advertisement

Látrabjarg Peninsula

Entering the peninsula along Route 612, the landscape's allure is soon apparent. Three kilometers (2 miles) from the Route 62 junction is a picnic table, where the fjord view opens up, extending past a stranded ship, a lovely waterfall, and a mountain alley to the ocean.

From Route 612, Route 614 works its way south over the spine of the peninsula to Rauðisandur, a tiny and spellbindingly beautiful settlement, named for its broad, red-tinted sandbanks sheltering a large lagoon. Once Route 614 winds down from the mountains, an unnumbered road branches to the right and leads west along the coast for a few kilometers. At the end, past Saurbær church, is Kaffihús Rauðasandi, Iceland's most absurdly remote cafe, serving coffee, cake, and waffles (late June/early July-Aug 10 daily 1-6pm). The cafe has no telephone, so the only way to confirm it's open is to contact the folk museum, below. Rauðisandur is situated just beyond the eastern boundary of the Látrabjarg cliffs, and makes a great starting point for a coastal hike.

Local history is admirably and painstakingly preserved at Egils Ólafsson Folk Museum, Route 612, at Hnjótur Farm, by Örlygshöfn Harbor on the north coast (tel. 456-1511; www.hnjotur.is), but admission is costly; old saw blades, drill bits, and other trifles overwhelm the more deserving artifacts; and English translations are minimal. The most unusual holding is a Russian plane that was stranded in Iceland in 1993 (admission 1,000kr adults; 700kr seniors; free for children under 16; May 9-August 31 10 daily 10am-6pm).

Each summer, Látrabjarg, the largest if not the tallest sea cliff in Iceland, hosts about four nesting birds for every living Icelander. Every major Icelandic cliff-nesting species is found here. Puffins, sure to be the avian stars of your vacation photos, start arriving at the end of April and disappear en masse in mid-August. Látrabjarg is the world's largest nesting area for razor-billed auks, identified by their black head and back, white breast, raven-like beak, and long tail. In May and June, locals rappel down the cliffsides to collect eggs, a skill that came in handy for the Dhoon rescue of 1947.

The usual way to see Látrabjarg is to park at the end of Route 612, by the lighthouse, and walk east on the well-established trail along the clifftop. The highest point of the cliffs is reached in about an hour. Beware of overhanging grass tufts that may not support your weight.

Hiking Routes -- The south coast of the peninsula from Látrabjarg cliffs to Rauðisandur makes for a memorable one-way hike over 1 or 2 days. The shorter route starts along the un-numbered road to Keflavík, a small bay at the eastern edge of the cliffs, and leads 10km (6 miles) west to the lighthouse at the end of Route 612. The road to Keflavík branches off from Route 612 a short ways south of Breiðavík, and should be negotiable in a regular car up to the trailhead. The equally enticing 2-day route begins in Rauðisandur, with an overnight in the Keflavík mountain hut, which sleeps nine on a first-come, first-served basis; there is no way to reserve.

Hótel Breiðavík, with advance notice, can arrange transportation at one or both ends of the journey, and can also drop off or pick up supplies at Keflavík. The cost is usually around 10,000kr per trip, regardless of the number of passengers. The hut almost never fills up, but having Hótel Breiðavík deliver supplies could be a good insurance measure. The hut has no formal price, only instructions on how to make a voluntary contribution later. For other worthwhile hiking routes on the peninsula, consult Hótel Breiðavík and the Vestfirðir & Dalir hiking map. A new first-rate hiking map, the fourth in the Vestfirðir & Dalir series, covers all Látrabjarg. The map is widely available on the peninsula, and can be ordered in advance from www.galdrasyning.is.

Patreksfjörður to Bíldudalur

The coastal route north from Látrabjarg Peninsula soon passes through or near the villages of Patreksfjörður, Tálknafjörður, and Bíldudalur. All three are stunningly situated and have restaurants, accommodations, and other basic services (including free Wi-Fi within village limits). Patreksfjörður is the third-largest village in the Westfjords, with about 700 residents.

Tálknafjörður has a standard geothermal village pool, 25m (82 ft.) long, with hot tubs, but Pollurinn -- a little spring-fed beauty overlooking the fjord -- is outside of town, completely unmarked, unadvertised, and disguised from the road. To get there, take Route 617 northwest from the village for 2 or 3km (1-2 miles); a driveway on the right leads to the pool, just uphill round the bend. The tiny facilities include showers, changing rooms, a shallow tub shaped like a recliner, and a deeper tub, often too hot for all but the most intrepid soakers. Admission is free anytime year-round.

The Sea Monster Museum, Strangata 7, Bíldudalur (tel. 456-6666; www.skrimsli.is; admission 800kr; May 15–Sept 6 daily 10am–6pm) is the primary reason to visit this cute village on the shores of Arnarfjörður. The museum entertains visitors with the history of sea monster sightings in Icelandic history, folk culture, and literature. A disproportionate number of such sightings have occurred in and around Arnarfjörður. 

Jóns Kr. Ólafssonar, a middle-aged Icelandic pop singer with a long performing career, runs Tónlistarsafn, Tjarnarbraut 5, Bíldudalur (tel. 456-2186; admission 800kr; mid-June to Sept Mon-Fri 2-6pm), an informal museum of music memorabilia out of his Bíldudalur home. Jóns' tastes are proudly fossilized in the 1950s and 1960s, and his own singing is reminiscent of Engelbert Humperdinck. The mounted LP covers and stage outfits vividly evoke the Icelandic tangent of pop music history, but the collection is poorly organized, with no English guidance and nowhere to sample recordings. You can ask Jóns to put on his favorite records -- just don't request anything by Björk.

From Bíldudalur, Route 619 extends 25km (16 miles) northwest along a wondrous stretch of coast to Selárdalur, a remote settlement with one remaining farm, a church, and Listasafn Samúels, a museum devoted to the painter, sculptor, and former resident Samúel Jónsson (1884-1969). Since the church didn't need a new altarpiece, Samúel built his own makeshift church to display his work. Outside are several crude concrete sculptures, including a statue of Leifur Eiríksson and a replica of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. While his works could be dismissed as amateurish, his life sets a compelling example of how to reconcile artistic pursuits with poverty and seclusion. Samúel's church is left open from mid-June to August, with a sign requesting donations. 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.