When I sit down to write this I am back in Iceland, the country of fire and ice with its unique landscape, hidden gems and endless off-the-beaten path spots . . . some of which I have enjoyed visiting in the past three weeks.
This time around, being fully vaccinated for the Covid-19 virus, I didn’t need to spend my first days in quarantine. However, for a clear conscience and the freedom to mingle with my family and friends I decided to take a PCR Covid-19 test upon arrival, and as anticipated, it was negative . . . something that everybody should do, required or not!
During my first few days in Reykjavik, the weather gods weren’t too kind to me but having just arrived from a period of really hot sunny weather in Athens, Greece I didn’t mind it at all. In any case, none of my whole family thought much about the weather as we were all preoccupied with my four-legged namesake, Karitas, who was ready to give birth to her first foal and kept us in suspense for a few days enjoying the green pastures of Álftanes . . . close to the residence of the Icelandic President but more importantly, close to the really cozy Álftanes café (Álftaneskaffi) where we indulged on delicious warm beverages and home-made sweets . . . that were irresistible and therapeutic at the same time!
As the sun came out, I set out on this year’s first road trip to the Westfjörds, with my dear friend and cousin, Haldόra Jόnsdόttir, who is not only a lot of fun to be with but also an experienced guide who knows every nook and cranny of our country . . . that made this trip even more special and enlightening for me!
The travel plan for the first day, with a few stops on the way, was as follows: early morning start from Reykjavik with stops in Borgarnes - Búðardalur - Hólmavík - Reykjanes and ending with an overnight stay in the charming Heydalur country hotel; in a beautiful valley at the bottom of the fjord called Mjóifjörður (between Hólmavík and Ísafjörður).
Apart from all the stunning landscape we were about to enjoy, we decided to record where we would encounter the best cup of coffee and the nicest geothermal pool and/or hot pot during our trip. So with this in mind, our first stop in the old part of Borgarnes took us to Kaffi Kyrrð; a café/gift shop /B&B with a lovely back terrace where we enjoyed our 1st coffee cup . . . on a bright sunny day with a clear blue sky.
Following our coffee break and a short stroll alongside the ocean front, we headed north on Route 1 towards our next stop that was just past the well-known 3 million year old mountain Baula where we enjoyed our first picnic and 2nd coffee cup of the trip in a tranquil spot with a wooden table and benches . . . a real hidden gem surrounded by trees that I would not have found by myself!
Although we had lots of goodies in our picnic basket I made sure to leave plenty of room to indulge at our next stop Erpsstadir; a dairy farm known for its rich and luscious ice-cream . . . something that I can’t resist.
Apart from their delish ice-cream made with local seasonal flavors like rhubarb, dandelion honey and berries from the Westfjörds, the farm produces various other dairy products like Icelandic Skyr and outstanding cheeses that can be bought directly from the their “cream shop” . . . or in some specialty stores around the country.
If ever you get a chance to visit, make sure to check out the cow shed. It is open to visitors and you can learn lots about the farm’s milk production and if you are lucky, “chat” with some adorable calves . . . like I did!
Our next stop was the small village of Búðardalur in Hvammsfjörður with less than 300 inhabitants that is located by one of the two main roads leading to the Westfjörd Peninsula. Although located on the coast, instead of fishing this town developed as an agricultural land with many farms and land connected to some of the dramatic events depicted in the well-known Icelandic Sagas of Laxdæla and Eiríkssaga.
It was too soon for us Haldόra to have another cup of coffee, but should you fancy one, you might want to check out the local seafront café at the historical Vínlandssetur. They also serve freshly homemade soup throughout the day with freshly made bread as well as other beverages.
On our way to Hόlmavik in Steingrimsfjördur in an area called Strandir, trolls and witchcraft were on our minds as this small fishing town has for centuries been associated with Icelandic sorcery and magic. Here you should definitely visit the town’s Museum of Sorcery and Magic to learn more about the story of the witch-craze in Iceland in the 17th century and how witchcraft is presented in the Icelandic folklore.
Afterwards, enjoy a cup of coffee at the seafront café . . . while wondering whether you will indeed encounter strange beings or ghosts before your departure!
When you are enjoying yourself, time flies by really quickly and we still wanted to get to the Reykjanes geothermal pool that is located in Isafjrdardjúp before heading to Heydalur; our final destination of the day.
The pool, built in 1934, is one of a kind. Situated next to the Reykjanes Hotel, it is a simple 12 by 50 meter long pool made of concrete with no frills. It is heated by self-running geothermal water and feels more like a giant hot pot rather than a swimming pool as the water is really warm. Actually, I only managed to swim a few laps before succumbing to relaxing and enjoying the mountain-view in good company.
After our hot pot therapy, we decided to check out the nearby SaltVerk company that makes sustainable, hand harvested sea salt flakes of high quality that I use all the time and even carry some with me back to Greece! Alas, this was one of our few disappointing moments of our entire trip as the place looked like it had been abandoned; even if we saw a one worker through a broken window cleaning up the heating pans where the salt is made. My only thought, I guess you can’t win them all!!
By the time we arrived at Heydalur it was nearly dinner time so shortly after checking into our room with a view over the valley, we headed straight to the restaurant that is situated in the reconstructed old farm barn and were greeted by Kobbi, a very talkative parrot, before being allowed to enter!
All the food that is served in the restaurant is either sourced locally and/ or home grown. We opted for a pleasant meal of freshly caught river trout that was served with veggies and herbs from the hotel’s adjacent greenhouse that also houses an indoor swimming pool and a section with saddles and other gear for horseback riding. A quirky and unusual combination that I haven’t seen before and haven’t really decided whether I like . . . or not!
What I loved was the hotel’s location, our long morning nature walk in the valley’s serene beauty with awesome wild flowers alongside the river and the picture perfect pastures. The man made hot pool next to the greenhouse is also special; built with large stones from the area and filled with hot natural water that is piped from a nearby spring.
Following our early morning nature walk before our departing, I also really liked the homey breakfast buffet served in the restaurant . . . that was supervised by the owner herself (see photos above) who made sure that all her customers were happy indulging on her delicious breakfast items that included homemade breads and jams and some outstanding cured trout marinated with fresh dill and tempting local cheeses that melted in our mouths. YUM!
I will definitely be going back to this lovely spot and hotel . . . hopefully sooner than later!
My Westfjörds Adventure - 2021/2 . . . . Coming Soon!
©KaritasM – August 2021