At the southernmost point of mainland Iceland sits a particularly dramatic and tide-lashed stretch of coastline. Around the town of Vík, the waves crash in with particularly ferocious force, rending the cliffside apart in imperceptibly slow motion and leaving behind angular basalt formations and precarious sea stacks. The black sands of the surrounding beaches are a flat expanse punctuated by craggy land islands that appear and vanish through fast-moving bands of rain and dust.
Nestled between Vík and Sólheimasandur is Dyrhólaey, a high headland that juts out defiantly into the ocean, offering a view over the scene. The road winds a delicate path between pockmarked hills before crossing a land bridge over a shallow lagoon to an area where the elements have battered the cliffs since Iceland was born, creating a series of impressive natural archways and rock formations. Down through a gap in the cliffside lies Kirkjufjara, a long beach where the violent tide lifts hundreds of black pebbles and noisily clatters them down again in a cloud of salty sea spray. Something about the ferocity of the elements imbues this part of Iceland with a sense of perpetual motion, and lingering drama.
Overlooking the scene from the crown of Dyrhólaey is a lighthouse. It’s a proud little building, squat and square, topped with a rampart and a giant lamp. Tourists ascend the potholed dirt track in droves to take a look at it. They set up tripods, studying the light and the clouds for a particularly photogenic moment, or come over and try the unmarked front door only to find it locked.
What lies inside might surprise them. Because rather than the lodgings of a lighthouse keeper or a workspace full of oil cans and machine parts, the lighthouse has been converted over the last year or so into a luxury hotel residence. As we unlock the door, we’re greeted by an immaculate grey wood-lined hallway, a modern kitchen, and dining and sitting rooms set up for five people. The narrow, winding stair leads up to three bright, minimally decorated bedrooms—a double, a twin and a cosy single—spread across two more floors.
At the top, a steep wooden stair leads up to a hatch that opens onto the roof. The view is a sight to behold, even to someone familiar with Dyrhólaey. To the north stands the towering, icy peak of Myrdalsjökull, overlooking the vast floodplain of Sólheimsandur which recedes to the west as rhythmic waves lap the black shore. To the east, the black sea stacks of Vík are silhouetted against the raging sea. It’s a breathtaking vantage point over a quite astonishing landscape.
The machine awakens
As the sun sets, pink light floods through the bedrooms. We settle into our rooms, all of which have nice design touches, whether hanging white lamp shades, coat hooks that resemble old doorknobs, or piles of comfortable blankets made from Icelandic wool. Each room also comes with a couple of pairs of earplugs, which I assume are for nights when the weather outside is particularly loud.
But as night falls, their purpose is revealed. I’m jarred from a sleepy reverie by a loud grinding sound that seems to shake the walls. I come out into the hallway, wondering if the emergency generator has started up due to a power cut. But the noise is coming from above. I open the roof hatch and realise that the lighthouse has started its work for the night. The huge lamp has started turning, sending three bright beams shooting out into the gloaming, alerting incoming ships that they’ve reached Iceland.
The noise has a rhythmic quality that becomes soothing after a while. I sleep deeply, waking up for a few sleepy moments at dawn. Outside the window, the sun is coming up, catching the clouds and the breaking waves with pink and orange light. The machine is still running, grinding away above our heads, and the beams of light rotate across the sky, shining out to the horizon. It’s a special and dreamlike moment.
Morning comes, and the lighthouse falls silent. Downstairs, we discover the fridge is stocked with smoked salmon and sliced meats, bread and cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. We look out through the curtains as we eat, watching people buzzing curiously around the building once more. As we head out for one last walk around the headland, we feel like we’re sneaking out of a secret door. We quietly lock the lighthouse behind us, and vanish back into the crowd.