Snæfellsnes is oft called the “Iceland in miniature,” a name that refers to the fact that a day trip there affords visitors most of the natural phenomena that Iceland is famous for. There are black sand beaches, geothermal hot pools, a glacier, a volcano beneath said glacier, as well as sprawling valleys, vast grasslands, picturesque fishing villages, and rugged lava fields. It’s pretty much a stopover travellers dream but doesn’t have the same overwhelming concentration of tourists like the Golden Circle. In Snæfellsnes, yours will often be the only car on a mountain road, and you might get some privacy while you dip your toes into the Atlantic at one of the peninsula’s many beaches. It harkens back to a simpler time, before cheap airfares.
Our trip there began with another facet of the mini-Iceland experience. The weather was balmy when we set out from Reykjavík, but as we reached the halfway point of Borgarnes, the heavens opened, and we were quickly enveloped by a snowstorm. It was exciting, and vaguely terrifying, but we cautiously continued on our way, marvelling at how the whole environment can change from moment to moment. The black lava fields turned into white badlands until we abruptly left the snowy area, and they resurfaced through a murky fog.
A feast for Frigg
Nevertheless, we arrived at the seaside town of Stykkishólmur right on time, scrambling on board the infamous “Viking Sushi” pleasure boat. After casting off from Stykkishólmur’s secluded harbour, the ship meandered around the Breiðafjörður bay, stopping every so often to near a notable rock face or a bird cliff. Even for those unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Iceland’s geology or fauna, it’s spectacular. A narrator provided extra information over the on-deck PA; I casually tuned in and out as we wove between the islands, sometimes wanting to experience the grandeur of the various sites without interruption.
Although the weather wasn’t ideal, that didn’t diminish the beauty of the islands, instead giving them a primordial wild feel. Surrounded by mist and pelting rain, us travellers slipped and slid around the hull of the boat often grabbing each other for stability. There were a lot of photographers on the boat, so it felt like life-or-death. Don’t drop that Canon!
After close to 45 minutes, the boat halted and we crowded around a massive slop trough in the rear, watching as a net full of goodies was delicately raised from the choppy waters. It was finally the “Viking Sushi” portion. One worker pulled the net open and the trough was immediately covered by stacks of seafloor dwellers—clams, mussels, sea urchins, and even some starfish.
The worker then started opening clams, scallops and mussels, handing them out to the hungry patrons. Polite queues forgotten, we scrambled to get our own nibble, and weren’t disappointed—the mussels were flavourful, the fresh clams indescribably juicy, far beyond what you’d get at any restaurant. The real standout was the sea urchin. While restaurant sea urchin often has a weird consistency, with a popping sensation when bitten into, this was melt-in-the-mouth delectable.
Coastal views & silent fjords
While the food was plentiful, it was nowhere near enough for a meal, so after disembarking, we made a pit stop at the Narfeyrarstofa eatery. I opted for the lamb, while my companion ordered the fish of the day, fresh from the fjord. Both were proved why Narfeyrarstofa has a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the west.
To reach Hótel Búðir, we decided to round the Snæfellsnes peninsula for some sightseeing. The weather was still patchy and changeable, but that’s a given on Iceland road trips. It’s best to expect the worst, and treat each moment of sunshine as a blessing. Approach an Icelandic road trip this way, and you’ll never be disappointed.
There’s a lot to see in this area. Bjarnarhöfn has a gorgeous tract of lava fields, and beyond that are wide, wild fjords full of seabirds. The peak of Kirkjufell mountain comes into view outlined by awe-inspiring coastal views, and as you get to the peninsula tip, there’s the white sands of Skarðsvík and black sand of Djúpalónssandur battling it out for most beautiful. Towering over all of this is the sparkling Snæfellsjökull glacier—a wonder of Iceland, if there ever was one.
A surprise ending
We arrived at Búðir just in time for dinner. Opting for the tasting menu, we were treated to a perfectly light fish soup, succulently tender lamb fillet, and delicate sorbet dessert. It was still light outside as we finished, so we strolled outside to experience the famous vista around Búðir. The hotel is surrounded by a landscape that feels like an oil painting. There are lava fields, mountains, an old church and the coastline, all melding into a 360° panorama that is, without hyperbole, truly unforgettable.
After drifting off to sleep, I was unexpectedly awoken by the room’s telephone. Answering groggily, I heard an excited voice telling me to come outside. The gleeful cries of fellow guests flew in through my window as I opened it up to look skywards. Sitting in the window-frame, I dangled my feet outside and gazed up at green aurora sweeping across the sky. They danced high up in the atmosphere, and I froze, transfixed. Well, I thought, now I really have gotten my mini-Iceland experience.