Reykjavík is not Iceland. It more closely resembles a tiny overpriced Europe without the vast architecture or convenience. It takes about a day to see Reykjavik, or half a day if you’ve had several artisan coffees. Though it is quaint and lovely, it not nearly the most beautiful or nourishing thing about this remarkable country. I highly recommend getting out of town shortly after you arrive. I try to as often as I can.
Living here, after stints in New York City and London, it amazes me that even in this relatively tiny town, there can be too much “áreiti,” which means—like most Icelandic words–about five things in English: chores, distraction, stimuli… noise. As an antidote, I like to fill my eyes with the open road and landscape, and my ears with the sounds of nature.
On this particular travel day I sauntered down to pack the car only to find it had a flat battery. This is one of worst feelings when you want to just get going. So after I bought some cables and found a jumpstart, I drove all the way to Staðarskáli without stopping. The battery was recharged, and I was on my way to being so too.
The northeast corner of Iceland is one of the most striking and underrated parts of the country. You can get there by bus, airplane, or car. Driving is my favourite method, but it requires time and awareness of road conditions (available at road.is). Travel times depend on the weather and one’s level of comfort driving on frozen winter roads. For the first time ever, I was not the one driving at 60 km/h.
I want to emphasize that driving in Iceland is time well spent. The surrounding landscapes are so stoically breathtaking and inspiring, they will fill you with visions of abandoning your office job, and hunkering down to till the soil and raise animals. That’s great as a fantasy—but in reality, it’s probably best left to the professionals. Luckily, there’s a family living near the town of Þórshöfn in the far Northeast of Iceland who live that life for real and happen to have boutique-style accommodation for guests.
Two of the farmers, Hildur and Siggi, have built a pair of guest cottages on their property and are on their way to completing a third larger guesthouse. You can visit Grásteinn Guesthouses to relax and even help out in the fjárhús (“sheep house,” in English), if you want. You are welcome to but not required.
From Staðarskáli, the road took me along Route One North, up through Akureyri. Along the way, some mountainous landscapes demanded that I stop and stare, with both feet rooted to the ground. The winding black roads contrasting with the winter white mountain facades presented themselves as a theatre of the outback. I was never bored. Where else does tarmac resemble oreo cookie ice cream?
Route One eventually met Route 85 at Ljósvatn (“Lightwater,” in English) which winds north towards the beautiful Langanes peninsula. About ten minutes before the town of Þórshöfn is Route 868—there is a small dirt road with a sign which reads Laxárdalur (“Salmon-river-valley”). The first time I came here I completely missed that sign. This time, I caught it and trundled up towards the farm, finally reaching Grásteinn Guesthouses.
All mod cons
Upon arrival, I was greeted by two sheepdogs. Gosi (Pinocchio) quickly claimed my car as his; Ringo is older and tends to hang back until it’s time for him to work the sheep. Shortly after my canine introduction came the humans. Siggi was back in Reykjavík and Hildur was out but two of their three children were home and sweetly took it upon themselves to split the farm work so that one could always keep me company. Once Hildur arrived, we caught up, had dinner and I settled into my cottage.
The cottages are dark wood with white trim. They’re beautiful to look at, and warm and cosy inside. The comfortable double beds are made up with fresh linen and towels adorned with chocolates. There’s a single bunk tucked up a short flight of steps. The kitchen is equipped with coffee, homemade muesli, a bar-style counter to eat at, and a breathtaking view. Guests also enjoy home-style breakfasts, served each day to your cottage, which includes food from the farm.
If you insist on working or staying connected to the rest of the world, there’s Wi-Fi. But when I come here, I try to turn everything off and completely enjoy what is right in front of me. I am failing at that right now so I can write this, but I promise myself when I finish, I am hiding my laptop. My phone is already off.
End of the road
Like a souvenir from the landscape of the journey here, a spectacular view lies right outside the living room window. Both guesthouses have a porch with chairs, and on warmer nights it’s fantastic to sit outside and enjoy the view with a drink.
If relaxing in one place isn’t your thing, you could base yourself here, load up on a hearty breakfast, and head out to explore the surrounding area. There’s plenty to see and do in this part of the world. However, the drive to Grásteinn left my wanderlust satiated, for a few days at least. I opted to relax during the day and fill my mornings and evenings helping out with the sheep and horses—a kind of work that is intense on the body, and deeply relaxing for the mind.