A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland - Westfjords, a sub-arctic Shangri-La

Tales about World's least visited, prizewinning botanic garden, a devastating landslide, a peninsula of our own, and Iceland's oldest house, with the country's best fish restaurant.

Iceland Westfjords Route day 2

Iceland Westfjords Route day 2


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Admittedly, the Westfjords province is a bit out of the normal tourist route in Iceland, but it is a land full of wonders. The landmass of the peninsula is about the same as the whole country of Slovenia. However, It is remote and life must have been harsh. Over the last 100 years, many people moved to more populated areas. In 1920 still 14.25% of Iceland's population lived here; nowadays this percentage has dropped to 2.3%.

The most important municipality is called Ísafjarðarbær. Let's have a look where Ísafjarðarbær stands in the ranks of global urbanization, and compare it with New York City.

Wikipedia says about New York City: " (...) the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass" (...). So sorry, but that's fake news! New York City's land mass is only 784 km2. The "metropole" of Ísafjarðarbær is three times the size New York City with a land mass of 2,379 km2 !

On the population count, NYC is still a bit ahead, with a population of 8,537,673 (July 1, 2016). Ísafjarðarbær was home to a whopping 3,608 souls (January 1st, 2017). If I am doing the math correctly, New York City is about 7,500 times more densely populated.

To set things clear, visitors may go to Ísafjarðarbær with slightly different expectations than going to New York.

Also good to know: It is finally safe for all visitors to travel here, even for the Basques. In the 17th century, Basque whalers illegally roamed the waters of the Westfjords, catching "their" whales. The local people were not particularly happy with that. In 1615, one of the Basque whaling ships perished. All 32 of the shipwrecked whalers were killed by the locals. Following this event, the Westfjords had one of the most unusual laws: the ordinance that any Basque person seen in the region should be instantly killed. This law existed for 400 years, and was only repealed in May 2015.

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Thingeyri (Þingeyri)

This little fishermen's village, with a population of 206, was our base during our four days' stay in the Westfjords. It is beautifully located on the fjord Dýrafjörður, and centrally enough to explore most of the area from here, although distances anywhere in the Westfjords can be long.

Here are some pictures of the village and its surroundings.

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

20160901_124143

20160901_124143

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Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

Iceland, Westfjords, Þingeyri

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Skrúður Botanical Garden

Believe it or not, in Núpur, just opposite of the fjord from Thingeyri, there’s a prize-winning little botanical garden called Skrúður. It was founded by a teacher, Reverend Sigtryggur Guðlaugsson , over 100 years ago as a teaching garden, mostly focused on growing vegetables. Over the years, it got neglected, but in the 1990's some of the local people took an own initiative to restore it, and amazingly, in 2013 it won the XXIV International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens 2013. The garden is like a walled green oasis in the middle of grim, dark mountain slopes on the back, and the wide fjord in front. It is a location in the middle of nowhere, and you should not expect lush gardens or anything. It looks very unpretentious, but the fact that it is here, in such a harsh climate and barren territory, gives it a unique contrast with the surrounding landscape. The entrance is marked by a whale bones gate. There is a little building in the middle, with a tiny exhibition of the history of the Garden. Entrance is free, but it is definitely worth leaving a little donation in the box.

Iceland, Skrúður botanical garden

Iceland, Skrúður botanical garden


Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanic Garden of Skrúður

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

Iceland, Westfjords, Botanical garden of Skrudur

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A Shangri-La with no name, between Þingeyri and Ísafjörður

Driving across the peninsula to Ísafjörður in the north, the road first crossed a dramatic, barren mountain landscape, and then descended into a valley at the end of another fjord, the Önundarfjörður. In bright contrast to the dark mountains and the water of the fjord, there were just a few scattered houses and a little church, standing there brightly in the sun. The only living souls that we saw here, were sheep and birds. There were no signs indicating a village name. The perfect feng-shui tempted us to name this place the Sub-arctic Shangri-La, and we didn't think other words would do justice to describe this place.

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður

Iceland, Westfjords, the Shangri-La at the Önundarfjörður


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(Please come back... there will be more about Westfjords here in the next few days, also pictures showing why we picked Ísafjarðarbær instead of New York this time)

Posted by westwind57 01:13 Archived in Iceland Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains road_trip nature hiking volcano rainbows river sheep lava iceland peninsula isafjordur stykkisholmur westfjords thingeyri gravel_road flateyri hesteyri skrudur

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