From Iceland — An Offer You Shouldn’t Refuse

An Offer You Shouldn’t Refuse

Published July 1, 2011

Galtarviti lighthouse beckons

An Offer You Shouldn’t Refuse
Photo by
Julia Staples
Ólafur Jónasson

Galtarviti lighthouse beckons

Located on the outskirts of Iceland, the Westfjords’ lighthouse Galtarviti has inspired Icelandic musicians, artists and writers for years, as well as serving as a guiding light for the region’s fishermen. Artist and mountaineer Sara Riel is one of them, and together with Galtarviti’s owner and a collective of over 20 artists, she intends to pay homage to this dynamic place with an exhibition entitled ‘Echo Of The North’, opening on July 2. Since the lighthouse can’t be reached by conventional methods, the team are offering guided hiking-tours twice per week from Skálavík (near Bolungarvík) to Keflavík, where Galtarviti lighthouse rules its majestic kingdom and guide travellers through contemporary art and some of the country’s most astonishing landscapes. We caught up with Sara before she embarked on her journey to find out more.

“There’s something very special about this place. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but I think it’s a combination of its isolation and the beautiful yet dramatic nature surrounding it”, says Sara Riel about Galtarviti. “There’s no cell phone reception or internet connection. Time stands still in a way and the area has some kind of supernatural powers. This seems to bring out the creativity in everyone who spends time here”. Free from social obligations or the hassle of city-life, a number of Icelandic musicians, artists and writers have found exile in this remote place to work on their creations and sought inspiration in the dramatic landscape surrounding it.

Built in 1956, Galtarviti has been a bit of a secret among the artistic crowd, but for the month of July, adventurous travellers are invited to breath in the clean air and creative energy and spend the night in the most remotely located lighthouse in Europe. Surrounded by majestic mountains on one side and the often rough and unfriendly ocean on the other, Galtarviti can only be reached by a challenging boat ride from Suðureyri, or a 3 to 4 hour hike across mountains and through valleys, a place where elves and other mythical creatures supposedly call home. On Tuesdays and Fridays of this month, Sara and her dog will take hikers on a journey through Bakkadalur valley to Keflavík, where Galtarviti’s owner, Ólafur Jónasson, will welcome visitors with hot coffee and some music that has been recorded in the lighthouse over the years.

Sara Riel- Julia Staples

The two-day trip starts in the town of Ísafjörður (a five hour drive or 45-minute flight from Reykjavík), where a bus from Vesturferðir will pick up the group and bring them to Sara at Skálavík. Sara is an experienced guide and has taken tourists on hiking treks across Iceland’s highlands for years. She’s used to everything.

“It’s a bit of a steep hike up Öskubak (a mountain almost 500 metres high), but if you have good hiking boots and proper outdoor clothing—no jeans!—it shouldn’t be too difficult. The path down to Norðurdalur is a pleasant walk and we will try to imagine how life was for the farmers back in the days, in this isolated bay”. She tells me that many odd things have happened in the area and numerous tales of elves and other magical beings are associated with the place. Interested hikers can learn about these mythical inhabitants during the trip, but most of all, she says, the hike is supposed to be about experiencing the breathtaking scenery. “The atmosphere is indescribable and the landscape magnetic. On a clear day, you can see over to Hornstrandir and all the way to Greenland in the West”.

After a short rest, Sara will guide visitors thought the second part of the trip, the exhibition. The show features work by more than twenty well known names in the contemporary art scene, including Ólöf Norðdal, Sara Björnsdóttir, Karlotta Blöndal, Helgi Þórsson, Sigryggur Berg, Lilja and Inga Birgisdætur, Örvar and Silla of múm and Goddur, to name just a few, and everyone involved has some relations to the lighthouse.

“Our idea for the project was to create an art-loving lighthouse-keeper and display his art collection, like he would do in his home. This imagined lighthouse-keeper has followed Icelandic art and cultural scene for the past five years, attended exhibitions, and decorated his home with all the pieces he collected. The exhibition is therefore very up-to-date”, explains Sara.

The cherry on the top is the overnight stay. Galtarviti offers accommodation for 10 people but is rarely open to visitors. “We want people to enjoy the incredible feeling, sleeping in the lighthouse has to offer. It’s a unique opportunity”, concludes Sara. The next day the group will hike the same way back to Skálavík, where the bus will bring them to Ísafjörður.

Having visited Galtarviti on a number of occasions, we can’t encourage you, reader, enough to join this tour. An impressive collection of contemporary art mixed with the country’s most astonishing landscapes, all in one package. That seems worth the hike!

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