Let’s say for the sake of argument say that there was a place where you could literally experience just about every climate known. From craggy desert rocks to frosted snow covered peaks, throw in stunning coastlines with fairy tail meadows set at the base of beautiful green mountains that Tolkein would write and mix it all up. Sounds pretty unbelievable right? Well it is real, I’VE SEEN IT! and I am going to bring you with me as I explore the the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland.
West Iceland is one of those places that is so hard to describe that I have actually put off writing this for a while and ultimately broke it up into multiple parts. Try to imagine a place that is so jam packed with amazing sites that it hurts your brain a little. It’s very much the Disneyland of the great outdoors. There is so much you cannot possibly take in everything in just one visit. The landscape is shear and soft at the same time. You will have solid rocks and boulders and mountains on one side of the road and the most lush, soft, green field on the other. The Snaefellsnes peninsula has it all. Everyone knows about the south coast with its world famous landmarks but many miss out on the splendor in this small pocket of the island. Many people refer to it as Iceland in Miniture. One guide that we talked to while taking a break said that the largest mountain, Snæfellsjökull, even inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
If you are driving and want some seriously stunning views take the F570 road. It is an F road but its pretty smooth going and you will be rewarded with staggering coastline views.
First and foremost before you even really get into the peninsula you are going to want to stop in Búðakirkja to take in one of Iceland’s legendary black churches. This dark hued place of worship is one of only 3 on the entire island and is certainly worth taking a short detour to get a good look at. The reason these churches are black is because of the the coating on the outside which is pitch (i.e. pitch black) the same substance they used to slather on the hull of boats. This is done regularly to protect the building from the extremely harsh elements of Iceland. This technique has been really successful some buildings treated in such a manor have been known to last over 100 years. We were extremely lucky and got to see the Búðakirkja Black Church while they were doing maintenance on it and had just painted a fresh coat of pitch on it. If you notice the shiny black surface is reflective that is because it is still wet! You can see the difference between the freshly painted front of the church and the roof that had not yet been painted.
After you have visited the Black Church you make your way to Hellnar, the quaint little fishing village where the featured photo at the top of this article was taken. You can actually walk to Hellnar from another small village, Arnarstapi, which will take you on a coastal path past some incredible stone bridges and arches out in the ocean. We opted against this route due to rain and wind in the morning ripping in off of the sea. One of the true gems in west Iceland lies on this coastal path though and is the perfect place to have a coffee, some soup with a slice of skyr cake and warm up. This little cliff side restaurant is called Fjöruhúsið and it is the most charming place you have ever seen. If the sun is out you can expect the deck outside to be absolutely packed to the gills but inside should have some tables. Either way the experience is exceptional and you need to try the skyr cake, really try it.
Following up your walk to Hellnar and your snack the next place you have to visit is Londrangar. This pair of basalt towers is perched on a cliff thrust out into the ocean along one of the most stunning coastlines you will ever take in. It reminded me of the broken coast in northern California but turned up to 11. The small islands and rock beaches are home to seagulls making their nests in the shade of the cliff face. The ocean is constantly pummeling the shores with powerful waves that would make this the last place you want to fall in. The water is a wonderful light turquoise blue due to the shallows created by the rocks giving it a slightly tropical look.
To get to this incredible overlook there is a parking lot right off the road and you take a very short hike over a small hill will bring you to a wooden platform over looking this stunning formation and the coastline it rests on. There is a small trail that leads off from the main one to hike down behind the cliffs and right up to the basalt towers of Londrangar. This is a more strenuous path that will cover a few miles of open ground and up and down a few steep parts you have to be careful on.
If you’re looking to take photos try not to setup on the wooden platform. With the constant tourist traffic and the winds it is hard to get a stable shot for a long exposure. Either wait and shoot between groups of people or try and setup up one one of the grassy patches near by. Just be very careful it is wet and slick and if you go over the edge its curtains for you. We opted not to do any paid experiences in favor of Wandering and exploration but very near Londrangar is the Vatnshellir Cave that has an underground spiral stair case and seems like a really unique expereince.
Be sure to check back next week for the next part in the Snaefellsnes series. There will be a red roofed church and probably one of the most famous mountains in all of Europe.