The Westfjords of Iceland are ever so beautiful, a bit off the beaten track for most people, but very much worth visiting during your Iceland visit. If tranquillity and breathtaking landscape is what you are looking for, then the Westfjords are the place to check out.
During my 8-day visit in 2017 to the Westfjords of Iceland, I stayed for one night in the lovely fishing village Patreksfjörður in the southern part of the Westfjords, which is Iceland's westernmost village. This little tranquil village has a population of ca 700 people, making it the biggest village in the southern part of the Westfjords.
When I travel around my country I like to chat with the locals to get stories and local knowledge. And I always visit the village museum to get as much information as I can about the area in question.
I also try out the guided tours in each area to see what they have to offer. I am mainly interested in family-run hotels and guesthouses and always choose to stay in such accommodation on the travels in my country - to get acquainted with the locals and get some local stories. This time around I stayed at Guesthouse Ráðagerði, which just opened their doors to guests on the 1st of June 2017 after a thorough renovation by the new owners.
Ingveldur Ásta Björnsdóttir, the host and one of the new owners of Ráðagerði, told me the story of this stately house and how it came about that she, her husband Árni Freyr Valdimarsson, her uncle Sigurður Svanur Sigurðsson, who all have strong roots in Patreksfjörður, and a local friend Jón Árnason, decided on opening up a guesthouse in this stately old house in Patreksfjörður. Let me first tell you that Ingveldur's ancestors were pioneers in Patreksfjörður, so her roots are firmly planted in the Westfjords.
Ráðagerði, which had been for sale for a while, had seen better days and had become somewhat dilapidated when they got the idea of buying it and giving it the love and attention it needed. They wanted to go back to their roots and give back to their old society in the Westfjords, which is so close to their heart.
Ráðagerði was built in 1945 and one of the owners of it was the grandfather of our current President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, whose brother's name is Patrekur - maybe he was named after Patreksfjörður fjord?
At Ráðagerði four families lived at one time and here Ingveldur was born. At some point when Ingveldur's mother was pregnant with her - a 3-year-old boy lived in the same house with his mother, he was later to become Ingveldur's husband. So Ráðagerði is the first house in which the future husband and wife lived together, as it were :)
Ingveldur was 7 years old when her family moved south to Reykjavík for work, but she stayed every summer with her grandmother in Patreksfjörður until she met her husband at the age of 16.
Árni Freyr's family owns land in Kvigindisdalur valley on the opposite side of Patreksfjörður fjord, and if you look closely out of the windows of the lounge you can spot his family farm. Here he spent his summers until he met his future wife, who was also staying for the summer with her relatives across the fjord.
Ingveldur and her family put a lot of work and joy, as she told me, into renovating Ráðagerði themselves, and their mothers helped them with the renovation of the old house, in which they had lived so many years ago. Little by little they made Ráðagerði into the beautifully decorated, modern and welcoming hotel it is today.
Guesthouse Ráðagerði is the boutique hotel in Patreksfjörður, intimate and small where you have access to friendly local hosts, be it for a chat, some local stories or some guidance on where to go and what to do in the Westfjords.
I love the flowers in the windows and the cozy feeling in the breakfast and lounge area, where you can get free coffee and tea - and a bite of assorted chocolates. Ingveldur picks the flowers from the hills above Patreksfjörður and drives to Tálknafjörður to get cotton grass for the flower arrangements.
There are 11 rooms at Ráðagerði, either with a private bathroom or a shared bathroom. Our room was lovely, with twin beds and had shared bathroom facilities, on the second floor of the majestic house with a beautiful ocean view of the fjord and the village.
Everything was spotlessly clean and brand-new and the duvets were just out of their box, seeing that the guesthouse only opened in June 2017. The floors are hardwood floors and the room was tastefully decorated in a minimalistic way. In the room were free toiletries, which I always appreciate when travelling.
I got a peek into several of the 11 rooms and seeing that this is an old house then every room is unique and of a different size. There was no TV in our room, but one big TV in the lounge and free Wifi. Who needs TV when the view from the room is that of a beautiful fjord in Iceland?
A walk at night in the quiet village is just what the doctor ordered. It is hard to beat the silence and tranquillity of taking a walk on bright Icelandic summer nights. There is something magical about the bright Icelandic nights and I barely sleep during this time of year in my country.
Guesthouse Ráðagerði flanks the mountains overlooking Patreksfjörður and from there you have a beautiful view of the village, the surrounding mountains and Patreksfjörður fjord.
From time to time whales can be seen in the fjord by the village, both humpback whales and porpoise whales. The whales follow mackerel, which swim into the fjord, round them up and feed on them.
The upper floor at Ráðagerði is accessible by stairs, so there is no wheelchair access, but there is plenty of other accommodation in Patreksfjörður with handicapped access, which the owners of Ráðagerði will be glad to direct you to, f.ex. Hotel West, where I have stayed and on which I have written another travel-blog.
Working at the hotel was a girl from Switzerland who had been studying in Iceland for 3 years - she surprised us by speaking fluent Icelandic. It is very rare that we meet foreigners, who have made such an effort in learning our language, so kudos to her :)
A hearty breakfast is included in the price of the room with freshly baked homemade bread every day. The dairy-truck comes twice a week and brings them milk and dairy products.
The guesthouse was quiet and I only heard one Icelandic family enter their room around midnight, so I thought that there were only 2 rooms occupied in the whole guesthouse.
When I chatted to Ingveldur the next morning, she told me that they had been fully booked on that night, so Ráðagerði must be really well insulated. Ingveldur told me that they were in the process of making it even more soundproof.
Guesthouse Ráðagerði is located in Aðalstræti 31 - here you can see the exact location on the map. Aðalstræti means Main Street, but when you drive into the village you will be driving on Strandgata, Strand Street, which is by the ocean and below Aðalstræti. You cannot miss this prominent house as it looks like a small castle.
The next morning we joined a free guided tour of Patreksfjörður, which started at 08:00 from the Information centre, which is now located at the offices of Westfjords Adventures at Þórsgata 8a. Almost every town and village in Iceland has got its own museum, but unfortunately, the Pirate Museum in Patreksfjörður closed down and instead they offer 1.5-hour-long free guided tours on request of their lovely fishing village.
Now isn't this a lovely gesture? As so often we drive through towns and villages and never get this special touch of getting to know the locals and bond with the village, so to speak. This is why I now call Patreksfjörður the friendliest village in the Westfjords :)
With us on the guided tour were American descendants of a woman, who had been born in Patreksfjörður and they were visiting their roots, so to speak. It was so lovely as they were so enthusiastic and appreciative of the local information we got.
Seeing that Patreksfjörður is the biggest village and the service centre for the southern part of the Westfjords you will find a health-care centre, police station, a gas station and a garage, a bank and a post office, a church and a swimming pool, restaurants and 2 supermarkets in the village. Patreksfjörður is a small village so everything is within a walking distance. Our local guide walked us through the village and told us its history, the story of the houses, local stories, etc.
The name Patreksfjörður means the Fjord of St. Patrick, named after St. Patrick the mentor of the settler of this area, Örlygur "the old" Hrappsson, who by the way did not stay in Patreksfjörður, but moved on and became the settler of Kjalarnes in the south. Patreksfjörður is divided into Vatneyri and Geirseyri spits, but one has to be local to know where the division is nowadays.
Patreksfjörður has got a long history of fishing and the major part of the population of Patreksfjörður works in the fishing industry; fishing, fish processing and fish farming. By the harbour, you will see a lot of activity, ships, and boats sailing out and returning loaded with fish, which they sell at the fish-market. And you will notice the fish farming rings in several fjords in the Westfjords, including Patreksfjörður.
Earlier on foreign fishermen from f.ex. France, Spain, Portugal, and England fished and traded from Patreksfjörður and had their base in this village. You will find several memorials for lost fishermen in the village, but in every hamlet in Iceland, a memorial has been erected to honour those who have been lost at sea. I call these memorials the heart of the village and always go pay my tribute to them.
On the memorial above is written in several languages: "This memorial is raised in honour of everyone who has and will travel through our fjord for fishing. The ones who disappeared into the ocean don't dwell there but in the hearts of their loved ones. - Jón úr Vör".
In Patreksfjörður, in addition to the memorial for Icelandic and international fishermen, you will find a memorial for French and English fishermen.
On the guided tour you will amongst other things get to visit the fish processing factory in Patreksfjörður, which makes for a really interesting visit.
I joined this tour during my stay to get a better knowledge of the village under local guidance. And it intrigued me to pay a visit to the fish processing factory as I hadn't been inside a fish factory since I myself was working in one in Reykjavík when I was 14 and 15 years old. Back then we stood on our feet cutting and cleaning fish for up to 12 hours per day during our summer break.
Before entering the fish processing we even got to dress up ;) Hygiene is of utter importance when it comes to dealing with Iceland's most important export and the reason why we can live on this northern island - the fish! So we dressed up in white plastic coats and got a hairnet.
The process of the fish cleaning and cutting was explained to us by the local Skjöldur Pálmason (Skjöldur is by the way also the name of one of the towering mountains above Patreksfjörður) and I was totally amazed. There is so much new technology since I was working in fish processing.
Machines do precise work now and we got to peek through the windows of the machine below to see how the fish is filleted. We spent some 20-25 minutes inside the fish processing factory and left much wiser than when we arrived.
In wintertime, the road to Reykjavík is kept open so that the fish can quickly reach its destination. And the heath leading south from Bíldudalur to Patreksfjörður is always cleared of snow so the salmon can be transported by trucks south to Reykjavík, each truck often carrying 10-50 tonnes of salmon.
The heaths further north, Dynjandisheiði heath and Hrafnseyrarheiði heath are closed during wintertime (up to 7 months) due to heaps of snow.
I don't know if you have watched the Icelandic series Ófærð or Trapped, but Patreksfjörður is that kind of a remote village by the sea surrounded by mountains. The Westfjords of Iceland, which are geologically one of the two oldest parts of Iceland, are renowned for their tall and majestic mountains. But tall mountains can gather massive snow heaps.
A dreadful tragedy happened in Patreksfjörður on the 22nd of January 1983, when 2 powerful avalanches came rushing down from the mountains above this lovely little village, damaging 19 houses and killing 4 of the inhabitants :( The first avalanche came rushing down from the mountain Brellur and the other one from Litlidalur.
This tragedy took place at Geirseyri, where you can see a memorial of the 4 victims of the avalanche. Apart from the fatalities, 10 other people got caught in the avalanche/slush flood, including a friend of mine, who was pushed by the flood straight to the sea - fortunately she got saved.
Every helping hand at Patreksfjörður and the neighbouring villages came to the rescue and help was sent from Reykjavík. Way too many people have been killed in avalanches in the Westfjords of Iceland, and I cannot write about this without shedding a tear as avalanches have a great impact on the whole Icelandic nation.
Do stop by the memorial in remembrance of the 4 victims of the avalanche and pay your tribute to them. You will find similar memorials in other villages further north in the Westfjords - at Flateyri village and Súðavík village.
On the 18th of February 1910, a big avalanche fell on Hnífsdalur village in the northern part of the Westfjords. My great-grandfather, Guðmundur Guðmundsson, got caught in this avalanche in Hnífsdalur, but thankfully he survived.
You will be able to see avalanche defenses just above Patreksfjörður village and in 2017 defenses were mounted on top of the mountain Brellur. They are called Verndarenglarnir or the Guardian Angels, which is such an appropriate name. I had to zoom in to get a photo of the Guardian Angels as they are way up on the mountain, so the photo is a bit grainy, but I wanted to show them to you anyway. They will be pointed out to you on your guided tour.
These avalanche defenses have now made the Westfjord villages safe to live in.
Once in Patreksfjörður, or Patró as it is called by the locals, you can join guided tours to the nearby nature pearls, Látrabjarg sea-bird cliffs (60 km away), which is the best place in Iceland to photograph puffins, and the extraordinary Rauðasandur beach (30 km away) - both of which can be reached from the south side of Patreksfjörður fjord.
Further up north my all-time favourite waterfall in Iceland and the Jewel in the Crown of the Westfjords is located the majestic Dynjandi waterfall. And lest we forget the hot pools in the Westfjords, but the Westfjords of Iceland are renowned for their natural geothermal pools.
My purpose for visiting Patreksfjörður and the Westfjords again this summer was to join a guided tour of the most dangerous road in the Westfjords - the Kjaran's Avenue combined with a visit to Dynjandi waterfall, the Jewel of the Westfjords, on which I have written another travel-blog.
To reach the southern part of the Westfjords of Iceland you can either rent a car in Reykjavík and drive there yourself and enjoy the adventure of driving on the Westfjord roads. Or fly to Bíldudalur, which is only a little bit further north of Patreksfjörður, where you will be picked up by the fly-bus from Patreksfjörður.
And if you prefer to get a guided tour all the way from Reykjavík - then check out the Westfjords 2-day winter break.
Three times per week there is a bus from Brjánslækur to Patreksfjörður, which is 55 km away from Patreksfjörður on road 62.
One of the locals at Ísafjörður :)
And after a couple of days of visiting the sights on the southern part of the Westfjords, you can catch a bus from Patreksfjörður to Ísafjörður on the northern side of the Westfjords and see what they have to offer.
Have a lovely time in the beautiful Westfjords of Iceland :)