Dispatch, Iceland: So cold, yet so hot

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Travel Weekly senior editor Michelle Baran is spending one week traveling on a Collette Explorations itinerary through Iceland, the trendy destination du jour that appears to be on everyone's must-do lists. Travel Weekly wants to find out why.

OK, it’s time for a little industry huddle. We need to talk about Iceland. Or maybe I need to talk about Iceland, because I’m here, driving past these amazing Mars-like landscapes and rolling green hills, and while it’s all very stunning, I’m trying to figure out how and when Iceland became so hot, despite being so cold.

I’ve got to say, I’m impressed. I’m impressed with the modern-day traveler for being up for this new kind of adventure (this ain’t no Puerto Vallarta). I’m impressed with the country’s marketing abilities. I’m impressed with tour operators like Collette (with which I’m traveling through Iceland) for developing itineraries that embrace a place like this. And, yes, I’m impressed with Iceland itself.

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For a Southern California girl who doesn’t have much charity when it comes to cooler temps and precipitation, I’m happy to report that the scenery here is so spectacular that — and I can’t believe I’m writing this — it’s totally worth it.

When asked on the first night to introduce themselves to one another, the 24 travelers in the Collette Explorations group I’m tagging along with were also asked to say why they had wanted to come to Iceland.

The responses varied from being inspired by various books or movies, to hearing positive reviews from friends or family, to something as simple as “I just always wanted to go to Iceland.”

But really, I think there’s something more going on here. Sure, Iceland is likely seeing some kind of pop culture bump, for one (“Game of Thrones,” I’m looking at you). But beyond that, it appears that the growing popularity of Iceland as a tourism destination — a place that now welcomes more than double the number of tourists (800,000 and climbing) each year as it has residents (320,000) — is perhaps indicative of some of the changing values of today’s traveler.

To me, Iceland represents a sort of eco-utopia, where the air is fresh, the water is clean and the food is by its very nature farm-to-table, in a world in which those assets have become much more precious. The fact that it is cool and damp when the Earth is increasingly becoming quite hot could stand for something, too. Iceland is the anti-bake-on-the-beach vacation.

Am I reading too much into this? Am I drinking too much of the Icelandic Kool-Aid, or rather that purest of Icelandic water that is pumped through the taps here? I don’t know, but maybe there really is something to the Iceland boom. Maybe cold is the new hot.

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