You know how sometimes you travel to places that on the surface don’t seem to have a lot to offer but then they end up touching your heart in a way that you never expected? That’s exactly how I felt about Vatnsnes peninsula as Helga and I drove back to Reykjavík on the very last day of our road trip. We had just spent 24 hours exploring Vatnsnes with Midge, a lovely English chap turned local resident, who works for the Seal Center in Hvammstangi.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, he is the reason this road trip came about in the first place. After reading one of my posts, where I mentioned that I wanted to visit the seal center, he sent me an e-mail and invited me over. Eager to take him up on his offer I started thinking when and how I could make it to Hvammstangi and the idea of a official I heart Reykjavík road trip was born. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Midge didn’t just invite to visit the Seal Center but he took the time out of his busy schedule to show us around this area that he so obviously loves and it was one of the best days of our entire trip. Of course I pretty much felt like that about every day of our trip but this day in particular was something special.
At this point you might be asking yourself why you should visit this somewhat unsuspecting and often overlooked corner of North-West Iceland and as you probably guessed I’m about to tell you. Vatnsnes peninsula is a great place to see seals in their natural habitat and because they are quite curious by nature you will get closer than you’d ever imagine to them. There are a few areas known to be great for seal spotting and if you pop by the seal center before you start your journey they can tell you where these places are. They can also sell or rent to you a great audio guide for around 1000 ISK which tells you all about the interesting sights in the area. If seals are not your thing you will also find great views over to Strandir across the sea, the troll-like Hvítserkur rock formation and the fortress at Borgarvirki.
My favorite part was listening to Midge telling us stories about the area (many of which can be found in the audio guide) and the unscheduled stops we made along the way. First we stopped at Geitafell, an old farm turned restaurant and mini museum, where we met Róbert Jack Jr. who’s half Icelandic and half Scottish. He built himself a castle on his land (not a real one but almost) that houses his homage to his Scottish heritage and life in Vatnsnes in the olden days. The tower should also be really interesting to all Man United fans, especially those who at some point idolized Matt Busby. I won’t ruin your experience by telling you more. His wife also makes the second best Hjónabandssæla (Rhubarb crumble with an Icelandic twist) I’ve ever tasted but the best belongs to the boyfriend’s mom. Apparently they also offer the best seafood soup in Iceland but I can’t vouch for that since I didn’t taste it.
The second stop was at a farm that I don’t even know the name of and it’s not important because it’s not a tourist stop by any means. It was just a farm, run by two people around my age who have 4 or 5 children, where Helga and I drank coffee with Midge and the couple and got to know the sheep that were busy producing little lambs for us to shriek over. You kind of expect farmers to be old and socially awkward due to their solitude and their time with the animals so it was really interesting and refreshing to meet a farmer in his late twenties/early thirties who farms his land during the day and drinks beer and plays in a band during at night. They chose this life and enjoy it enough to tell me, the total stranger, that they would never move back to Reykjavík where they spent a short while during their teenage years. I envied them a little for having found their place in life when I left.
We were also told the lady of the house at Illugastaðir (also a great place for seal spotting) also offer some great treats at their little cafe but unfortunately it wasn’t open when we visited.
I can’t tell you why exactly I enjoyed me day in Vatnsnes so much but I will definitely go there again as soon as I can. Midge told us that visitors can participate in a yearly count of the seals which will take place July 21st this year which I think could be a lot of fun. It’s a great opportunity to give something back and connect with the local people but you can still register if you follow the link. Midge also told me he could maybe hook me up for Réttir in Vatnsnes, an Icelandic tradition I’ve never participated in, and I might just take him up on that.
Oh and if you need a place to stay in Vatnsnes we stayed at these really nice cottages in Hvammstangi that you might want to check out.