Sorcery, seafood and the world’s smallest Icelandic fishing village.

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Sorcery, seafood and the world’s smallest Icelandic fishing village

While the last post suggested lesser-known sweet spots along the popular Golden Circle route, the following segment will continue in the same vein and introduce some of our favorite locations. 

Iceland is often presented as divided into four regions–the north, the south, the east and the west–and these four regions each have their special landscapes and attractive locations. However, there is also a fifth quarter, a bonus round if you will, which is the Westfjords. Because of its distance from Reykjavík, the Westfjords region is largely overlooked by mainstream tourism. However, it is also secluded, sparsely populated and contains some of the most exciting views and locations Iceland has to offer. Covering everything the Westfjords have to offer could easily take up several hundred pages but for this occasion we at Iceland Mini Campers would like to suggest a trip to the most accessible place in the Westfjords and one that’s perfectly suited for a 2-4 day getaway in a motorhome. (For more general and practical information about the Westfjords see here).

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West Iceland

The best way to get to the Westfjords is to drive straight to Hólmavík. The journey should take a little under three hours of driving but we would of course encourage campervan travelers to take it slow and keep their eyes peeled for interesting stops along the way. Once in Hólmavík there are at least three activities that we must recommend:

First, check out the seafood that is on offer. The local stores often sell locally caught fresh fish, mussels, prawns and other delicacies. These are also usually on offer at the two local restaurator Café Riis and Kaffi Galdur.

Second, visit the local witchcraft and sorcery museum (see here), which has on display a replica of the bone chilling “necropants” which were worn only by the most ruthless sorcerers in the past. The Westfjords and the area around Hólmavík in particular has an interesting history of magic and sorcery. To this day people are advised not to make enemies in this region because of this fact so we suggest that visitors tread lightly and treat the locals with utmost courtesy.

Third, Hólmavík has, in our humble opinion, the thickest, warmest, and prettiest hand knitted woolen sweaters in Iceland. Be sure to visit the town’s little arts and crafts store for a closer look.

Once you have reached Hólmavík the rest of the Westfjords are at your fingertips but for now we would like to suggest share one of our favorite spots in Iceland, the small town of Drangsnes, which is only a 25 minutes drive from Hólmavík. (see here) Drangsnes is the smallest fishing village in Iceland with around 60 inhabitants and has a some really interesting attractions to offer. There is a restaurant there and boat tours that include fishing and sightseeing around the surrounding islands. The area is chock-full of all sorts of life; fish, whale and seabirds, which serves to explain why there has been a town thriving at that remote spot for hundreds of years. Another interesting benefit is the town’s three outside hot pots located at the shoreline. In 1996 the township of Drangsnes tried to drill for cold water but instead stumbled upon a geothermal spring. Because of this Drangsnes has all the hot water it could possibly use and more. Therefore the three hot pots were installed and at a short distance a small house with showers and changing facilities, all free of charge. At night you can soak in the hot pots and watch the locals waddle over in their bathrobes for a late night dip. The town also has a very nice swimming pool and an excellent camping site for the tired but happy campervan traveller.

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Westfjords road.

To conclude, it is worth stressing that if one is to venture further into the Westfjords there are a few practical things to keep in mind. Beyond Hólmavík there are many gravel roads where one must drive extra carefully (and perhaps consider getting extra insurance coverage). It is at least advised to drive considerably slower (no faster that 75 km/h) and try the brakes every now and then to get a feel for the grip of the tires.

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Puffin.

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Westfjords road.

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Sunset in the Westfjords.

Moreover, there are long stretches of road without shops, restaurants and gasoline- or service stations so it is advised to plan ahead. Finally, no matter the season it can get cold up there in the Northwest so the motorhome traveller should come prepared.

Have a safe trip!

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The Golden Circle: The alternative stops

The Golden Circle: The alternative stops

The Golden Circle tour, with its mandatory stops at Þingvellir, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir hot spring area, is by far the most popular excursion for anyone visiting Iceland. These destinations are only a little over an hour’s drive away from Reykjavík and therefore make for the perfect short sightseeing tour. As a result, theses places tend to get a bit too crowded and a bit too “tourist-y” if you will. However, in the general area around Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir there are many other very interesting places to visit that are fortunately mostly overlooked by the big bus companies. So without further ado, Iceland Mini Campers-our motorhome rental company-proudly presents The Golden Circle Alternative Stops, with or without the more mainstream stops.

Þingvellir – National Park

When heading from Reykjavík it is best to take the highway 1 main road straight out of Reykjavík and through the neighboring village of Mosfellsbær, then take a right turn at highway 36 or Þingvallavegur (all these roads should be clearly marked but for better information such as roadmaps, distances and gasoline costs etc., refer to the websites vegvisir.is, vegagerdin.is and vegasja.vegagerdin.is). Highway 36 takes you straight through the Þingvellir national park and has some beautiful scenery along the way such as lake Þingvallavatn and the surrounding mountains.

Þingvellir National Park - Iceland

Þingvellir National Park

After passing through the Þingvellir area you should take a left at highway 365. If you stay on this road you will see a sign pointing left towards the Laugarvatnshellar caves. These are two sandstone caves that were people used to live until 1922. Interestingly enough, the last people who lived there had two children while living in the caves, one of whom is alive and well and reportedly has her own Facebook page. That in itself says a lot about the fast development of Iceland in the past century or so: being born in a cave and being on Facebook can happen within the space of a single lifetime. After Laugarvatnshellar take a left at highway 37 which takes you the small village of Laugarvatn. There you can find a swimming pool, some shops with local design and produce and a couple of restaurants. If you proceed towards Geysir there are a number of interesting places in the surrounding area. First of all is the farm Efstidalur, which is on the left hand side 15 minutes after passing Laugarvatn village. This cow farm has set up a restaurant on top of its barn and makes delicious ice-cream (more info here).

Geysir.

Strokkur Geysir - Waiting for the eruption. Click to zoom.

Strokkur Geysir – Waiting for the eruption.

Further down highway 35 (highway 37 changes to 35 between Laugarvatn and Geysir) you will reach the Geysir hot spring area. A little further on the left hand you find Haukadalsskógur, a beautiful forest with many marked hiking paths of various distances and a facility for barbecuing.

Gullfoss waterfall.

If you continue on highway 35 (past the road to Gullfoss) you will end up in the small village of Reykholt, which has an excellent swimming pool with a waterslide and hot pots. In this general area there are many greenhouses that produce a wide range of vegetables and berries. Often these are sold in little boxes by the roadside. Some greenhouses welcome visitors such as the tomato growers at Friðheimar, which offer delicious tomato soup and a wide range of juices, jams and sauces made from tomatoes. Nearby you can also find the waterfall Faxi which has camping facilities right next to it (information and coordinates here).

Gulfoss in the winter time.

Gulfoss in the winter time.

Gulfoss in the summer time.

Gulfoss waterfall and a rainbow in the summer time.

The closest village to Reykholt is Flúðir which has a grocery store and a very good Ethiopian restaurant, called Minilik. To finish the Golden Circle, people typically drive through the Grímsnes and stop at the picturesque Kerið crater (see here) and to the small town of Selfoss and from there back to Reykjavík via highway 1. The route from Selfoss to Reykjavík takes circa 45 minutes and offers a view of mossy lava fields and other strange landscapes. Along these places mentioned above there is a wide selection of places to camp, with or without service (these can be explored better here).

To conclude, this general area offers great many locations, shops and stops not mentioned here above so our advice is to drive slowly, have plenty of time and make discoveries on your own.

Have a safe trip!

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