Once upon a time, I was an ad man. Like the Ice Age giant bears that roamed from the fjords to Sussex, my kind faces extinction. No one wants zingy headlines and witty, well-constructed copywriting these days. Even you, dear Lussonian, probably just enjoy the shiny pictures and scan the wordy bits from your tablet screens with tetchy impatience. I don’t blame you. The brave new world of brand building is in hashtags. Yes, fashion a catchy hashtag, ‘seed’ it across Twitter and social media, then create some nice, not too overtly branded ‘content’ – YouTube films and lifestyle tips etc, and watch your logo end up everywhere. The problem is, a) it’s not easy. Because most brands don’t make stuff that’s good enough, which leads to b) you can’t polish a turd.
Luckily, Land Rover is a brand that makes incredibly good stuff. So anyone of a creative bent can polish those leather and aluminium parts to an impressive shine. I even know a couple of the chaps that have the brief. Lucky buggers. Their current brilliant synergy of brand, product and lifestyle is the incredibly catchy and psychologically ingenious #Hibernot.
A wilful corruption, of course, of ‘hibernate’ – it taps into the current, economically driven trend for indigenous holidays married to the challenge laid down to middle-class families to get out there more, even in winter, when most dads want to establish a permanent base on the left-hand-side of the couch. It has already done that holy grail of ‘social’ – it’s crossed over into the ‘vernacular’, earning its place in the ‘zeitgeist’ and gaining ‘traction as a ‘meme’. Pay attention – there’ll be a PowerPoint presentation later.
Leading the drive to get us all to Hibernot is their latest model, the new Discovery Sport. First revealed a year ago at the New York Car Show as the Discovery Vision, this signals the demise of the old Disco and the Freelander and a new harmonisation of the marque. From now on, there will be three distinct shapes/moods/iterations. This year’s heritage Defenders will be the last waltz of the classic model, before some seriously sexy utility plant emerges carrying the torch, next year. At the other end, the Range Rovers will continue to bridge the gap between function and premium comfort and style, with more choice of spec and hybrid body styles. Now, this new SUV is the perfect intersection between the two poles. A suave missing link that offers old-school practicality and sturdiness, with the DNA of the wildly successful Evoque clearly there in its handsome face and raked profile.
Back in late January, when Land Rover had been ensconced in their Iceland base over the winter months, Lusso was invited to get behind the wheel of the Discovery Sport and truly get a feel for the art of hibernoting in the most spectacular fashion. As a summer baby, I’m more of a pure hibernator – but Iceland seemed the perfect place to change my mind. And a perfect venue for the brand and this model. The entire country is nothing but a vast slab of volcanic basalt formed from the tectonic rupture where the North American Plate rubs under the Eurasian Plate, foundation of all of Europe and Russia. We fly in on the highly elegant Icelandair (cheekbone-sporting flight attendant? Check) over where this visceral wilderness meets the Arctic Ocean’s shore in breathtaking fashion. Off the plane, into a drivers’ debrief and then out, out into the lands of the ice and snow – and, yes, I was minded to sing Robert Plant’s battle cry opening of Led Zeppelin’s Viking-inspired ‘Immigrant Song’. Foot down, all together now: ‘Ayyyyyyeeeeaaaaaaeeeeeeaaaarrgghhh!’.
Myself, a glamorous companion and a further 20 identical Discovery Sports speed out north, along the coast from Reykjavik and then turn east, in land. The dusk is breathtakingly luminous, petrol-blue skies and glowering mountains. Twenty minutes out of the city, the ground underneath studded tires is snow covered and, in some places, decidedly off road-ish, but the Discovery makes it all serene. The Tolkienesque fairytale setting outside doesn’t hurt, of course. Indeed, the country has given a huge amount to literature. The Viking sagas of the 10th and 11th century are considered to count as the very first novels, prefiguring Cervantes’ Don Quixote by at least six centuries. No mention of all the Irish ‘thralls’, of course. The breeding stock and heavy lifters the Vikings brought with them for the original settlement now provide 50% of the population’s DNA.
And what a population. After stringing up every rapacious or incompetent banker responsible for the deleterious financial crash of 2008, they reinvented their entire economy using actual democratic means. In 2011, Reykjavík was the first non-English-speaking city in the world to be named a UNESCO City of Literature. However, while the cultural gifts of Iceland – Björk, Sigur Rós, Magnus Magnusson – give their people much to celebrate, their relationship with their environment is hugely defining. Iceland remains largely uninhabited, with more than half of its 320,000 inhabitants living in the capital city. The long summer days with near 24-hours of sunlight are offset by short winter days with very little sunlight at all. Fortunately, while winters in Iceland are dark, they are relatively mild. And you’d tolerate the sun buggering off for a few months if you went to bed seeing the aurora borealis nearly every other night.
We drive through complete darkness, only occasionally coming across some of Land Rover’s support team, clad in layers of mustard-yellow outerwear. One of them takes me through the next generation terrain response system, which can proactively utilise a variety of intelligent human machine interfaces and capability technologies, giving any driver the confidence to tackle virtually any terrain with ease. He suggests that the grass/snow/gravel setting will provide more grip and stability, but the sand setting – which selects lower gear ratios from the ZF nine-speed gearbox and more rear wheel drive bias – is more ‘fun’. He’s not wrong.
Through this lunar landscape we whizz, as detached from quotidian daily reality as it’s possible to get on earth (were we really in Hounslow five hours ago?) until we spot a massive lick of flame. The Yellow Men have lit a brazier to signal our arrival at the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant, close to UNESCO listed national park Thingvellir. Pipes that run across the Icelandic landscape contain this piping-hot water, which is used to heat more than 90% of their buildings and most of the swimming pools. A volcanic island with an abundance of renewable energy sources and a small nation with an innovative mindset provides for an exciting case study on how to move towards a 100% sustainable energy society.
Using the impressive hill descent control, the Discovery takes over, as we crawl down a virtually vertical snowledge down towards the moonbase vision of the plant below. Sulphurous fumes fill the sky and our noses, as the steering wheel, pedals and adaptive headlights overrule me. Safely down on a flat road, we leave the egginess behind and head to Hotel ION. Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, the hotel’s founder and owner discovered an abandoned building, previously used as staff quarters for the power plant. With Santa Monica-based Icelandic designer duo Minarc they have created a beautiful unique luxury property situated in this stark landscape. The elegant building blends into the lava/moss environment, while respecting Mother Nature – after all, it is located next to a (hopefully) dormant volcano, Mount Hengill. After a night sadly bereft of the much hoped for aurora, we wake early and lead the convoy towards some of the geographical and topological wonders available.
We glide across a silent vista of pale blues and subtle greys, water, air and land barely distinguishable from one another. With Iceland’s own soundtrack composers-in-residence, Sigur Rós rising passionately from the advanced 825 watts, Meridian Surround Sound 17-speaker system, we are very much experiencing the other worldly in perfect circumstances. First stop is (and I rarely use this word unironically) epic Gulfoss. The ‘golden waterfalls’ are situated in the upper part of River Hvítá, cascading down two steps, one 11 metres high, the other 22 metres, into the 2.5km-long canyon below. They were created at the end of the Ice Age by catastrophic flood waves, which have revealed alternating strata that show the warm and cold epochs of history. See? Epic.
After a quick diversion to see a geezer by a geyser, we lunch at Friðheimar Greenhouse Farm, growers of tomatoes and cucumbers all year round, despite Iceland’s long, dark winters. It uses greenhouses with state-of-the-art lighting that can be controlled from an app, anywhere on earth and abundant supplies of geothermal water, which provides heat to the greenhouses. The borehole is 200 metres from the building and the water flows into them at 203°F. Specially bred bumble bees buzz around us, pollinating away, as we enjoy the fruits of their labours. A crumble and ice cream with a tomato coulis, anyone? Magic.
Replete, I stagger out, enviously glancing over at the crew’s big white Defender, propped up on four steerable caterpillar tracks. Before I start the journey back to Reykjavik, I peer inside and, of course, am immediately struck by how sparse and functionally uninviting it is for a mere civilian like me.
The Discovery is a whole other story. Its interior has been designed to provide a versatile and calming space, where every occupant feels equally comfortable and the driver can pay maximum attention to the road. An incredibly versatile five plus two seating means families and friends will get the most out of the SUV. ‘Discovery Sport has required an incredible degree of creative intellect from both designers and engineers,’ says Gerry McGovern, Land Rover Design Director and Chief Creative Officer, who has flown in to put the car in context for us. ‘It’s been designed for hectic modern lifestyles.’ Talking of hectic, we’d been warned of a whiteout and one duly came in, horizontal snow blitzing across my screen, the horizon disappearing into the sky. Told to never pull over (you can’t tell what’s ground and what’s 10 feet of soft snow) the only choice is to follow the pale red rear lights ahead and keep calm.
Luckily, with the new vehicle higher and more poised than before, I barely break a sweat and, with my co-pilot asleep through the whole affair, I serenely pull up outside 101 Hotel.
Opened in 2003 in a former office building, the 101 Hotel is the brainchild of Ingibjörg Pálmadóttir, daughter of an Icelandic supermarket magnate. After studying at Parsons School of Design in New York, she used the family resources wisely, visiting the world’s best boutique hotels. With 38 tastefully stripped-back rooms and suites, a very good restaurant that becomes a popular evening hotspot and a elevated monochrome dress-and-décor code, it is a highly revered destination in Iceland. The elegant clientele suaving it up in the lobby bar are offset against the eclectically crazy crew at the bustling concert venue next door for a rare concert by Icelandic dance music legends GusGus – featuring an angular, svelte Aryan male android and his Thor-like sweaty singing partner. Our cheekboned flight attendant is there letting her (very blonde) hair down. Iceland really IS a small world.
The whiteout experience was my last immersion into the comforts of the Discovery. The next morning we are coached out to perhaps Iceland’s most invigorating experience. Named one of National Geographic’s 25 wonders of the world, the Blue Lagoon sits in a craggy black lava field, that in geological terms, is still fresh. Its unique properties – geothermal seawater and a closed eco-cycle – represent a unique relationship between nature and technology. A Bond-type visitor centre houses an operation that has developed an exclusive range of products and services based on bathing in the milk of magnesium blue waters, said to cure psoriasis and various eczemas.
The science works thusly: coming from 2,000 metres beneath the surface, the seawater travels through porous lava, undergoing mineral exchange and then near the surface, concentration occurs, due to vaporisation, evaporation and finally, sedimentation. Bosh. Healing power is derived from active ingredients: silica, minerals and algae.
What that means is you exit their Austin Powers-type lounge into an Arctic bluster, sit in water as hot as a bath, while tiny bullets of hale slam into your face. It sounds beastly, but in fact is utterly life affirming. If this is the life of a #Hibernoter, I’m in. Just as long as I can experience it from the comfort of a highly capable British SUV. It’s the new form of long-term survival.
Visit www.jaguarlandrover.com for more information on the Discovery Sport.
To book your stay at the Ion Hotel, call +354 482 3415, email email@example.com, or visit the website www.ioniceland.is.
Find information on the101 Hotel Reykjavik on their website www.101hotel.is or call +354 580-0101 to book a room.
Find tours going to Gullfoss waterfall and nearby activities such as snowmobiling on Langjökull glacier at www.gullfoss.is.
Fridheimar greenhouses are open all year round for unique lunch experiences. Visit www.fridheimar.is for details.
Check the Blue Lagoon Spa and clinic website www.bluelagoon.com for details on their geothermal spa and treatments.
Book your flights with Iceland Air www.icelandair.co.uk.