The Westfjords region feels almost like an island unto itself -- which would be the case, if not for a 7km (4 1/4 miles) bridge of land at its base. The Ring Road bypasses the area altogether, though Westfjorders like to say they have a ring road of their own (comprised of Rtes. 60 and 61). To other Icelanders, the Westfjords conjure historic images of fugitives, shipwrecks, and remote villages hemmed in by pack ice through long winters. More recent associations, unhappily, include depopulation, abandoned farms, and local fishermen losing work because of free-market reforms to the distribution of fishing quotas. Westfjorders are sometimes stereotyped as country bumpkins; as resilient, hard-nosed survivors; as eccentrics; and -- having contributed a disproportionate share of Iceland's prominent statesmen -- as natural-born leaders.

To set priorities for travelers, this book bypasses the west coast of Iceland between Stykkishólmur (on Snæfellsnes) and Látrabjarg Peninsula (at the southwest corner of the Westfjords). The entire drive is lovely, though rough patches in the roads can be wearying.

Látrabjarg proper, at the southwestern tip of Látrabjarg Peninsula, is Iceland's largest sea cliff, stretching 14km (8 3/4 miles) and peaking at a height of 441m (1,447 ft.). Many visitors walk along the rim for an hour or two and zoom off again, but the entire peninsula, with its wonderful beaches and trails, handsomely rewards those who linger. May is optimal for birdwatchers since access to Látrabjarg is unrestricted during nesting season, and few other tourists are around. Most birds are gone by September, but fall visitors can bask in the solitude and ponder the Aurora Borealis.

For drivers continuing northeast from Látrabjarg Peninsula, this section also covers the next three coastal villages -- Patreksfjörður, Tálknafjörður, and Bíldudalur -- and their enviable surroundings.