Snæfellsnes peninsula, located in western Iceland, may not be on the ring road, but it was undeniably one of the highlights of our trip. One of the major Icelandic sagas takes place in Snæfellsnes, and it I easy to see why this place is seen as so mystical – The landscape is enchanting. The northern half of the peninsula is one huge fjord, formed by the glaciers of the ice age. The peninsula is very mountainous, with a large volcano/glacier, Snæfellsjökull, at the very tip of the peninsula. Old, hardened lava stretches for miles over the peninsula, left by ancient eruptions. The Laxdæla saga, which takes place in Snæfellsnes, focuses on a woman named Gudrun, who was considered “the most beautiful woman born in Iceland,” and was a clever as she was beautiful. She is caught in the middle of a love triangle between her, and two friends Kjartan and Bolli. The love triangle eventually ends in the death of both men, and a cycle of vengeance between their clans.
For those looking to get off the ring road, do something a little more rural/rugged (not that Iceland isn’t already rugged/rural) Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a great place to visit. You can circumnavigate the whole peninsula in just one day.
After driving for a very long time on a dirt road and suffering a flat tire (more on that here), we made it to Stykkishólmur. This quaint fishing town was our base camp for the next day as we explored the peninsula.
Stykkishólmur offered its own few gems like Leir 7. This pottery studio/shop is a great place to pick up souvenirs. The woman who owns the shop makes pottery out of clay she harvests from the fjord that Stykkishólmur sits on.
Probably the most epic part Snæfellsnes, maybe even all of Iceland, was our Viking Sushi Tour. This boat tour departs Stykkishólmur harbor and takes you around the archipelago in breiðafjörður (the fjord). We experienced an up close look at the puffins nesting in the rocks around the islands, and they are sooo cute. They fly with their little bright orange feet spread really far apart, they look so awkward when they fly.
After seeing some puffins, the crew cast a net and dragged it along the bottom of the bay to harvest scallops. After bringing up the catch, the crew cut open the scallops and prepared them for us to eat raw. It was definitely the freshest seafood I’ve ever had.
After our Viking Sushi adventure, we hopped in our car and began driving the highway round the peninsula. Our first stop was Kirkjufell which means “Church Mountain.” The mountain is famous for its unique, “church-like” shape, and is said to be one of the most photographed sights in Iceland.
During our drive, we began to feel hungry, so I pulled out our LP, and tried to find something in one of the upcoming villages on our route. We found Gamla Rif in the guide and thought the description sounded intriguing, so we pulled off to find this place. This was the best spontaneous stop, I love this restaurant. Gamla Rif is run by two wives of fishermen, who use their husbands’ daily catch to create the daily menu. Instead of handing you a menu when upon arrival, they give you two options, a cod soup, or a vegetarian sandwich. I am not really a fish person, but something told me to go with the soup, which was the best decision of the day. With tomato, curry, fresh cod, this might have been the best soup I’ve ever had. The women who worked here were so friendly too, and eager to help us figure out our way to the next destination.
Our next destination was a small chapel, sitting lonely on the top of hill. We didn’t stop here because it looks so picturesque – we stopped here because there was rumored to be an old painting depicting Christopher Columbus, during his supposed visit to Snæfellsnes to ask the Icelnaders about their travels to the New World (Icelanders maintain that there famous female explorer, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir reached the New World before Christopher Columbus, and gave birth during her trip!). We found the painting, although, it was no longer hanging in the chapel. It is hanging in a room that looks like a recreation center down steps leading away from the chapel. The room was locked but we could see the painting through the window.
Continuing down the peninsula, we finally reached Snæfellsjökull. Years ago this volcano collapsed in on its own cooled, and dried molten core before a glacier froze over the top of the mountain. It is surrounded by fields of dry lava rock. The lava rocks stretch for miles, giving you an idea of just how much lava oozed out of the volcano.
On the southern coast we stopped in Budir, famous for an abandoned, yet picturesque chapel, and the neighboring luxury hotel.
Making our way back to Styisholmur, we made one final stop at Helgafell which is said to be one of the most sacred mountains in Iceland. Honestly, if you weren’t looking for this place, you would drive right past it because it is so non-descript. We spent a while trying to find it, and when we read that it is common for the elderly to seek out the mountain in their last days, we realized, ok it must just be a tiny mountain nearby. Sure enough, we found it when we stopped looking for a mountain, and looked for more of a mound. Gudrun (mentioned earlier, from the Laxdæla saga) is said to have been buried at the foot of the mountain. According to legend anyone who starts at here grave/commemorative plaque, and climbs to the top of the mountain in complete silence will be granted three wishes, so long as the wishes are pure of heart. For fun, we tried the ritual, but we couldn’t find her grave anywhere! There was a nearby property that had a ton of signs asking people to not trepass, so my best guess is that her grave is on their property, and they got sick of people coming over and taking photos. We still completed the rest of the ritual, but alas, so far my wishes have not been granted. At the top of the hill there are ruins from an old temple built to Thor.
Finally, we arrived back in sweet Styisholmur and went to what was basically the only restaurant in town, Narfeyrarstofa (I don’t even know how to say this). Randomly, the restaurant is run by an award winning Danish chef.
Just another jam packed day in Iceland.