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The winding road: Ice Ring Road, Iceland
Why: An odyssey around the earth's most volatile geological wonderland.
What to expect: The only road to circle Iceland's fractured, volcanic, geysered, and bubbling land mass, Highway 1 is more than 800 miles, and there are no shortcuts. While a 4x4 is not really necessary—expect to see more economy cars on the road rather than Toyota Land Cruisers—you will drive on dirt and gravel patches; also be aware that many bridges are single-lane. Summer's the time to go, with daylight well past midnight.
Start your engines: Rent a vehicle in Reykjavík, and then make the choice to head clockwise or counterclockwise—either way, it'll connect up sooner or later. The road all too often folds back on itself, skirting fjords and such: Not highly efficient, but that's why you've given yourself at least a week. You'll be staying at guest houses in villages such as Egilsstadir or Hvammstangi (say those three times fast), so you'll get a true dose of the hearty, independent life of Icelanders outside of Reykjavík.
Road secrets: The island is chockablock with nature's idiosyncrasies, but you really will have to tarry in the Snœfellsnes peninsula, due north of Reykjavík. The main feature of the area is Snœfellsjökull national park, and Snœfellsjökull mountain itself—a huge volcano covered in a glacier, which can be hiked or skied. The park encompasses a swath of shore, too, with wild lava formations.
Shack up: Make sure you have a place to sleep each night by using Icelandic Farm Holidays, which will book you into everything from a country cottage hotel to a local's extra bedroom. Even better, they'll help plan your route and also rent vehicles. Pronouncing the names of the villages on the way, though, is something you'll have to tackle on your own.
Icelandic Farm Holidays
Tel: 354 570 2700
"Complete Iceland" tour, including 12 nights and car rental, from $2,498 per person