It always amazes me how short a distance one has to travel outside the capital region to dig up real national treasures (although there is of course much to see within the capital region as well). Colorful landscapes, curious natural phenomena, historical trails… it’s all right around the corner.
Last weekend my childhood friends and I drove to the tip of Snaefellsnes peninsula (two and a half hours by car from Reykjavík) for a little get together and quality time away from partners and children, to rekindle our friendship and exchange gossip.
We organize such trips every year and each time two of us are on the “entertainment committee” and are responsible for choosing the time and place, book accommodation, organize activities and cook the food.
This year it was my turn and while the other member of the committee planned a little round-trip with a few stops in Snaefellsjökull national park, I took care of providing information about the place to educate my friends.
I soon discovered that I didn’t know much about the area, but via google I learned that the first settler on Snaefellsnes was called Bárdur Snaefellsás and that there is even an Icelandic saga about him (a short one, fortunately).
Bárdur, who was half troll, arrived with his fellow settlers in Dritvík bay at some point in the 9th century and decided to build a farm on the southern side of the tip of the peninsula called Laugarbrekka, which is also where discoverer Gudrídur Thorbjarnardóttir, the first woman of European heritage to have a child in the New World, was born.
Bárdur named the glacier, of which he and his fellow settlers were awestruck when they sailed into Dritvík, Snjófell and the peninsula Snjófellsnes after it (later it was changed to Snaefell(sjökull) and Snaefellsnes—the glacier is an object of world-wide attention). As it turns out, Bárdur named most places worth visiting on the peninsula, and gave others reasons to name places by killing people there.
But Bárdur was not just violent. He also helped people in need (he was very strong because of his troll-like qualities) and later became some sort of guardian “angel” to the inhabitants of Snaefellsnes.
I recommend reading up on Bárdur Snaefellsás before you plan a visit to the area where he settled all these centuries back, because it really adds a new dimension to the natural beauty of Snaefellsjökull national park and the surrounding area.
A few places worth visiting on Snaefellsnes:
- Skardsvík bay. The beach has white sand, very uncommon for Iceland.
- Saxhóll. An ancient volcano which you can walk on top of (it’s not very high), observe the crater and enjoy the view.
- Djúpalónssandur. Lava formations, a cliff with a hole in it, a peaceful lagoon, a picturesque pillar of rock just off the beach and differently-heavy rocks that fishermen used to compete in strength.
- Dritvík. The beautiful bay where the settlers arrived. Also an old fishing station.
- Lóndrangar. Two high pillars of rock on the seashore (the higher one is 75 meters) which are believed to be ancient volcanic plugs.
- Laugarbrekka. A Viking farm of historical significance. There is a sculpture by Ásmundur Sveinsson of Gudrídur Thorbjarnardóttir outside.
- Sönghellir. The Singing Cave. Named by Bárdur Snaefellsás because of its echo. It is where he and his comrades held their meetings.
- Raudfeldsgjá. A narrow rift in the cliffs where legend has it Bárdur killed his nephew Raudfeldur after the latter pushed Bárdur’s daughter Helga to sea on an ice floe which drifted to Greenland.
There is much more to see on Snaefellsnes peninsula and in the national park on its tip. There are many exciting walks, glacial tours are offered to Snaefellsjökull (although conditions there are currently too dangerous) and whale watching is offered from Ólafsvík—they say that blue whales are often spotted during their trips.
My friends and I had a wonderful weekend and I highly recommend visiting Snaefellsnes and generally going west, east, south and north; there is more to Iceland than Reykjavík, the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle and it’s not that far away. Iceland has so many national treasures and they’re all waiting to be discovered—just around the corner.
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