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Top of the World

Lacee Watkins | March 16, 2018 | Story Further Afield Travel National

It’s a land where fire meets ice; an Eden that wows the adventure seeker, satisfies the foodie and mesmerizes the culture lover. Iceland lives up to every bucket-list mention it has ever claimed. The tiny island, which seems worlds away from the U.S., has become extremely accessible to travelers over the past two years. After a major financial crisis in 2008, Iceland turned to tourism as its saving grace, offering curious jet-setters an all-access pass to the world’s most marvelous landscape.

Our adventure begins in the capital city of Reykjavík. (Psst ... starting June 1, Icelandair will offer nonstop service to/from SFO again.) This trendy Nordic hub has something for everyone, from gingerbread-house architecture and cozy coffee shops to sleek modern museums and futuristic dance clubs blasting Björk.

We board a plane from Reykjavík to our final destination in Northern Iceland’s Troll Peninsula, and I can barely sit still during the short trip as we glide over the most beautiful terrain of volcanoes, lagoons and snowcapped mountains. Then, we see it: Nestled in a cleft of the remote Fljot valley is Deplar Farm (room rates from $885 per night), a converted sheep farm-turned-cottage-style retreat with a charming grass-covered roof, and our home away from home for the next few days. The Eleven Experience staff greets us with Champagne before we embark on a tour of the grounds. I “ooh” and “ahh” around the luxury property’s every turn: Think 13 cozy-chic en suite guest rooms (hello, remote-controlled electric blackout blinds), spa quarters complete with an i-sopod, a geothermal-heated outdoor pool featuring a swim-up bar and front-row lounge seating for prime northern lights viewing—even a fully equipped karaoke stage for some spontaneous late-night entertainment.

When it comes to dining, Deplar Farm offers unforgettable experiences for guests thanks to its top-notch culinary team. Breakfast consists of the hotel’s famous overnight chia oats, hearty huevos rancheros and shots of pressed ginger to bring out the bright eyes and bushy tails in each of us for a full day of exploring. One of the best lunches of my life takes place during day two of our trip at Deplar’s outpost property near the lodge: Ghost Farm, an inviting cabin with a beautiful stream of fresh water running alongside it, and the setting for many a campfire and playful axe-throwing competitions. Inside, we are warmed from head to toe with a delicious seafood soup paired with a sweet white wine—a meal that seems simple in concept, but is packed with flavor and source-to-fork flair. Dinner, of course, is nothing short of amazing during our stay, with course after course of fresh Icelandic fish, locally harvested vegetables and indulgent desserts perfectly complemented by wines from all over the world.

Two nights in a row our dinner is interrupted by Mother Nature—and despite being momentarily pulled away from the incredible fare on the reclaimed-wood table in front of us, we are ecstatic. The aurora borealis appears just as our third course is served, and we are able to view the breathtaking occurrence directly from our floor-to-ceiling dining room window. But the real magic happens on our final night: While standing outside, staring in absolute awe of the heavens flickering with color, a shooting star skims across the Northern sky from east to west. I still have no words...

Beyond mouthwatering meals and once-in-a-lifetime sky spectacles, the rest of our time is spent taking in all that Northern Iceland has to offer via customized experiences led by our superknowledgeable Eleven Experience guide, Griff. Our itinerary takes us horseback riding, clay shooting, fly-fishing with local experts, hiking, mountain biking and whale-watching (where we spot more than 15 majestic whales!), with plenty of time left for relaxing in the hotel’s serene spa. Each outing provides an opportunity for intimate moments with nature, making Deplar Farm the perfect wilderness retreat for active groups of friends or couples simply seeking a romantic rendezvous. It’s a destination that promises dramatic views and unprecedented adventures—with memories that will last long after the visit.

Originally published in the March/April issue of Silicon Valley

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