Off a newly demarcated dirt road—literally off the beaten path—one finds themselves at a curious location that combines the sheer idyllic beauty of the southern countryside with rural industrial grit. Set inside a former mechanics warehouse and garage, Midgard Adventures and Base Camp in Hvolsvöllur began operations last May and opened its accommodations just last September, and have rapidly whipped their rough and tumble building into an attractive, friendly, youthfully elegant gathering place for the adventure-bound traveller.
This town itself has generally been known more as a throughway or pit stop on a south coast trip, but recently this cute little village at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull has started to really perk up. Numerous interesting shops have cropped up in a series of old A-frame huts, and the incredibly impressive LAVA centre interactive museum definitely requires a visit.
Now, as well as operating tours and the guesthouse, Midgard is becoming a little gathering and community centre for Hvolsvöllur where the locals can come hang out in the café, drop by for parent-and-baby days, play foosball or catch a gig in the cosy concert space in the lounge.
Bright and open
We showed up rather unannounced one gloriously sunny Sunday and were warmly greeted by Hildur Guðbjörg Kristjánsdóttir, one of Midgard’s family of co-owners, and their “youngest employee”, her baby boy Markús, who was slacking it on the job hanging out with some other babies and their moms in the modular palette lounge. Off to the left of the entrance, a young boy and his dad or uncle faced off in a fun, high-energy game of foosball. Everyone in the lobby were friends or family, young and stylish and buzzing about casually. The cutest black Labrador ran about the doorway being a very good boy.
Hildur and her husband, Arnar Gauti Markússon, are both bright, open, super friendly, good-humoured types who smile generously and freely, giving an immediate sense of comfort. “This is a home away from home for all of us and that’s how we want our guests to feel when they stay here,” said Hildur cheerfully and proudly. “We are a family operation so it’s really important to us that everyone has that feeling.” She immediately offered a full tour of the premises, starting with the Trust Bar, where guests can grab a post-reception hours drink and pay for it the following morning. This symbol of good faith really sums up the whole vibe of the place.
The first floor comprises the lobby, lounge, restaurant and activity shop, all designed beautifully with a streamlined mix of Nordic modern elegance, yet retaining that edge of industrial minimalism and toughness. Hildur guided us around the open, donut-shaped area, joking about their attempt at a green wall of plants, “… but none of us has much of a green thumb, unfortunately,” she shrugged. “We also only have big long tables because we really want our guests to have a feeling of community. We’re not exactly a hostel since we don’t have common kitchen facilities, but guests are always allowed to bring their own meals to the dining space and gather.”
We then went upstairs for an extensive walk through the sleeping quarters, with common bunking rooms made of awesome, huge, colourful wood-block structures resembling a cross between a kindergarten fortress and a tour bus bunk, each with their own huge locking drawers for suitcases.
“My husband and I backpacked around a lot before we opened this place and we stayed somewhere in Southeast Asia with this kind of bunking concept,” said Hildur. “We really loved it and wanted to bring that same sort of atmosphere to our place.”
They offer two types of private rooms – a family room with two twin beds and two bunks; and a double room with two twin beds and a sleeper sofa. Each of these rooms is named after one of Iceland’s famous mountains and has a simple, monochromatic embossed mountain-pattern highlighting one wall. While showing us the double room’s surprisingly large bathroom, Hildur casually takes in Markús for a little nose wipe, just like you were getting a tour of your cousin’s hip new flat.
The crowning glory of the guesthouse, however, is the rooftop hot tub and dry sauna that is open all the time, with one of the most stunning views of the mountains and a field full of lovely horses. “We really want people to be able to come here and go on a great adventure and then just enjoy the relaxation afterwards,” she told us. “This place is really special to us and we want to give people a special experience.”
Indeed, the place does feel special, lovely, charming and fun. Like the monster trucks they own and self-service for their tours, the guesthouse still has that new car smell, but it’s fresh and seems like it will not be taken to the junkyard anytime soon.