Yes, I know: technically, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is part of Vesturland, the western region of the country. But it’s such a distinctive part, showcasing all kinds of different terrain and landmarks, that it’s been given the nickname “Iceland in miniature.” At the far western end is Snæfellsjökull, the nearly mile-high volcano that Jules Verne used as the starting point for Journey to the Center of the Earth. Everything leading up to that is pretty remarkable, too.
So, to recap, this was the map I started out with:
Until I went through Borgarnes (the town at the center of the “Y” shape, above) again, I toyed with the idea of changing my route and running up to Grundarfjörður and perhaps to Stykkishólmur. Outside of Borgarnes, though, I stopped to pick up a couple from Manchester who needed a ride to Arnarstapi, toward the far western end of the peninsula. That meant sticking more or less to plan, so I did.
Lisa and I visited Snæfellsnes in December last year. It was mostly covered in snow, and there was quite a lot of overcast. Not so much this visit, though there was a fine mist pouring through the craggy mountaintops down the spine of the peninsula:
Although it wasn’t on their itinerary, my new British friends were happy to make a small detour to the black church. Búðakirkja stands alone on a hill not far from the Hotel Búðir, probably one of the nicest hotels in Iceland. The surrounding area used to include a commercially-important trading center, but it has been essentially empty land for more than a hundred years. The church dates back to 1703, and was renovated and reconsecrated in 1987.
The interior is cozy — it’s not very big, after all — but quite lovely. Lisa and I missed seeing the inside of the church when we visited last because it was close to New Year’s and the church wasn’t open to the public. I had no idea it was so pretty:
Just up the road from the church is Bjarnafoss … because this is Iceland, and every major road has to have at least one spectacular waterfall. I’m pretty sure it’s the law.
Also nearby are areas where you can see gentle hills capped with recent lava flows. At one time the whole area was covered with lava, but glaciers cut through the hard cap and the softer soil beneath leaving both exposed to view. To get a sense of scale, note the farmhouse toward the right-hand side of the picture:
And finally, sunset in the shadow of the volcano.
I dropped off the British couple at their campsite in Arnastapi, had a cup of coffee, and then began the long trip back down the peninsula. On the way I passed a Polish couple about 10 miles from the campsite and headed in that direction, so I turned around and gave them a lift there as well. And with the sun having just set, on my second trip down the peninsula I got to enjoy sunrise, too. 🙂
By the time I made it back home, I’d spent a little over 14 hours driving and hiking around western Iceland.
And it was worth every minute.