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Hiding in plain sight: Snæfellsnes. Posted by on Jun 30, 2014 in Icelandic culture

snpanorama2On a clear day you can see Snæfellsnes all the way to Reykjavík. This is not because the clean Icelandic air or the brightness of the midnight sun allowing you to see forever, it’s just really close to the capital city!

I’m not even joking here, one day is all you need to drive to Snæfellsnes, go all around the peninsula, visit all the possible sights you can find and return to Reykjavík in the evening. Granted you should probably leave early in the morning because there’s so much to see, and if you’re not in a hurry you might consider staying a night just to be sure you haven’t missed anything on the way. We took the latter option and made our stay there a weekend long.

sn038The peninsula is not that hard to find either. You’ll be greeted by Snæfellsjökull (= snow mountain glacier) well in advance and especially on sunny days it’s clear why it’s called the most beautiful glacier of all Iceland. It really is a breathtaking sight! It’s possible to go up the side of the mountain to the glacier itself, but preferably be on a jeep because the road’s condition can vary (it’s a dirt road).

Driving directions from Reykjavík to Snæfellsnes: take road 1 north and turn left to road 54 right after Borgarnes. Drive on until there!

sn033One of the first sights you’ll come across is the Ölkelda (= beer spring). Despite the promising name you won’t actually get beer from it, rather sparkling water. That’s right, a natural carbonated water spring! The water has some notable health benefits if you don’t mind the iron taste… there’s a reason why the ground all around it is stained a dramatic shade of rust red.

sn049Rauðfeldsgjá (= the gorge of Rauðfeldur) is a must-see. It’s possible to climb up the mountain through this huge crack in it. I’ve never made it all the way to the top but I’ve gone a little way inside where a small stream flows through the bottom of the gorge.

sn056The view from the top. It’s a small trek uphill before you get to the place, don’t forget to set a rock on a varða on the way!

Rauðfeldsgjá takes its name from a local legend of a part-troll, part-giant, mostly-human Bárdur Snæfellsás (= Bárður snow mountain’s god) who’s said to inhabit the area. He’s described as a tall man wearing all gray with a rope around his waist, helpful to humans who are lost, and the protector of Snæfellsnes.

Alas, he’s also temperamental. Rauðfeldur was the son of Bárður’s brother: one day Rauðfeldur and his brother were playing with Helga, Bárður’s daughter, and playfully pushed her on an iceberg that floated away. Bárður became so enraged he killed both of his brothers sons, throwing Rauðfeldur down this gorge – and that’s where the name comes from.

sn063Here’s a statue depicting Bárður. According to the legend he easily bested Þór himself when his friend was in danger of being killed by him. On the other hand Bárður had his dark side all his life, his saga ends with him poking his own son’s eyes out as a punishment for converting to Christianity and then disappearing to the glacier where he’s said to live in a cave to this very day.

sn067You’ll find both the statue and this view in Arnarstapi. If you decide to stay the night this is one good option: lots of local legends, a whole library of Snæfellsnes -related stories, the beach at Hraunlandahrif (there are several walking routes) and what my hot dog loving friend describes as “the best hot dogs in the world, gold star”.

sn080A little bit further you’ll arrive at Akrar and a small but massively popular cafe called Fjöruhúsið (= tide house). On sunny days it will be so full it’s hard to find a seat but personally I’d be prepared to sit on their staircase just to get to eat their homebaked bread.

sn089Next stop: more trolls! Lóndrangar formations are a stone’s throw away from the cafe. A famous site for trolls and a poet who bested the devil.

sn110Prepare your heart in advance, Snæfellsnes is so full of beauty it’s hard to decide where to stop and where not.

sn122A lazy cloud entering a valley.

After this we ended our sightseeing for the day and drove around the peninsula to Stykkishólmur. Even there you’ll find plenty of things to see, for example the volcanic museum, and definitely don’t miss the restaurants. It’s a fishing town so the food tends to be the freshest catch of the day and the portions are huge.

I recommend the camping site as well. It’s well equipped and within walking distance to Stykkishólmur with the only minus being that the ground is really hard and pitching a tent takes some time, foul language and ape-rage.

sn124The next day we retreated our steps backwards. This is the view at Búlandshöfði (= farmland’s head) with Snæfellsjökull peeking over the morning clouds.

sn126I could literally have climbed into a cloud myself here!

sn111The new road of Búlandshöfði opened 26. November 1999.

The road at Búlandshöfði was for ages one of the most ill-famed roads of Iceland. It was most dangerous here at Þrælaskríða where the road lay at 111 m height. Below the road is a 80 m tall vertical drop (standberg = vertical stone wall) to the beach.

There’s a story of an incident that happened here a long time ago. Kristín was the name of a servant woman in Eyrarsveit who was sent to drive sheep over the Höfði in the early spring. The sun had began to thaw the snow (= sólbráð) and the road was very slippery with ice (= mikil hálka). Suddenly one of the sheep began to fall. Kristín managed to grab the sheep and they both slid down the side of the road and couldn’t stop until the very edge of the cliff. Kristín held onto the sheep with all her might and could not move at all, because she didn’t want to lose what had been trusted to her. Long time after a man called Samson happened by. He heard Kristína’s pitiful voice and saw what had happened. He managed to lower himself to them with a rope and saved them both. It was at the last moment because Kristín was by then almost out of strength (= að þrotum komin).

May such loyalty, kindness and helpfulness as was described in this story be a sign of the friendliness and cooperation of the people who live in Snæfellsnes.

sn129Our next stop was at the farthest end of the peninsula: crossing over Neshraun we visited two famous lighthouses. The road is good at first but turns into a hell of potholes in the end, large rocks and soft, sandy edges so reconsider if you’re going on a small car – we made one stop on the way to help push some tourists back on the road.

sn140The ruins of a house. This was the windiest place I’ve ever been to, gloomy and barren aside of this one spot of wet grass land… not an ideal place to live.

sn219We also stopped at Skarðsvík (= gap ness)! For the medieval history buffs this place is probably already old news, it’s a home to several rich grave finds that date to the viking era. Definitely worth a visit, the road is in excellent condition all the way here (the moon land begins a bit further along the road) and the beach…

sn209…with the turquoise ocean, the red-white sand and the black lava cliffs and stone formations is something you shouldn’t miss.

sn218Black sand vs. red-white sand.

sn239We wanted to drive over the mountain range that lies in the middle of the peninsula so we went back past Ólafsvík and turned right to the road 54. I can totally recommend this route – the scenery is amazing!

sn244We also found this house sitting there on top of the mountain all alone. The SO suspected it would be a place where hikers can stay a night while they’re crossing over the mountain.

sn250He was right! The shelves on both sides of the table are meant for sleeping and there was a place where you can cook your food near the door.

sn256Vinsamlega gangið snyrtilega um húsið” = Please be tidy while using this house.

Continuing we drove the remainder of the road south, turned our backs to the glacier and began our way back home. Snæfellsnes is one of my favourite places in all Iceland and it was sad to leave, but at least I can console myself with the thought that it’s so near I can come back any time.

sn072Bye bye Bárður, we had a great time!

Other posts in this series:

Seltjarnarnes lighthouse * secrets of the Hallgrímskirkja neighbourhood * Hvalfjörður and Glymur * Secrets of the Harbour *

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!