Fáskrúðsfjörður is one of those towns which can be unfairly overlooked as Route 1 connecting the tourist beacons of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in the southeast and Mývatn in the northeast bypasses it. This does a disservice to this charming seaside village, which came into significance as a trading post in the 1880s, and its rich history.
L’Abri is French for “The Shelter” and it’s an apt name as Fáskrúðsfjörður served as a port of call and haven for stranded French sailors from the mid 19th century to the dawn of World War I, with over 200 French fishing vessels docking in Fáskrúðsfjörður at its peak. No other town in Iceland boasts such a significant French presence and it is only recently that the locals have begun to celebrate this historic cultural intersection.
The main physical remnant (aside from the graves of shipwrecked sailors) is the French hospital that was reopened in 2014 after extensive renovation. The hospital houses a museum dedicated to the French connection, which runs through a tunnel connecting the two main sections of the buildings. The remainder serves as a hotel (part of the Fosshótel chain) and the restaurant l’Abri on the ground floor, overlooking the old pier.
The ghosts of drowned sailors are said to haunt the old hospital and after you have taken in the impeccably creepy wax figurines of dying sailors, you should be left in little doubt about their veracity. Sitting on the dock with your back to the hospital, taking in the majestic mountain views, serves as a good palate cleanser before taking in a meal at l’Abri
The restaurant specializes in local produce with a modestly french flair. The windows overlooking the bay are adorned with French nautical phrases and their Icelandic equivalents, and the dining room subtly references the stark hospital moorings of the building.
There you can expect the friendly staff to delight you with such delicacies as a two piece lamb crown with roasted beets and sweet potato purée, large salmon steaks, creme brulées with local twists, French onion soups, and margarita glasses brimming with rhubarb whiskey sours.
If you are hankering for a drive just off the beaten path, and wish to sample the local produce seen through the sextant of French sailors, then l’Abri is the only game in town.
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