Cool as Ice: Supermodel Elettra Wiedemann explains the joys of ever-dramatic Iceland
Iceland is such a magical place that it could have been plucked from a book of fairy tales. Look around and you see volcanoes, waterfalls and glaciers, one of which covers an area the size of Yorkshire.
There are snow-capped mountains, icefields and fjords. And between September and January, the magnificent vistas are made even more theatrical by the glow of the Northern Lights.
Thingvellir National Park marks the spot where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet
This is my kind of country, a place where I can drink water that comes from glaciers, swim in natural pools of warm water and bathe in hot, bubbly springs. In Iceland I feel an overwhelming connection to nature, and relish the therapeutic happiness that comes with it. It's one big chillout zone.
My stepmother is Icelandic and has told me many stories about her homeland, though I always thought she was exaggerating.
But I came here for the first time last year - and it was love at first sight. It is as if you're on another planet, and it has a strange effect on the mind.
Icelanders believe in the existence of elves, and after spending a bit of time in this enchanted land, I am ready to agree with them. With their beaming smiles and good manners, the people are so friendly. I really appreciate their cheerfulness because I live in New York where people communicate mainly by screaming and shouting.
Two-thirds of Iceland's 300,000 people live in Reykjavik, the world's most northerly capital, but it feels like a tiny place to someone like me who is used to a bustling metropolis. You could stroll around Reykjavik's main streets in just a few hours, though it's better to take your time and pop into its bars, restaurants and coffee shops, or browse for a bargain in the vintage clothes shops.
During my latest trip I spent most of the time telling Icelanders how much I adored their food, and they kept reminding me how it has improved dramatically over the past few years.
'The older generations love sheep's head and shark which is buried under the ground for several months, maturing until it gets a pungent smell,' said one. Mmm. Sheep's head and putefried shark may not suit everyone's palate, but in the old days Icelanders ate them out of newspaper, just like the British do with fish and chips.
Glamour girl: Elettra in day-job mode (left), and at her new Icelandic pop-up restaurant Goodness (right)
Today, food in Iceland is far fresher and healthier - there's lots of fish on the menu, as you might imagine. And food is the reason I visited Iceland this time, because I was opening a pop-up restaurant called Goodness at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura.
I suppose I'm an anomaly because I am a model who likes to eat. Most people in the fashion industry zoom around at a million miles an hour, thinking they can survive on champagne and vodka, but after a few days they're feeling grumpy and telling people off.
Being a model means I've learned to be creative about food. I can't always eat that great big steak I crave for dinner, but that doesn't mean I have to stick to tofu and steamed vegetables. I want to have meals that are delicious but also easy to make.
Like many people, I have some strange food quirks. I haven't eaten fruit since I was about three - I just don't like the texture. If my fiance James eats a banana, I say: 'Brush your teeth before you come near me!'
In between modelling assignments, I did a part-time masters degree in biomedicine at the London School of Economics. My dissertation was about food politics and the future of feeding urban populations in the light of climate change.
After the course, where I learned about food production, I wanted to open a restaurant where the menu was different every day, with different chefs cooking every day. That's how Goodness came about.
During New York Fashion Week in February I set up a Goodness restaurant, and it was such a success that I thought it would be good to do one in Iceland to tie in with the March Design Festival, which is attended by legions of glamorous people. We served dishes such as sweet potato soup with soured cream, chicken harissa with red grapefruit salad, poached ling, and a 'super-juice' made from apple and fennel.
James and I also ate at lots of other places during our stay. The locals are big on hot dogs, for which the Bæjarin's stand near the opera house in Reykjavik is a must. Staff serve them with onions and a sauce that tastes like a mixture of mayo, pesto and mustard. It's surprisingly good.
Fiery furnace: Iceland's volcanic history is clearly visible in its landscape
Vox is a fine-dining restaurant at the Hilton, while The Grill Market is a heaving 200-seat restaurant with walls adorned with catfish skins and tables made of elm. The chefs cook puffin burgers and minke whale steaks (or carpaccio of whale, if you prefer). Those are the controversial dishes - I prefer the sublime lamb kebabs and calamari.
Afterwards, try a glass of the digestifs made from birch bark, which is said to be good for the skin, hair and libido. There's birkir, which is quite bitter, and björk, which is sweet.
Icelanders' daily diet includes at least one bowl of skyr, a sheep's-milk yogurt, which is served with berries or jam. Other favourites include cured horse meat, smoked fish and bread served with gently smoked mackerel.
Just thinking about all this food made me yearn for an escape to the Blue Lagoon, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. Situated about 25 miles from Reykjavik, it's a geothermal spa like no other, where you can laze in water that nudges 40C.
Another place worth visiting is the Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal baths and steam rooms. The interconnected rooms are built over a natural hot spring and the temperature in the rooms varies depending on the weather. There are special grates in the floor of the steam rooms, and James and I could see, hear and smell the natural hot spring as it flowed beneath our feet.
We also took a speedboat trip to Westman Islands, an archipelago of about 15 tiny, volcanic islands, and saw Eldfell volcano on the island of Heimaey - the volcano is still steaming after its eruption in the early Seventies. But it was the thousands of puffins that drew me in. I thought puffins were big, but actually the reverse is true.
The rocks at Westman Islands are all twisted, and there are strange looking mosses growing on them.
During our trip we visited the local caves and walked along the black-sand beaches where there were yet more puffins to photograph. If you know anyone who's looking for a collection of 5,000 pictures of puffins, just point them in my direction. We also did a tour of the Golden Circle, a popular tourist area that includes the Flosagja rift valley in the Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates have created a slash in the landscape two-and-a-half miles long and 131ft deep. This area is also where Iceland's chieftains gathered in the 10th Century to make their laws.
Feathered friends: Puffins are plentiful in Iceland - not least in the Westman Islands
The tour took us past Geysir, the original blowhole that has lent its name to geysers all over the globe. Further along the route is Gullfoss, meaning Golden Falls - a waterfall that freezes in the winter. It's utterly breathtaking.
In the north-east of Iceland is Dettifoss, Europe's largest waterfall, but unfortunately we didn't have time to visit it.
There are other adventures to be had, too. Whale and bird-watching tours leave from Reykjavik's little harbour, and salmon-fishing expeditions are also offered.
My first visit to Iceland was after I graduated last year. I had moved back to New York and was missing my friends from the LSE, who were still in London.
So we all decided to get together and picked Iceland as the meeting point. Rather than stay in a hotel, I opted for a home exchange with friends of my stepmother.
I stayed in a wonderful home with a Jacuzzi in the garden - I felt as if I'd hit the jackpot. I would thoroughly recommend home exchanges as they give you a totally different perspective of a city.
When James and I first talked about getting married, we considered doing it in Iceland because his family are in Britain, mine are in the United States, and we thought we could all meet in the middle.
Our plans have since changed, and now we'll marry in New York, have a big party there, another one in Britain and hopefully spend our honeymoon in Iceland - as long as we can bring our dog Happy.
Room rates at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura start at £88 per night for a twin or double room, including breakfast. Further information from www.icelandairhotels.com.
Icelandair (www.icelandair.co.uk) offers return flights from London from £210.
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