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Late Summer Break (ESA)

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Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir's picture

A countryside wedding in North Iceland’s Svarfaðardalur valley, near Dalvík: a hayfield serves as a makeshift campsite, a storehouse as a party venue. Icelandic and international hits, everything from ‘Rolling on the River’ to ‘Íslenskir karlmenn’ are performed by local Eyþór Ingi (Iceland’s Eurovison star from 2013) and his band. People go wild on the dance floor.

One year earlier, the wedding ceremony had taken place in the mountain overlooking the farm and valley. The bride and groom, the wedding guests and the minister had all hiked up the hillside. Pictures from the wedding day are projected onto a big screen.

Gradually, the late summer night grows dark and the majestic mountains disappear from view, along with the peaceful agricultural landscape: red-and-white farmhouses and emerald green fields. As I drive back to the summerhouse, where I’m staying with my family, nothing can be seen apart from the lights from the farms lining the road in Svarfaðardalur.

The road turns to gravel as I enter Skíðadalur, a narrow valley carved into the rugged Tröllaskagi peninsula, and the darkness is overwhelming. The next morning I wake up to birdsong, the scented smell of heather and a view like no other.

To painter Ásgrímur Jónsson (1876-1958), Skíðadalur valley was the most beautiful place on earth. He featured the landscape there in many of his later paintings and he regretted not having discovered it earlier.

Painting Skíðadalur (1951) by Ásgrímur Jónsson.Photo: National Gallery of Iceland.

Ásgrímur described Skíðadalur as an artwork where “the wonderful colors, red, blue and green, divide the landscape between them in a delightful way.”

With tall mountains on either side and a river that splits it in two, Skíðadalur is a secluded paradise. It’s home to a few farms and summer houses and, come winter, its innermost farm Klængshóll serves as a base for Arctic Heli Skiing.

Admiring Ásgrímur’s favorite landscape, I’m on a mission to pick blueberries. Plump and juicy, I resist the temptation to eat them right away, and one by one, place them in my container. It doesn’t take me long to fill it up, and I hardly have to move.

Skíðadalur.

Blueberries.

Two weeks later and I’m back in the same region. This time with my friends. We’re based in the seaside village of Hauganes but also use the opportunity to explore Siglufjörður farther to the north. The sun shines bright and the fjord Eyjafjörður is unusually smooth.

The view from Ólafsfjarðarmúli, where a tunnel leads to the town Ólafsfjörður, is breathtaking. We can even see the outlines of Grímsey, Iceland’s northernmost island, in the distance.

View from Ólafsfjarðarmúli.The view from Ólafsfjarðarmúli towards The mouth of Eyjafjörður and Látraströnd on the opposite side of the fjord.

Another and more recent tunnel leads us onwards to Siglufjörður, the setting for Icelandic crime TV series Trapped. Once a boomtown, Siglufjörður finally seems to be recovering from the shock after the herring disappeared. A luxury hotel has been built by the docks and the ski resort will soon undergo renovation.

Back in Hauganes we have a drink at the new and only bar in the village. In recent decades, the village has been building a reputation for whale watching. The tourists seated around us are having fish, washing it down with the local beer Kaldi.

The neighboring village Árskógssandur is where Iceland’s first micro-brewery, Bruggsmiðjan, was founded in 2006. Beer tasting tours are popular and a beer spa is in preparation.

From Árskógssandur, it only takes 15 minutes to take the ferry to Hrísey, Iceland’s second-largest inhabited island and so-called ‘Pearl of Eyjafjörður.’ A visit is always enjoyable, but today we simply enjoy the view.

(You can read about my latest trip to Hrísey in the September-October issue of Iceland Review magazine. Click here to subscribe.)

This is kind of my home turf. I grew up in Akureyri, in the innermost part of Eyjafjörður, but spent most weekends at the farm Selá by Hauganes, where my dad kept his herd of horses.

I had half-expected to find the farm in a state of decay or the buildings knocked down, but to my pleasant surprise, I discover that the farmhouse, stable and barn have been renovated as an old-fashioned and cozy guesthouse.

Selá was different from how I remembered it, yet strikingly familiar. Walking along the black-sand beach to the village in the late summer sun, it all came back to me: the bouncing foals in the spring, the little waterfall in the canyon, and treasure-hunting on the beach.

Waterfall at Selá.

Selá seen from Hauganes.Selá seen from Hauganes.

As night falls we soak in the hot tub outside my friend’s house in Hauganes. The stars come out, one by one. Then a green streak appears, unclear at first. It gradually becomes brighter and then starts dancing around the sky. Stunned, we witness the magic of the aurora borealis.

There’s something special about North Iceland, about Eyjafjörður, that no other region has. Completely unbiased, of course, I feel grateful that I can call it home.

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Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.