be removed in 2007 (a promise upon inscription!) but still stands. There is also a cabin on the island for researchers.

We sailed all around it; it is less than 2 square kilometers in size, so it didn't take that long. The coast consists mainly of a cliff and there is one cave. We saw the head of a gray seal emerge from the coastal waters. Seals were the first mammals that started breeding here, in 1983. The first birds were already there in 1963, 2 weeks after the volcanic eruption started and the island was formed. Now 89 bird species have been counted that occasionally reside on Surtsey. You can also see small patches of green appear on the slope of the volcano.

On the way back the wind strengthened and halfway through I exchanged my spot in the front for the much more comfortable seats behind the skippers' backs. We sailed into some more caves in search of rare birds and then ended in the beautiful bay of Heimaey again. The excitement beforehand and the journey towards it made this visit to Surtsey special, also because you know that this is a rare ‘tick’. The number of sea birds you see along the way is incredible. The island of Surtsey itself is not beautiful, but it is fascinating and combined with the much greener other Westman Islands makes for an unforgettable experience in Iceland.

Els - 6 September 2020

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Clyde 6 September 2020

That's great. I'm glad you found my review useful Michael :)


Els Slots 6 September 2020

It takes about 45 minutes to go directly from Heimaey to Surtsey, but we stopped a lot on the way. The full tour was just under 3 hours.


Jay T 6 September 2020

That looks like an amazing adventure — I’m so glad a boat trip to a remote island finally worked out for you! How long was the trip out to Surtsey and back?


Michael Ayers 6 September 2020

@Clyde

As Els said, yes they take cards, but last year they were just getting that set up, so it took some effort, now it should be smooth.

Also, I have been meaning to mention to you that this summer I went to Falun Copper Mountain, and I was fortunate that I read your review first, beacuse otherwise I might have not known about the chance for the Eagle-Owls. Because of your comment, I went back in the evening and had a great look at one. I owe you a life bird!


Els Slots 6 September 2020

Everything is credit (or debit) card based in Iceland, Clyde. Even the tiniest turf house can by paid by card. SACA has got a small hut in the Heimaey harbour, which they opened up right before the tour to get my coveralls, pay with the card machine and drop my luggage.


Michael Ayers 6 September 2020

This is outstanding! Since I noticed Surtsey on you "recent visits" list, I have been looking forward to this post. Glad you made it and it sounds like you had good weather, but maybe a little more rough seas than I did. It's also nice to hear that saca has gotten some more Surtsey customers. The island was one of my favorite site visits, and your post brings back some great memories. Though, personally, I felt the island was very beautiful, just in its own special way.


Clyde 6 September 2020

Quite an adventure! Thanks for sharing. Just one question: does the skipper accept credit cards or cash only?


Blog WHS Visits

WHS #737: Thingvellir

Thingvellir is probably Iceland’s most popular tourist attraction (well, the geysers may just beat it), but surely the core of the country’s national identity. Its meaning has already been well explained by previous reviewers: it comprises the remains of the place where the Althing, the Icelandic ‘parliament’, met yearly to make judicial and administrative decisions. I’ll focus a bit more on the practical details for visiting as I was surprised by some.

Drekkingarhylur

I arrived by car from the north (road 36) and was immediately confused where to park. There are signs, there are numbered parking lots, but the pros and cons of those were unclear. I ended up in parking lot P2 which is at the northern end of the park. It is a paid parking, it costs 750 ISK per full day (4,60 EUR). You pay with a credit card at a machine after typing in your car registration plate number. P1 and P5 are also paid, but lot P3 is free however located a few hundred meters further away. P4 is for handicapped only. 

View on the church and the prime minister's residence

A pole with signs in Icelandic awaited me at the start of the trail, signs to… yes to what actually? There were things on it like “Lögberg 350m” and “Hakid 300m”. I decided to just follow the main path along the ridge, where I encountered the following (fortunately with information panels in English too):

  • The intriguing “Drekkingarhylur”, which turned out to be a place where women were drowned as punishment. They were tied in a bag and thrown into this water hole.
  • The “Lögberg”, which is really what it's all about: this is a rocky outcrop where the Speaker of Parliament had his seat and from where speeches were held. The exact location is unknown and may have moved due to changes in the landscape. Where they think it was, a large Icelandic flag now flies.
  • “Snorri’s Hideout”, which includes the remains of an encampment where the visitors to Parliament stayed overnight during the two weeks of the meeting. With some imagination, traces of it can be seen in the grass.

I ended up at the Visitor Center. There’s a mildly interesting exhibition that can be viewed for 1000 ISK (6 EUR). No entrance fee to the park itself is charged. Remarkable I found also that there is no café or restaurant or other ostentatious tourist complex within the park area. The visitor center has a souvenir shop and a refrigerator full of soft drinks and the ubiquituous sandwiches, but that’s all. A bit further along road 36 there is a Service Centre with a few more amenities, but nothing like the craze at Geysir or Gulfoss.

Silfra fissure

The site is not huge, I spent 2 hours on a leisurely visit that covered all in the upper and lower areas I think except the Öxarárfoss waterfall. I was intrigued by a signpost ‘Silfra 400m’ at the bridge. It brought me and some other curious travellers to a fissure that has been formed due to the Eurasian and North American plates drifting apart and subsequent earthquakes. Its clear groundwater and location within the continental rift makes it an interesting spot for scuba divers, however for a casual visitor there’s not much to see.

Els - 2 September 2020

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Blog TWHS Visits

Mývatn and Laxá

The Mývatn-Laxá Nature Conservation Area in northern Iceland consists of Lake Mývatn - a shallow lake - and its outflowing river Laxá. Together they are important for bird conservation, especially of ducks. Of course (this is Iceland after all) they are located in an active volcanic area as well, which has shaped the landscape. There are several short walks that you can do from the road around the lake, which combined make for a fun, active day. Fortunately the weather was dry and sunny when I visited; in the rain the charm of this area will soon elude you.

I started at Höfdi, a small peninsula / rocky promontory which reaches into Lake Mývatn. I had arrived early, but the trail turned out to be closed between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. to give the birds a rest. So I stopped by again later in the morning. The 1 hour-hiking trail here leads through a forest, which is a rarity in Iceland. It provides access to several excellent viewpoints over the lake and its rocks and islets created by lava.

I continued my loop around the lake by visiting Skutustadir. This is where the pseudo craters can be seen, the other potential OUV of this site next to the duck life. Pseudo craters are small hills that look like extinct volcanoes, but were actually formed when hot lava reached the lake. Water that came under it eventually pushed itself out of the “crater” like steam. This rare feature can only be found here, in Hawaii and on Mars.

In this area 2 walks are signposted: a short one to the top of the largest pseudo crater and a longer one along the waterfront and several craters. I choose the latter which took an hour – it was pleasant enough but nothing exciting. In the hotel opposite Skutustadir I ate lunch: very appropriate for the rich bird world of Myvatn I choose a ‘pulled goose’ burger.

I spent the rest of the day visiting some more spectacular geothermic and volcanic sites, but these probably will not be included in a future WH nomination. After dinner I went out again once more: to the point where the Laxá River enters the lake. This fast-flowing river is full of fish (Laxá means salmon, but there is also trout). The river mouth is particularly popular with the ducks of the lake. No fewer than 13 species live and breed here, including the rare harlequin duck. Unfortunately the prettier species had already moved to the sea for this year, so I had to make do with rather boring brown and black ducks (wigeons and tufted ducks I think). Spring offers the best possibilities to see them all.

While I was watching the ducks from the bridge over the Laxá (right at the crossing of roads 1 and 848), I noticed for the first time the large swarms of midges that give the lake its name. They do not bite people but are a delicacy for the birds. A substantial group joined me in the car, but died or otherwise vanished quickly.

In conclusion I’d say that Lake Myvatn is an excellent stop on the Ring Road for a day or so. I am a bit inconclusive whether it is outstanding enough for WH material, but its volcanic setting and the resulting hydrological conditions provide scientists with enough material to think and write about.

Els - 30 August 2020

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Comments

Els Slots 30 August 2020

No, but I was not interested


Zoë Sheng 30 August 2020

Are the hot springs closed?


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