Published December 30, 2015
The first snow of the year has just fallen in southern Iceland as we trundle up the country road towards Hrífunes—a wild tract of Icelandic outback located in a picturesque stretch of rolling land between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The turning from Route One would be easy to miss, but after ten minutes of winding our way through frozen white fields, we arrive at the gates. We receive a warm welcome from Trygve, our host. “You’re here!” he exclaims, looking around at the snow. “Yesterday this was all green… you wouldn’t believe it! Follow me, I’ll take you to the house.”
He hops into his jeep and we follow him up the hill past a large sign featuring an Arctic fox logo and into the Hrífunes Nature Park. Soon, we’re driving a high, rough track with no other buildings in sight. To the left we can see a wide, gleaming snowy plain, with the cracked blue ice of the Myrdalsjökull glacier visible in the distance.
The four houses that make up the Hrífunes Nature Park’s accommodation—more will be built in the future in the various valleys over the hills—sit widely spaced apart in a gentle valley facing the glacier. Trygve walks us through the house: there’s a sauna, two comfortable bedrooms, and a large, well-appointed kitchen, dining room and lounge area with floor to ceiling windows and views on all sides. It’s not so much a creaking country cottage as it is a plush, cosy bolthole.
Trygve explains a few Hrífunes facts: the houses are all currently for rent, but they’re also available for sale. One tourist family loved their cottage so much that they snapped it up as a permanent holiday home. He also tells us that the area is still in the process of being connected to the high-speed internet, with cables being laid as we speak, so we won’t be able to do any Netflixing quite yet.
But he has another suggestion: a wood-fired hotpot. There’s enough firewood in the house to keep the hot pot’s stove going for 4-5 hours, during which this freezing outdoor pool should reach perfect bathing temperature. The stove needs to be refilled every 30 minutes, meaning it’s a fire-stoking activity that will last throughout the evening.
After Trygve leaves us, heavy snow starts to fall outside—puffy, light flakes quickly coat the car outside. We cook up some hearty plokkfiskur and open a bottle of wine—also thoughtfully provided by Trygve, as there’s no shop for miles around—and decide to fire up the hot pot. Setting a phone alarm to ring every 30 minutes, we take turns running outside, poking the glowing logs into embers and refilling the stove with wood. Luckily for us, one of our laptops has the unwatched ‘I, Tonya’ movie in its library, downloaded a few weeks earlier. As night draws in, we’re all set.
Awe inspiring spectrum
It becomes a fun routine pausing the movie and running outside to stoke the fire. When the hot pot is hot enough, we run out over the snow and hop right in, enjoying it all the more because of the effort involved.
With a theatrically perfect sense of timing, the Northern Lights start to flicker on the horizon, slowly spreading across the star-scattered sky. There’s barely any light pollution, and the huge, ghostly green aurora shift rapidly overhead. As always, it’s a mesmerising experience; a visually fascinating, awe-inspiring spectrum that delivers a sense of grand, cosmic scale, and a moment of existential wonder. “This is it,” says my friend, through the steam, as the lights dance overhead. “Snow, hot pot, aurora… this is the Icelandic holiday dream.”