Autumn. An elusive season in Iceland, it briefly makes an appearance as the endless summer days draw to a close, and before it’s necessary to don full polar survival gear to leave the house. While the American name is less relevant—there aren’t many trees for leaves to ‘fall’ from—those who dismiss travelling at this time of year are missing out on one of the most beautiful iterations of Icelandic scenery. Sure, the weather might not be as reliable as during the summer months, but seek out the right spots and you will be rewarded with a countryside alive with colour—at least, that’s what I found on my recent autumnal jaunt to Snæfellsnes.
A hidden gem
Off of the main ‘Ring Road,’ Snæfellsnes is sometimes overlooked by visitors. And yet, it showcases many of the elements that Iceland is famed for—hot springs, black sand beaches, dramatic sea cliffs, waterfalls, majestic mountains, and more.
Our first stop was the natural hot spring Landbrotalaug. Set in the most idyllic location, with the Eldborg volcanic crater as a backdrop, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful spot to take a dip. The original hot pot is very small, with only room for a couple of people, but at the other side of the small lake are a few pools fed by piped spring water. There are no changing facilities and a lot of mud, but somehow the rustic feel makes the whole experience better. Lying in the hot water, with the hills around us ablaze in colour, we rejoiced at the gentle rain misting our faces.
Inspiring the greats
Slightly damp, and significantly soothed, we headed along the southern edge of the peninsula, briefly stopping at the photogenic black church Búðakirkja, before continuing further along the road, where a window in the weather allowed us to take a walk up Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge. This dramatic crack in the world is thought to be the place that inspired Jules Verne when writing ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.’ The famous novel begins on Snæfellsjökull, the glacier that perches high on the western tip of the peninsula. On a clear day, it’s visible from Reykjavik, but we only caught half glimpses of it through the heavy cloud cover, despite it being right above us.
The appeal of Snæfellsnes is not limited to its natural beauty, however. A thriving arts scene also exists here, and no place is this more accessible than Hellissandur. Once a busy fishing town, Hellissandur has experienced a significant decline in fortunes over the years. Hellissandur native and owner of the Freezer Hostel in nearby Rif, Kári Viðarsson, had a vision about how to revamp the town’s image. Over the last couple of years, in connection with organisation Artrvl, visiting international artists have adorned the walls of the abandoned fish factory and other buildings with colourful murals depicting local stories, Icelandic folklore, native wildlife—and, surprisingly, Kanye West.
We made the most of the rapidly dimming light to take in a couple more spots before heading home. Djúpalónssandur beach—normally rammed with tourists in the summertime—was deserted, bleak and beautiful. We watched the seabirds wheeling in the wind and cheered the waves as they crashed into the black basalt cliffs. Weather dependent? Weather independent, more like.
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