In which we barrel along on our road trip of the amazing West Fjords.
Having spent half of Sunday in Ísafjörður we hit the road again, this time due south. We weren’t headed far, only a couple of fjords down to Dýrafjörður – more specifically to Núpur, which for decades was a parsonage and also the site of the regional boarding school, but which is now part of the Farm Holidays collective. The building is owned by the state, but two brothers operate a guest house there during the summer, in the old school.
Núpur has some well-known alumni, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, MP for the Pirate Party, and Jón Gnarr, who just stepped down as Mayor of Reykjavík today. Hence a sign on one of the (very basic) dorm rooms, that reads: “The Mayoral Suite” – i.e. his old room. Heh.
Núpur sits in a beautiful spot. There is a lovely old church on the site, and it is surrounded by stunning scenery, including massive mountains (like so many other places in the West Fjords), some of which can strike dread in your heart just by looking at them. I am thinking of one in particular that had a large section near the pinnacle that was like a gaping cavity, almost like a monstrous, devouring mouth. I took some photos of that on my zoom lens, but alas, left the cable at home that allows me to transfer pics from my camera to my computer.
One of the special things about Núpur is that the first schoolmaster there was incredibly progressive in his thinking and teaching methods. Among his innovations was to create a botanical garden near the school – by doing so he wanted to prove that you could, indeed, grow trees and flowering plants in a location as barren and harsh as the West Fjords. He also used the garden to teach his pupils, and built a hothouse in it. That garden still exists, and is beautifully maintained. It’s kind of like a Garden of Eden out in the middle of barren tundra, and there’s something really wonderful about it. Last year it received a highly coveted award from an Italian architectural firm for its cultural value in the field of landscape architecture. I read the jury’s assessment (it’s hung up in the school) and it is clear that they were deeply moved and impressed by this feat of cultivation virtually out in the middle of nowhere.
Sadly we had to leave Núpur too soon – I would have liked to have explored the area more, as there were many enticing hiking routes and places to visit, including a farm near the mouth of the fjord that is one of the most remote in Iceland. A woman lives there with her son, and now that he’s about to finish elementary school it seems the road to where they live will not be ploughed in the winters any more, meaning the farm will be isolated from civilization for most of the season. How exactly they plan to deal with that I do not know.
We made one final stop in Dýrafjörður: Simbahöllin café in Þingeyri, a small village on the south side of the fjord. I mentioned on Facebook that it is probably my favourite cafe in Iceland, and someone asked why. It’s hard to say, but I reckon it’s a combination of many things: the great food they serve there, the laid-back atmosphere, the friendly people, the house itself, and the story behind the place. It’s run by a Belgian-Danish couple who met in Reykjavík, travelled to Þingeyri, saw this dilapidated old house, and decided to fix it up and make it into a cafe. I mean, just the fact that people should actually choose to move to a small fishing village in an isolated part of Iceland when most other young people are leaving is something special. But I think it’s the spirit of the place that captivates everyone – it is vaguely bohemian, and just so … perfect.
TO SUM UP
Where we stayed: Núpur Guesthouse in Dýrafjörður. Accommodation is in dorm rooms with shared WC and shower, but the guest house provides slippers and a robe for guests so you don’t have to run down the hall nekkid on the way to the loo.
What we ate: Dinner in the Núpur restaurant, which was excellent. There was one fixed main course, and a choice of two starters – we both picked smoked salmon covered with a kind of butter-cognac lining (I don’t know how else to describe it) that tasted vaguely of anisette. Very good. The main course was plaice, pan-fried to perfection. The house white wine was a crisp Italian that went perfectly with the meal.
Don’t miss: Belgian waffles with rhubarb jam and whipped cream at Simbahöllin. DIVINE.