The crossing from the capital region to western Iceland happens suddenly. Past the wind-whipped Kjalarnes coastal road that winds north from Reykjavík, Route One traces a path northwards through a dramatic and rapidly evolving landscape. Conspicuous volcano craters start to appear, surrounded by vast, mossy lava fields. Eventually, after a discreet turn onto Route 60, the road ascends rapidly into the mountains, where the earthy spring colours vanish beneath sheets of glossy snow. We’re not in Suðurland any more.
A couple of hours later, we approach our target for the day—the tiny coastal village of Reykhólar, population 135, located at the base of the Westfjords. Two towering industrial tanks appear first on the end of the village’s peninsula, then a church spire, like a white scratch against the metallic blue sea. We cruise through the town, taking in its smallness. There’s a diner, closed for Easter, then a pool, and a couple of quiet residential streets laid out in a crescent shape reminiscent of a Viking rune. Past that, some old cars rust slowly in a run-down industrial area that’s crisscrossed by steaming geothermal ditches. Other than a couple of guys standing on a scaffold repairing a house roof, we don’t see another soul.
The towers, it turns out, belong to a seaweed processing plant that stands next to the Norður Salt factory. After being harvested from the shore, the ocean flora is dried in massive quantities before being reduced to a green powder that’s mostly used in toiletries and cosmetics.
It’s also used at Sjávarsmiðjan: a lo-fi seaweed spa dreamt up by an enterprising local named Svanhildur and her husband Tómas. “It was 2011 when we decided to try this,” says Svanhildur, as she prepares us a seaweed bath back in the town. “We have a lot of hot water here—it’s used for the houses and the swimming pool, but I was thinking of using it for healthy things. This house was built by my husband’s father—we put these two tubs here to test the idea.”
We sink into the pleasantly hot water, enveloped in the steam. The seaweed powder gives the water a silken feel, a distinctive ocean aroma, and a deep green colour. A pot of seaweed mud stands on the side of the tub—we rub it into our skin, which seems to rapidly drink in the natural nutrients.
“When it’s clear you can see the Snæfellsjökull glacier from the tub,” says Svanhildur. “We’ve had some great responses from people who camp here in the summer. Next, we will get a new spa by the seaside. We hope to start building it next year—we’re saving money, and talking to investors.”
Feeling refreshed and invigorated, we head down the road to Miðjanes, a local farm that also operates a guesthouse. The farmer, Gústaf, is tinkering with the lighting when we arrive, and gives us a warm welcome, producing some strong coffee and biscuits. He’s owned the farm since 2003, and started the guesthouse in 2011. “The house was built in the 1970s,” he says. “I’m planning on putting in some new wooden floors, making it a bit nicer. More people are coming to Reykhólar every summer.”
The guesthouse has four comfortable bedrooms, and a living room with large windows that look out across the farm and down to the shore. By morning, the grey clouds have cleared—in the pink dawn sunlight, the Snæfellsnes peninsula rears up from Breiðafjörður, with the distinctive peak of the Snæfellsjökull glacier visible at its end. As I take a walk in the brisk morning air, Gústaf appears again, bearing a bottle of milk. He’s been up for hours, feeding the livestock and going about his day. He mentions the local hiking paths that are popular with summer tourists, who come in increasing numbers every year.
We cruise past the town again as we begin the return journey. The locals are going about their Easter weekend, usually marked by a hike to the summit of the nearby mountains. Despite having been in Reykhólar for just a day, the relaxed pace of life seems to seep into us, and we head home feeling rested, taking some of the town’s enviable peace back with us.
Accommodation provided by: Miðjanes (+354 894-5883)