Just an hour’s drive from our beloved capital lies the tiny island Traustholtshólmi, population: 1. As I stand at the mouth of the river waiting for my host Hákon, wind pulls the hat straight off my head. A few minutes later, a boat seemingly captained by a dog heads straight towards me. Behind him, Hákon Hjördísarson, Traustholtshólmi’s only inhabitant, steps onto the land to invite me to spend the night on my very own island.
“My great aunt and her husband bought this island in 1943,” says Hákon. “My mother then inherited it and offered it to me.” Weatherbeaten and full of character, Hákon is a modest man. This is his “happy place,” which he now offers visitors the chance to experience for themselves. On the island, only one permanent structure stands—Hákon’s house, surrounded by a small handful of Mongolian yurts.
The wind eases off and the sun breaks through the clouds as Hákon leads me through decorative orange doors to my home for the night. Inside, windows connect you to the landscape overlooking volcanoes Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull. This is glamping at its best.
Run, bark, repeat
“The island used to be connected until the late 17th century, when a glacial flood separated Traustholtshólmi from the mainland,” Hákon explains. As we walk from north to south, he points out the little turf houses peeping out of the grass, while Arctic birds dance above our heads.
“We have three yurts for guests to stay here, as well as a party yurt where you can hang out by the fire,” Hákon says. A carpenter for most of his life, he spent several years in Scandinavia before returning home to Iceland. “There are obviously no machines on the island,” he adds, “so everything you see here, we have to build ourselves. Carpentry comes in handy.” A wind turbine powers the house, and river water flushes the toilet. “This is a wifi-free zone. We are totally off the grid!” A dreamer at heart, Hákon stops to gather his thoughts.
After I settle in, we walk down to the river, led by Skuggi the dog. Skuggi runs ahead, barks at us, and then runs a bit more until we reach the water. If owning an island wasn’t enough, Hákon is lucky to be blessed with a bounty of fresh salmon, passing through the river just a few metres from his home. As part of the experience, Hákon offers guests his culinary delights. He draws in the nets to check the catch. No luck, but: “Not to worry, here’s two salmon I caught this morning.” He guts the fish at the waterfront and pulls a bottle of soy sauce and a lemon from his bag. The salmon is prepared two ways: quickly cooked in pickling lemon, and doused in soy sauce. “This is as fresh as it gets,” I’m assured. I sample both, and I’m in heaven.
As we walk back, balls-deep in grass, I fall to the ground to lap up the tranquility. Who would have thought you could experience absolute isolation this close to Reykjavík? Hákon calls me over for tonight’s offering: barbecued salmon dressed in birch, sorrel and angelica foraged from the island. “On Midsummer, we had the chefs from the Michelin-star restaurant Dill here and fed twenty guests. It was amazing,” recalls Hákon, as he skillfully prepares the fish. After few minutes on the barbecue, dinner is ready. We sit down al fresco to share salmon and stories over a glass of wine.
Hákon tells me more about his life. “For much of the summer I am here on the island. There’s no place I would rather be. But I like to escape the long winters to chase the sun. When I’m not here, I’m usually sailing around the Caribbean eating beans from a can.” As we continue to talk about food, Hákon gets distracted and dashes up the hill to back to his house. I wait in the “party yurt” next to the fire, grabbing a blanket for the sake of it.
At the door with a steaming pot in hand, Hákon declares that he grows rhubarb on the island too. “This compote has a bit of a reputation.” He hands me a bowl of pink. The aromatic compote warms from the inside out, and I feel cosy AF. “It should be served with cream… I’m sure I bought some cream.” There are no shops or cows on the island, so I guess I forgive him.
“Sunset and sunrise here are like no other,” he assures me. “You have to see it.” I promise myself to stay awake, so just before 11pm I wander back to my yurt. Wrapped in a woollen blanket, I perch on a step and watch as the sun falls before me. My eyes drop and I stumble into bed. Drunken locals and roaring traffic nowhere to be heard, I sleep like a baby. I won’t forget this anytime soon.