“Drive past Reykholt and continue to a farm called Stóri Ás,” read the directions to Borgarfjörður’s Lava Lodge. “Cross the bridge, turn right, and continue for eight kilometres until you see a yellow and red fire hydrant.”
And so it is that, one freezing January afternoon, we turn off Route One just before Borgarnes in search of the farm, the bridge, and the hydrant. In search of Stóri Ás, we take an accidental detour through some snow covered farmland before emerging again at a wide, gushing river. There’s no obvious sign, but as “Stóri Ás” means “big river” in Icelandic we hang a right and hope for the best.
The road skirts the northern edge of the sprawling 52km Hallmundarhraun lava field, draped today with a thick blanket of snow. Just as we begin to fear we’ve taken a wrong turn, the bright dot of the hydrant appears. We trundle up the road to find Villi Goði waiting for us on the driveway. “You made it!” he exclaims, beaming broadly and beckoning us up the candle-marked path to the lodge.
Villi and his wife, Sigrún, run the cosy red-walled guesthouse nestled on the edge of Hallmundarhraun. We kick off our shoes in the entrance hall, which has, Villi explains, evolved into a music room with a vast stack of records from 80s pop to Icelandic choral compilations. ”It’s a ‘no judgement’ zone,” he laughs. The dining room leads through to a warm kitchen, where we’re treated to some sparkling wine and piping hot wild mushroom soup that’s so good we ask for the recipe. It’s a heartfelt welcome, and we immediately feel perfectly at home.
“We were originally planning to open a normal, respectable tourist office in Mossfellsbær,” says Sigrún. “But we found this place, and we knew right away it was for us.”
The couple bought the lodge as a base that would allow them to live and work amongst the nature. They employed local craftsmen to create several cosy, wood-lined bedrooms in an adjacent new building, a fire pit and seating area, an outdoor hot pot and shower room, and wooden walkways connecting them all together. The attention to detail is apparent in everything from the woollen artworks adorning the walls—made by Sigrún’s daughter-in-law—to the comfortable robes and carefree “mi casa, su casa” policy.
It’s an ideal location. The Borgarfjörður area has a variety of natural sites and sightseeing options, and we talk through them, from waterfalls to spa trips. We settle on a sightseeing drive up to the snowy, glacier-flanked mountain pass of Kaldidalur.
With few hours of daylight remaining, Villi warms up the engine of his modified jeep. We set off briskly, rounding the top of the the lava field and plunging down onto the black flats of the Sandur valley. Villi explains the geology and history of the area as we go, including colourful accounts of the bandits who once lived here. He’s an engaging storyteller with an infectious enthusiasm for the region.
After a while, the sunlit expanse of Langjökull appears, filling the horizon like a frozen tsunami. Villi’s jeep powers through the snow to the base of the glacier, and we step out into a majestic pink-hued icescape. Some locals are returning in a train of 4x4s from a GPS-guided drive over the ice, and a row of snowmobilers soon follows. It’s the most traffic we’ll see all day.
Back at the lodge, Sigrún has prepared a home-cooked meal of lamb and gravy, risotto, greens, and various delectable sides. After the feast, we open another bottle, playing records and talking into the night before sinking into the candlelit hotpot, and then a deep sleep.
The trickling cave
After a leisurely breakfast, we bid a fond farewell to Villi and Sigrún, thanking them for their generous warmth and hospitality. Villi has set up a tour of the Viðgelmir lava tube, where we’re greeted by a perky young guide named Hlynur. We strap on helmets and head to the yawning maw of the cave.
A wooden staircase leads down into the darkness. Hlynur explains how the cave was formed, showing us features such as “lava candles,” which formed like stalagmites when molten rock dripped down from the ceiling, and cave bacteria that glitters silver under torchlight. We end the tour sitting in absolute darkness, listening to “the symphony of the cave”: a silence that turns out, with attention, to hold the sounds of countless trickles, droplets and streams.
The final stop is the Krauma geothermal spa, where we warm up with long and lingering dip, looking out over the steaming Deildartunguhver hot spring. Deep in the winter off-season, there are few other visitors, and after a long soak we have the relaxation lounge to ourselves. I drift into daydreams in front of the fire, struck by the thought that the tourists queuing up for Geysir and Gullfoss really don’t know what they’re missing in the peaceful outback of Borgarfjörður.