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The new Lapland and Iceland season is now upon us and as such we have quite a few excited people who can’t wait to see the Northern Lights. To help plan for your experience, Apple have created an Aurora forecast app . This clever little app lets you see 8 days of Northern Lights viewing for both Iceland and Lapland in the north, (along with the southern hemisphere as well). To access this app all you need is either an iPad, iPhone or iPod with either Wi-Fi and/or 3G signal.

For iPhone and iPod users, go into your App Store and on the search option type in “Aurora Forecast”. Click on the app (looks the same as the photo below) and press the “Install” button.

Both of these devices will then show you a date screen: Click on the date you are interested in and scroll down to the Iceland and Lapland bar. This way you will be fully up to date with the aurora!

Following on from this original Northern Lights Apps blog posted in December 2011 in relation to an app that forecasts the Northern Lights, the designer has now incorporated more updates into this app, one of which is compatibility with iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod.

Other exciting updates include an easier way of viewing the Northern Light forecast for both the Northern and Southern hemisphere at the push of a button, quarterly hour updates, and push notifications informing you when the Lights peak above a set level. For more information on this please click on the two links below. Happy viewing!

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aurora-forecast./id539875792?mt=8

http://tinacinc.com/AuroraForecast/

We are delighted to share that one of the hotels that we work closely with in Iceland has just received the prestigious 2012 certificate of excellence award from TripAdvisor.

This award is in recognition of Hotel Rangá’s 4.5 rating on the TripAdvisor website. As you can imagine the staff and management at Hotel Rangá is delighted to have received this award as it reflects feedback from their genuine customers who have visited. It certainly confirms both our personal experience staying there, and feedback that we have had from our clients who have stayed there as part of the breaks we offer.

Weekend a la Carte offers both summer and winter breaks based out of Hotel Ranga with the Iceland Northern Lights Winter Break being our most popular.

For more information on our Iceland breaks please click here

Northern Lights – The Age of the Aurora

Solar activities, also known as sunspots, are what regulate the intensity of the solar wind which in turn creates the aurora borealis. The sun has an 11 year cycle – or “pulse” – which regulate the intensity of the sunspots/northern lights and thereby also their consistency. Scientists have been monitoring this for hundreds of years and also know when to expect increases in activity.

As we now head into a period with very high sunspot activity – one could say we are in The Age of Aurora – which should therefore bring about some fantastic displays of aurora.

The next time this high sunspot occurs again will be first around 2022 – so if you want to view this nature’s splendour in the foreseeable future – now is the time to book a trip to the northern latitudes where this is viewable.

To see the Northern Lights Holidays we offer click here

You can book a break to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, Sweden or Norway, where you enjoy not only great views of Aurora Borealis but also an arctic experience.

Predicting the best time to see Northern Lights
The current cycle of sunspot activity – known as Cycle 24 – has brought spectacular activity this year and that promises to continue over the autumn of 2013.

NASA tracks sunspot activity and tries to predict it because of the need for this information in the forward planning of space launches.

In its scientific and detailed article on Northern Lights and sunspot activity, NASA says it uses a few methods to predict cycle peaks.

“Relationships have been found between the size of the next cycle maximum and the length of the previous cycle, the level of activity at sunspot minimum, and the size of the previous cycle,” says the article.

“Among the most reliable techniques are those that use the measurements of changes in the Earth’s magnetic field at, and before, sunspot minimum. These changes in the Earth’s magnetic field are known to be caused by solar storms but the precise connections between them and future solar activity levels is still uncertain.”

So the best time to book a holiday to see the Northern Lights, if you haven’t already seen them, is autumn 2013, if these predictions are correct.

 

For more information on our Northern Lights breaks please click here

Did you know a Dolphin is actually a Whale? (to be exact a Toothed Whale). No I didn’t know either and this was just one of the fascinating things I learnt at Husavik Whale Museum. Any museum that has exhibits labelled “touch me” has my vote!

The museum is full of whole whale skeletons. Perhaps the most fascinating was the Unicorn Whale or Narwhal as it is properly called. In the museum there are whale feeding plates, made from Keratin (same as our fingernails), and jaw bones all available to touch and feel. Finally I would recommend you settle down to watch some fascinating documentary videos; For me the most interesting was the one explaining how the current oil explorers who use sonars towed from ships is confusing the whales causing a big rise in whale beach strandings and sadly death.

Having spent 2 hrs looking at bones we felt we needed to see the live thing. We chose to go out with North Sailing as we liked the idea of being on a traditional sailing fishing boat. We were kitted out with full overalls and set off. We were allowed to wander whether we wanted on the boat and so we found a spot parked right at the front – a great spot!

First of all we went right up to an island to see puffins. They are so funny with their little short wings, but incredibly fast as they duck below the surface as the boat approached. Up high on the island cliffs you can see the holes where they have nested. For me the most fascinating fact was learning that when they migrate they just go out to sea and bob around for 5-6 months. I guess their wings are not strong enough to fly them to warmer climates?

Next the sails went up – pulled by us. A lovely gaff rigg so each sail has 2 booms and with no winches on board, it needed to be pulled up by 2 people at the same time.

And then the highlight of the whales. “Over there” someone shouted and everyone rushed to the front of the boat to see it hanging onto any stays they could find. I was very smug sitting on my perch comfortably right at the front!

And so a magical time started as we found 4 – 5 whales, one after another. And they were whales, not dolphins – Humpbacks! I lost count of the number of flukes and dives. One swam right under our bow, and another swam alongside for quite a while.

On our return we were accompanied by leaping dolphins, and all with the backdrop of the snow covered mountains – a truly beautiful sight and a memory to last!

For more information on our Whale Watching breaks please click here

Unlike the UK there is not one big display of fireworks; instead it feels like every household in the capital sets off fireworks. Throughout the night fireworks will be set off with the firework crescendo being at midnight. Popular places in or close to the city centre to assemble for the fireworks are Hallgrímskirkja Church, Perlan (The Pearl) and Landakotskirkja church.

So imagine an evening where you are actually dining at the Perlan on New Year’s Eve.  So you have the view of the fireworks but without being in the crowds. At Weekend a la carte we offer a break where you dine at the Perlan, take a trip out to see a bonfire with the local Icelanders and then return to the balcony that surrounds the Perlan to celebrate the midnight fireworks. Dining at the Perlan is a wonderful experience dining on gourmet food as the dome slowly rotates (once every two hours) to allow you to see the full Reykjavik skyline.

Having offered this Perlan experience for a few years, and also offered breaks staying at Hotel Ranga famed for seeing Northern Lights and being in the heart of exciting off road 4WD SuperJeep Tours, last year we combined the two for the first time. And WOW what great feedback we received.

We definitely cracked it as a “Once in a Lifetime experience”, our speciality at Weekend a La Carte. To quote Mike & Lisa who travelled with Weekend a La Carte last year for New Year’s Eve in Iceland; “The holiday was superb and couldn’t be faulted. We had the best time and have taken many photographs which I will be happy to make available to you once I have edited them.  Our hat off goes to the 4 x 4 guide we had for the waterfall tour. He was superb and did his best to make it the most pleasurable experience. He took us everywhere he possibly could and into the darkness, extremely polite and knowledgeable. I highly recommend this tour.  All of the food and meals were of the highest standard and we had a chance to try many foods we hadn’t tried before. The Blue Lagoon was fantastic”.

The Perlan & Fireworks – The best experience of New Year I’ve had to date and would seriously recommend this for anyone looking for the wow factor and break from the normal annual celebration. The building itself is just a talking point on its own; the revolving restaurant caused quite a bit of amusing confusion. Leaving the restaurant to go view the fireworks or go to the toilet to return and find your table has moved. Quite confusing after a drink or two, okay maybe a bit more. The Ranga Hotel – well I just can’t really say anything about it other than it’s an experience people need to have for themselves, and definitely do not miss the hot tub outside in the snow experience.  I had a glass of 30yr old port in there, Lisa had a cocktail and we were in there 2 hours through midnight under a full starlit sky (as you can tell by now no mention of the Northern Lights). So all in all a fantastic trip, worth every penny and memory. Highly recommended. Oh and because of the fact we didn’t catch the Northern Lights, it’ll be more probable that we will be doing your Sweden trip next should funds be available. Many thanks once again”

And for those worried about not seeing the Northern Lights Nasa is forecasting a double solar peak meaning they should be fantastic this winter. New Year’s Eve is also close to a new moon so if the skies are clear the Northern Lights will be even more dramatic. Obviously we cannot guarantee you will see them but the chances are good this 2013 New Year’s Eve.

 

For more information on our Iceland New Year breaks please click here

We just received this feedback from a client who went to Iceland in November!

We did see some fantastic sights around the south side of the island. Hotel Ranga was amazing in terms of comfort, food, and friendliness of the staff. We were treated to some brilliant views of the Northern Lights on our first night there.

The lava tubes were not quite what we expected and we would probably have described it as pot-holing but it was an experience that neither of us would want to have missed. The excursions were well organised and very enjoyable.

We did choose to miss the visit to the Blue Lagoon and took a trip instead over the recently erupted volcano. The manager of Hotel Ranga tried to help us organise a helicopter flight for that day but it could not be arranged. As an alternative he told us of a local character with a fixed wing plane. When we agreed to go he made the arrangements for us. I would say the plane was lacking in comfort but our pilot was “mad enough” to fly us on a roller coaster ride right down the lava flow tipping the plane left and right throughout the descent and then back up again. The flight over and inside the rim of the still steaming volcano with its powerful smell of sulphur was brilliant. Our flight included going over the nearby glacier and lasted for about two-and-a-half hours. Ann still describes it as the scariest thing she has ever done!

I could write pages on The Golden Circle Tour but I doubt I could do justice to the brilliance of the experience and the enthusiasm and pride of the people involved in taking us.

Hotel Centrum in Reykjavik was different in style to Hotel Ranga but none the less impressive and comfortable. We thoroughly enjoyed the short break you arranged and our home made DVD will continue to enthral for years to come.

To see the break they went on please click here on Icelandic Northern Lights Weekend Break

Having recently returned from a site visit to Iceland to make sure our Weekend a la Carte breaks to Iceland are as good as they can be, I wanted to share what an amazing country it is. So much to offer in terms of dramatic landscapes, beautiful scenery and natural phenomena and many SuperJeep and Snowmobile adventures. I can’t tell you everything – The Blog will go on forever but here are the highlights – and as it is I have split it into 2 blogs on 2 different days!

The Northern Lights Hotel Ranga

What a lovely hotel with a superb team who are determined to ensure you have a great time and give you every chance to see the Northern Lights.

I drove up in a gale with the freezing wind whipping around and as I hurried inside I was taken aback with the welcome by a 9ft. Polar bear! My standard room was decked out in warm wood with a very cosy feel. It had a door that opened directly onto the grounds where the hot tubs are, with the river lazily running by.

Hotel Ranga is the only hotel in Iceland which has a Northern Lights Wake up call. If you sign yourself up each morning the team will come and wake you up (be it 1am or 5 am!) if the Northern Lights are on show. What a great idea knowing you can go to sleep and not worry about missing anything! Apparently they have had up to 40 people in the PJ’s at 3 in the morning standing in front of the hotel!

I had a delicious meal in the hotel which was interrupted several times by the staff quietly advising us that the Northern Lights were out and on show if we wished to see them. Needless to say interruptions like that are never minded and the restaurant emptied each time! (Tip: Take your warm outside coat to dinner!!)

After dinner I wandered outside and considered the hot tubs. With the wind whistling by I couldn’t think of anything I would least like to do! I decided I couldn’t tell my clients to do it if I didn’t do it myself. So I gamely changed into my swimming costume, found the bath robe, and stepped out into the freezing (it was minus 4 degrees Celsius and where the towel got wet it did actually freeze solid!). 3 minutes later, safely ensconced in the amazingly hot tub, I lay back and watched the Northern Lights. This was magical and well worth it. What a fabulous and warm 45 mins – I just wish I had had the foresight to have taken a glass of wine with me!

In the morning over breakfast as dawn arrived I realised I had not appreciated how close we were to the river and how peaceful and quiet the view was across the river. What a lovely spot to sit and relax. But no time as I hurried off for a SuperJeep Tour.

Activities in the South

I met the owner of a local company based in the South focusing on SuperJeep Tours. I spent the day with him looking at the options for SuperJeep Tours and came away very excited at the options for “Soft Adventure”. (I.e. you get right up into the mountains for some adventure but don’t have to spend 5 hard hours hiking to get there!)

Saeli is a local who has lived in these parts for years and he told me about his personal experiences during the eruption – How his family was evacuated, how they had to move all the farm-stock and the difficulty with the horses due to the number involved. I commented on how the media coverage presented the Icelanders as being very stoic and calm about the whole episode and how it appeared they took it in their stride. He explained how the locals were determined to cope with it and turn it into a positive. He personally took the BBC Reporters out during the eruption and spent 4 hours teaching them how to say Eyjafjallajokull correctly!!

Hotel Ranga is ideally situated for you to experience the real and raw Iceland being very close to the stunning area of Thorsmork, the recently erupted Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, as well as the Black Volcanic Beaches, The Glacier of Mýrdalsjökull and the Glacial tongue of Sólheimajökull. Indeed many of the day trips from Reykjavik come down to the South Coast for these experiences which are right on your doorstep whilst staying at Hotel Ranga.

Obviously the Hire Cars (including 4WD hire cars) are not suitable for going into these areas and the specially adapted SuperJeeps with their extra-large tyres and raised suspension allow them to cross the roughest terrain. Here you can go across glacial rivers, up mountain tracks onto Glaciers and along floodplains to reach Volcanoes. Þórsmörk is a breathtaking area between the three glaciers and you can see the effect of last year’s eruption on the landscape including the filling of a whole Glacial Lake. On certain tours you can see new fissures and lava formations as well as still hot glowing Lava and feel the heat under the surface.

There is Snowmobiling on the top of the Glacier on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier with superb views back down to the Atlantic Coast. This Glacier is on the top of Katla Volcano with dramatic views across to Eyjafjallajokull. Whilst Katla is the next Volcano due to erupt it is extremely closely monitored and you will not be taken there at any hint of danger – but what a great story to tell when it does erupt that you actually snowmobiled on it! The Icelanders talk about WHEN it erupts – not IF! There was an extremely strong wind blowing when I went up and the snow was flowing down the mountain like a river towards the Ocean. The Babble and laughter of everyone talking about their experience after the drive was deafening!

I didn’t have chance to do this but you can actually walk on ice on a Glacier exploring the crevasse riddled outlet glacier with its amazing ice formations, sinkholes and jagged ridges. It was stressed to me that it was easy (2 on a 1 – 5 scale) and suitable for everyone – they had a group of blind people on the previous week.

And I haven’t even talked about the stunning waterfalls and black beach. Saeli drove the SuperJeep across the dunes to a super vantage point looking along the beach and over the Atlantic Ocean. Just as I was relaxing looking at the view he accelerated and charged down the slope and across the beach. We had the whole beach to ourselves and the black volcanic sands really are Black – quite bizarre for one used to the golden Cornwall beaches! The pounding white surf just served to accentuate the blackness.

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland as you can walk behind it and stare through the falling water across the flat landscape towards the South Beaches. The nearby thundering Skogar Waterfall is one of the highest in Iceland at 60M and certainly worth a few photos!

To see the break we offer based at Hotel Ranga with SuperJeep Adventure tours included.

So I was off to see Hotel Ion, a brand new hotel that opened in April 2013, an hour’s drive from Reykjavik in Iceland. It is situated next to a geothermal power station, but don’t let that put you off as it is believed the power station has a direct positive effect on creating clear nights – critical for seeing the Aurora Borealis. It is believed that the steam plumes create a special micro climate which creates clear skies allowing the Northern Lights to shine through.

The setting is stunning and the drive to it is spectacular on a tiny tarmacked road winding through the mountains and lava fields. Although the hotel was exactly where my directions said it would be I was quite relieved to find it as there was nothing apart from the lava fields for miles beforehand. Perched on stilts it is nestled amongst lava fields with views over a lake.

The hotel was originally where the power station workers lived, but has been converted to be modern, fresh and airy with good size rooms with big windows with views. The owners have doubled its size and also created a stunning bar. One whole wall is glass from ceiling to floor and it is orientated to face where the Northern Lights appear. A great place to relax whilst you wait for them to arrive. If they do the hotel lights are turned off so you can enjoy them in full and you can even prebook a wakeup call if they come out whilst you are asleep.

There is a spa outside and an outside geothermal hot tub. Though if I’m honest it is not as hot as I would have liked, (it is naturally heated by the heat generated underground), and so one cannot complain about nature!

Hotel Ion is on the edge of the Golden Circle, only about 3/4 hr away from Pingvellir, the mini rift valley. The drive there is stunning past Thingvellir Lake and through the beautiful national park. The drive is as wonderful as the sites of interest in the Golden Circle; Gullfoss (the majestic waterfall), Pingvellir – also home to the location of the first Viking parliament with majestic views over the plains in front. This apparently is the first democratic parliament in the world. Further on you have Strokkur Geyser. This is mesmerising. How many times did I say “I’ll just stay for just one more eruption”….. at least 10!

This hotel is a great option for self-drive visitors who want comfort and quality with a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, with some great natural sights nearby. Click here for more information

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