The World's Loneliest Hotel
Most roads in Iceland lead somewhere, this one just ends.
This is where we find the town of Djúpavik...
The red gravel dead-end street winds through the fog. Tall black cliffs plunge straight down into the Atlantic Ocean. Driftwood gathers on beaches below. The weather changes every other mile and only the sheep are constant.
A Place to Stay
After driving an hour on the last bit of bad mountain road we turn around another bend. There it is. The huge, abandoned herring factory sits inside Reykjarfjordur. 90 meters long and three stories high, it was one of Europe’s largest concrete buildings back in 1935. At the foot of the huge waterfall is a rusty old ship; a desolate image.
The Border Collie Freya meets us in Djupavik. Fifty aggressive terns patrol the sky. They weigh 120 grams and fly from the South Pole to Iceland’s northwest corner to lay eggs on the roof of the old herring factory. Eva Sigurbjörnsdóttir, the hotel owner for 30 years, loves them. We rush for cover. “Unfortunately, we are overbooked,” says Eva and fatigue hits us like a freight train. “But I’ve talked to the neighbor and you can stay in his house, in the basement.”
A Family Affair
We leave the warm cozy hotel, walk a dirt road past two or three houses and see our new home. It is the last house in Djúpavík. The basement smells like fish from recently used equipment. The view is breathtaking. The only sound we hear is the roar of the waterfall.
A few hours later we go down to the restaurant. Eva’s sister is the head chef. She lives in the abandoned gas station called “The Beach House” and plays the saxophone at night, sometimes in an abandoned cistern (which formerly stored fish oil), for acoustics. We order freshly caught cod and potatoes. It tastes like a slice of heaven. On the next table a group of photo tourists are in a good mood. Luke, the waiter brings Icelandic beer. Things are looking up.
From Burst Bubbles to Beauty
“The first time I drove out here I almost drove straight into the ocean. It was so beautiful. I just sat and stared while the car rolled along the edge,” says Eva. Nowadays she lives in “Room 1,” the first hotel room upstairs, with her husband Asbjørn Þorgilsson who walks around in a red Che Guevara t-shirt and bushy beard and always has some work to do. The hotel has evolved tremendously since it opened 30 years ago. Today’s guest books are filled and they easily house 32 people. With the help of neighboring houses Hotel Djúpavík can accommodate groups of up to 50 people.
We go down to the old concrete building, the herring factory. A long time ago the factory owners ran the ship MS Suðurland straight upon the shore for workers to live in. The ship’s skeleton remains. The entrepreneurs saw a new Klondike in Djupavik. It is said that there was so much herring in the fjord you could walk upon the water; they were scooping up fish with buckets. The factory that opened July 7, 1935 as the most modern fish factory in Europe, closed down in 1954 becoming as abandoned as the herring bubble that burst. The giant shoals of herring left, or perhaps the company brutally emptied the site’s stocks. The building provides a weight to Djupavik today, a pitch-black mourning band. Currently a museum with guided tours, an impressive photographic exhibition fills the 80-year-old herring factory, now, a thing of beauty.
Fewer People – More Guests
The hotel has been open since 1985 and from day one, tourists began streaming into the small village. The deserted herring factory, the ship’s remains and the magnificent waterfall fascinated people.
Today tourists travel from Australia, Tasmania, Japan and China to visit the world’s loneliest hotel. I ask Eva what Djupavik is for her. “It’s my home; this is where I’ve lived for 30 years. The place is so incredibly close to my heart. When we moved into the county there were 120 people living here; now we are only 53. That worries me. Even today, there is no road maintenance between January and March. Then, we are stuck. Yet, life is easier now. The road opens more often due to milder winters and the economy is better.”
Like An Old Animal
We go out on the porch, in view of the magnificent sea. It’s a beautiful day and Freya follows us curiously. We go down to the rusty MS Suðurland. “I love the ship. It’s like an old animal that slowly returns to nature,” Eva says.
The place has luminosity and an enduring appeal. Djupavik will survive; you can feel it in the air.
The birds dive down from the sky and attack us. Not Eva.