Located in west Iceland, roughly 200 kilometers from Reykjavík, a prime place for exploring these delights is the Snæfells peninsula. Snæfellsnes' majestic nature has been the setting for two of Nobel prize winning, Halldór Laxness' popular novels, World Light and Under the Glacier—yet the surrounding towns that dot the peninsula are often missed, not only by tourists in Iceland but by natives as well.
Reykjavík is well-known as a hub for culinary excellence with a wide choice of popular restaurants. During the summer this reputation spreads to the streets where there are an increasing number of international and indigenous street food stalls operating. Looks like Iceland is striving to rival European capitals such as Budapest and Amsterdam. Yet, if your venture into the culinary landscape of Iceland is restricted to the capital, well, you will certainly miss out on the broad choice of epicurean delights the other regions have to offer.
The secret life of Stykkishólmur
One of those towns, Stykkishólmur, recently gained international fame for playing a crucial part in the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Previously, it was known for being in the vicinity of Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which the protagonists of the famous novel descend into the nether regions of the Earth via Snæfellsjökull glacier. Yet, there is far more to this region than hosting this geological phenomenon.
Stykkishólmur is a charming little town. For example, one of the thriving culinary upstarts in the region is the Icelandic company Blue Mussels and Seaweed, which is based in Stykkishólmur. As their name indicates, they grow mussels. These are sold to the domestic market and served in numerous restaurants in Iceland. The sea where they grow is so fresh and clean underlying their high quality. As well as cultivating mussels, the company utilizes the sugar kelp that grows in tandem with the mussels. The consistency and taste of the kelp is quite similar to its Japanese counterpart “kombu.” In addition, it is quite rich in antioxidants and nutritional mineral sand highly touted for its medicinal properties.
Although Stykkishólmur is small, with population of a little over a 1,000 people, it has a rich history as an old trading post. Currently it boasts of a thriving culture and a vibrant restaurant scene, especially during the summer months. This is largely due to its ferry to the island Flatey. Also, while in Stykkishólmur, a stop at Narfeyrarstofa will surely delight, as reflected in its predominantly excellent reviews on the site, TripAdvisor in addition to the great plaudits of the locals. The interior of the hundred-year-old house offers classical Nordic furnishings that emphasize minimalism and embrace elegant refinement.
The culinary philosophy of this establishment is to utilize fresh, quality regional ingredients, while ensuring a lush and aesthetic presentation of the cuisine. Among their most popular dishes is the seasonal seafood entrée. Other delicacies Narfeyrarstofan has a glowing reputation for are their savory mussels dish fresh from the Snæfellsnes region, as well as the scallop and premium dried-fish dishes. Beside these,favorites among reviewers include the shellfish soup and the blue ling dish. Just make sure to make a reservation while travelling during the summer. To enhance the magic of the moment there is an extensive wine-list along with a selection of craft beers.
If you happen to be travelling through this region in the middle of August, be sure to attend the nationally famous Danskir Dagar (Danish Days) Festival where you are likely to taste a variety of Danish-Icelandic fusion cuisine and experience the added pleasure of mingling with the locals.
A short ferry ride into the past
You would think that living on an island would be sufficiently remote for the Icelandic people; however some Icelanders manage to isolate themselves even more by living on a tiny island offshore, specifically Flatey Island. According to anecdotal evidence, the population of Flatey during the winter can apparently be counted on one hand. Never-the-less, Flatey is one of Iceland's wonderful little jewels, residing smack in the middle of Breiðarfjörður Fjord. It was once the location of a monastery for the Augustinian order, which was founded there in 1172 and houses one of the oldest if not the oldest library buildings of Iceland. In fact, many of the houses in the old town's center are built from timber and have, through renovation, preserved the appearance and atmosphere of an Icelandic commercial hub from an earlier age. During the summers, Flatey is busy since some Icelanders own summer homes on the island.
Avian lovers should also be enticed by the diverse and rich bird life that the island has to offer. Another intriguing feature of the island besides the astounding scenery is the geological curiosities it offers; if you find the right spot, in sunny weather, you can comfortably go swimming or bathing in the otherwise cold ocean because the surface clay is heated, warming parts of the surrounding water. But make sure to talk to a local before trying it out.
As you can see, there's a reason Flatey is cherished by many Icelanders, so if you're itching for a romantic getaway, a dinner and a night or two at Hótel Flatey might be just the place. For those that are still single, you can always spend a lovely time with friends in this idyllic setting.
The smaller but equally as charming sibling
A twenty minute drive from Stykkishólmur will reveal the quaint village of Grundarfjörður with its towering Mt. Kirkjufell. This is one of the most photogenic mountains in Iceland and a favorite with intermediate climbers. Another popular pursuit there is whale watching. The ocean surrounding the fjord is thriving with orcas and sperm whales; then, after that amazing experience, the new restaurant Bjargarsteinn is ready to welcome you. Recently, the highly touted Narfeyrarstofa was moved and it now graces the village of Grundarfjörður. This 107-year-old house from Akranes, has been renovated and is currently being used as a restaurant. It offers a magnificent view of the fjord from which it draws its name as well a breathtaking view toward Mt. Kirkjufell.
We definitely recommend getting out of the city for a few days and taking in all this region has to offer.
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by Marvin Lee Dupree