Just 45 kilometres from the capital, beyond an otherworldly lava field landscape and up and down a mountain, lies the small town of Hveragerði. Often clouded—both in mystery and steam—the countryside abode offers a plethora of interesting pandemic-safe possibilities.
The quintessential Icelandic town
After a week of working from home, a trip—even just a small day trip out of the house and into the fresh air—sounded very good to a pair of Reykjavík Grapevine interns. The legends of the hot ground beneath Hveragerði only served to intrigue us further. Whispers of hot springs, home grown bananas and basement saunas captured our minds, luring us to the little town that could so easily be overlooked on the road to the more high-profile Gullfoss or Geysir.
If you were to ask any foreigner what they imagined Iceland to look like, chances are that they would describe a town very similar to Hveragerði. Small, quaint houses of brightly painted wood and corrugated iron sit nestled between steaming pipes and hotpots, taking full advantage of the geothermal environment. Although, to our disappointment, it turned out that the houses don’t have saunas in their basements. In fact, they don’t have basements at all because the ground is simply too hot. The idyllic river Varmá runs through the town, with waterfalls providing peaceful picnic spots. All in all, Hveragerði is the quintessential Icelandic village.
Sitting on a hotbed
Hveragerði’s surrounding area lies over the volcano Hengill—hence the high level of geothermal activity. All over town, steam rises up through cracks in the ground or boils up into large pipes and pumps.
And the locals sure know how to harness that resource. One of Hveragerði’s highlights is its abundance of geothermally-heated greenhouses, where exotic plants flourish despite the harsh Icelandic climate. Even bananas thrive in the Hveragerði greenhouses. In fact, Hveragerði is the world’s northernmost producer of the fruit.
The ground also allows one some culinary creativity. By simply burying your lunch for a few hours, you’ll be rewarded with a hot meal. There is, of course, also the option of visiting one of the local establishments that pride themselves on their geothermal cuisine. Sadly, when we arrived, the quiet little town was not expecting visitors—a not unexpected downside of the pandemic—and most places were shut. In the name of safety, we would find food elsewhere.
Along with its geothermal prowess, Hveragerði is also a well-known hiking destination. Most famous is a steep, slightly challenging 40-minute hike to the Reykjadalur Thermal River. Here, wonder at Djúpagilsfoss waterfall, take in the breathtaking beauty of the Reykjadalur valley and don your swimming trunks for a soakin the hot river. Although the river can get busy—particularly in the summer—it’s long and fairly easy to find a secluded spot in.
That said, we decided we weren’t feeling particularly intrepid on the day of our visit, so we skipped the full Reykjadalur hike and instead meandered through the less-steep surrounding trails. Before starting off, we headed to the local Bónus to grab some food. For some reason, we were craving eggs… and some stockings.
Witches around a cauldron
Our hike reminded us we were alive and mobile, even after so many days spent at home. From the outskirts of town, the views go on for kilometres across unspoiled and ancient lava fields. The red clay lends the landscape an almost alien atmosphere—how one would imagine the surface of Mars to look. Barren but majestic, Iceland’s landscapes really are like no other. We could have stopped and stared for hours.
But then it was time to eat. We grabbed our six-pack of eggs and two pairs of nylon stockings, desperate to fulfill our dream of naturally boiling eggs in the earth. But where to find a good boiling station? To our dismay, the geothermal park—which offers a special egg-boiling hot pool—was closed on the day of our trip, so we opted to look on our hike for a natural, off-the-beaten-track hot puddle to serve our needs.
And yet, like the ever eluding fata morgana of the desert, no matter how close we came to a steam column, it would always turn out to remain unreachable, cooped in by either a fence or pipes or pumps.
So, we hiked for a while longer, and after examining the area for about two hours, we finally found a suitable place just outside of town. The grey, steaming, bubbling sludge in a hole was the perfect place to prepare our snack. Gently loading our new stockings up with eggs, we crouched, like witches around a cauldron and tentatively lowered them into the hotpot. It’s sweaty work, cooking eggs like this, but we embraced the heat, figuring that the steam would definitely be beneficial for our skin, despite the condensation clinging to our eyelashes and woolly hats.
After about ten minutes we removed the eggs, cooled them down in the river and began cracking them open. Having no idea what to expect—we’re journalists, not chefs—we were surprised to find that the eggs were still very soft boiled. Slowly taking our first bites, we couldn’t decide if it was the sulphuric nature of the water or the fact that we’d worked hard to earn our food, but we agreed that these eggs were particularly delicious. All they needed was a pinch of salt and toast for dipping, and these Hveragerði delights would have made an eggcellent meal.
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