West Fjords – Ísafjörður & Flateyri
Day 9 was devoted to driving the first leg of the West Fjords. We left the safety of the paved Ring Road and headed into the unknown rugged, mountainous roads. Within about ten minutes of turning off the Ring Road to head to the less touristy peninsula of the West Fjords, I thought we made a really big mistake! The roads immediately turned gravel and we were headed up steep hills that made my stomach cramp with anxiety. Did I mention that it was a little foggy and no guard rails between the car and the blue waters of the fjords? Anytime we passed another car, which was rare, I felt like they were thinking, “You should turn around while you still can!” Ben always somehow approaches these things with ease and calmness, while I’m having a panic attack over in the passenger seat! Haha. Thankfully, the cloudy skies lifted and we began to make way deep into the fjords where we were rewarded with sun-kissed mountains and navy waters. We finally came back to some paved roads and got right back to our routine of hopping in and out of the car to get up close to the waterfalls and rocky beaches where the waters of the fjords came to an end. We zigzagged for hours in and out of beautiful fjords until finally reaching the largest city in the West Fjords, Ísafjörður.
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Ísafjörður because we had been driving forever and were ready to get to our hotel which was about twenty minutes away in a small village, but we had to stop and see the town since it was one of the first major areas of civilization we had seen in hours! The West Fjords are very remote and there are few hubs that you will come across. Ísafjörður was very charming with its colorful buildings and mountain backdrop. We stopped to get pictures of the boats sailing away in the sunny, blue-green waters and we spent time driving around the area to see the architecture of the buildings. I started to second-guess my choice of us staying in Flateyri versus Ísafjörður because it was obvious that Ísafjörður was more bustling than what we were expecting of the tiny village of Flateyri. Once we arrived in Flateyri though, I was ecstatic with our decision because this little village was just darling!
Flateyri has a population of about 237 people! Flateyri is like a little splinter that juts out into the middle of a fjord. It is surrounded by mountains that slope into the town. Due to this, Flateyri suffered a major avalanche in 1995. Thankfully, a dam has been built to deter this from happening again. The mountains in this area are mesmerizing! When we were there, they were lightly dusted with snow and the purple lupines were crowded at their feet. It’s just one of those villages that seem like it’s out of a movie because it’s so picture perfect!
We parked the car at our hotel to find that no one was there and that there was a note posted on the door telling us to walk a couple of houses down where the owner lived. We began our search for the owner’s house, but since addresses in Iceland are not quite as easy to understand as in the US, we couldn’t find it. It must have been obvious that we were lost and confused because an older gentleman poked his head out of his window and asked if we were here for the hotel. We nodded and he said he’d meet us down there. He came riding up to the hotel to meet Ben and I on his yellow, cruiser bike and I immediately fell in love with the simplicity of life here. He took time showing us around the place and he gave us the history of how it used to be a post office. He shared how he lived next door in the house that his wife grew up in and shared how he used to be a fisherman. He pointed us in the direction of the one restaurant in the village, warned us about what the driving we had ahead of us would look like, and wished us a good stay.
We were starving so we quickly made our way to the restaurant called Vagninn. It had a pub feel to it and they were showing the European Cup on a big projector. We noticed that prices were a bit high, which is the norm for food in Iceland, so we settled on splitting a fish dish. It may have cost us $30 for the one dish, but it was worth every penny! The white fish came with asparagus and potato mash (as Icelanders call it) and we practically licked the plate! Be sure to get this dish if you visit the lone restaurant in Flateyri. After filling up our bellies, we walked around a bit admiring the quaint village and ogling at the grey yacht that was out in the bay. Ben got in some time skipping rocks on the water before returning to our hotel room which had a beautiful view. I was ready to call it a night and crawled in bed, but Ben really wanted to see the midnight sun so he headed out on his own to take pictures of the sleepy town tucked in between calm waters and perfectly formed mountains. While I was initially hesitant and anxious about visiting the unrefined West Fjords, I am so happy we decided to stick with it because it was filled with so many sweet gems!