Sometimes we all need a reminder to slow down. As we enter the East Iceland town of Djúpivogur, after a full day of driving from Reykjavík, we see a large snail painted onto the pavement, with the word “SLOW” in bright orange letters. On an island full of sleepy towns, this one might just be the slowest of them all.
The ideology of slow
Djúpivogur is the only town in Iceland that is part of CittaSlow, an international movement that started in Italy in 1999 with the aim of changing the way people think about urban life and development. “The movement is really about preserving the lifestyle of small towns,” says Nelita Vasconcellos, who works in the tourist information centre in Djúpivogur. “So here in town, for example, everything that we recommend to people is usually from local artists, and the restaurants try to use as much as possible local food.”
Ágústa Árnardóttir is the owner of Arfleifð, the local business that perhaps best exemplifies this CittaSlow ideology. At Arfleifð, Ágústa designs apparel made of fish and reindeer leather that has been left over from other projects, ensuring that nothing goes to waste. Each of her products, which range from dresses to handbags, are uniquely designed and handmade by herself, with the help of her children.
Despite the fact that her designs have attracted the attention of people around the world, Ágústa is content to keep things small, and continues to operate out of a small workshop and storefront in the same building as Djúpivogur’s supermarket. “People come to this town to buy what I make,” she explains. “In the beginning, I wanted fame and fortune and to go everywhere, but then I realized that wasn’t what I wanted.”
Modern art and living history
On the other side of town, an old fish factory has been turned into a modern art space that could just as easily be in Brooklyn or Berlin. The current exhibition is ‘Rúllandi Snjóbolti’, or “rolling snowball,” an ongoing collaboration between the Chinese European Art Centre and the municipality of Djúpivogur. Inside the large, chilly building, visitors are encouraged to wrap themselves in warm blankets and wander through the installations, ranging from sculpture to video art. It’s an immersive sensory experience that lets you get up close and personal with some of Iceland’s most exciting contemporary artists.
Djúpivogur’s rich history as a fishing town is also on display throughout the community. Down by the harbour, Langabuð is one of the oldest standing buildings in the country, and today houses a café on the main floor and a museum in the attic that’s filled with relics and knickknacks from decades and centuries past. It’s the perfect place to stop and warm up with fish soup and a coffee before taking in the natural beauty that surrounds the town.
Our final stop is the sprawling black sand beach behind Djúpivogur’s old airport. When we arrive in the early afternoon, the sun has just emerged from behind the clouds, and the water evaporating from the wet sand makes it look as though smoke is rising from the earth. To the north, west and east the characteristic sharp peaks of the Eastfjörds fade into the distance.
You could spend hours on this beach, synchronising your breathing with the sound of waves crashing on the rocks hidden behind the low dunes. Out here, hours from the hustle and traffic of the big city, it feels natural to slow down.