An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

What I like to do when I travel around Iceland is to get to know the locals in each part of Iceland. That way I get to learn so much more about my country. I do this by visiting the local museum in each village, as almost every village and town in Iceland has got at least one museum.

I have found that the older generation in particular is very knowledgeable about Iceland, and I love to sit and listen and learn more. And then I write about my experiences here on Guide to Iceland and tell you about all the things I have learnt and seen on my travels :)

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

What I also like to do on my travels is to try out the guided tours in each area, that way I get to know the local guides and drink in their knowledge of the area. And thus I am able to tell you more about what each area in Iceland has to offer.

The Westfjords of Iceland are extraordinary beautiful, a bit off the beaten track, as it were, but so worth the detour.  Here you can find the tranquillity which many people are longing for. 

When I visited Patreksfjörður village I found out that their museum, the Pirate Museum, was no longer open, so what was I to do to introduce you to Patreksfjörður, the biggest village on the southern part of the Westfjords?
An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

I looked for the information centre in Patreksfjörður and saw an information sign on Hotel West and walked in to get some information on what to see and do around here.

In the reception of the hotel I got to know Jóhann Svavarsson, the owner of the new hotel in Patreksfjörður – Hotel West.  We chatted for a while and I found the conversation to be so interesting that I decided on staying for the night at the hotel and check out the surroundings - and maybe take an interview with Jóhann for my blog as I saw that he was very knowledgeable about the Westfjords.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Unfortunately there were no vacancies at the hotel on that day, meaning that I had no place to stay for the night, which led to me camping up in a very remote valley in the Westfjords, which was an experience per se, and on which I elaborate in my travel blog on the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur.

As I wanted to hear Jóhann‘s story and get to know a local in Patreksfjörður I drove all the way back to Patreksfjörður 3 days later after having stayed with relatives in Bolungarvík way up north by Ísafjörður town, the capital of the Westfjords.

I had planned on driving back in Djúpið, the north part of the Westfjords and explore that area better, but I drove back the same way that I had come ;) I know I am a bit crazy, but I go out of my way for more knowledge about my country.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Patreksfjörður, Europe's most westerly village, is the biggest village in the southern part of the Westfjords with a population of around 700 people and a lot of interesting things to see and do in the vicinity.

This village is the service centre for the southern part of the Westfjords, so they have a hospital, a police station, a bank, a post office, a swimming pool, restaurants and 2 supermarkets, just to name a few.

The main industry in Patreksfjörður village is fishing and fish processing and by the harbour you will see a lot of ships and boats. When the ships come in with their catch there is a whole lot of activity in this area.  Patreksfjörður has had a very long history of fishing and trading. Earlier when foreign fishermen were fishing in the ocean around this area they and the merchants had their base here. 

Now, back to Jóhann Svavarsson, who just opened up a new hotel in the restored building of the old cooperative store in Patreksfjörður.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

This now beautifully restored building was built in 1952 and has a history which is intertwined with the inhabitants of Patreksfjörður.

When the cooperative was located in this building, the storage room was located on the ground floor where there is now a breakfast restaurant and a lovely veranda. On the first floor the grocery store was located, where there are now 7 en-suite hotel rooms and the hotel reception, and the offices were located on the top floor, where there are now 10 en-suite hotel rooms. In 2013 this once graceful building had become dilapidated.

Back in 2013 another hotel, belonging to the Fosshotel chain, had opened up in the old freezing plant, which is located not far from Hotel West on the main street of Patreksfjörður, Aðalstræti.

A travel company was needed in this area, so back in 2004 Jóhann Svavarsson and other pioneers, founded a company called Umfar, a guiding and travel planning company – with the main purpose of guiding travellers who wanted to go hiking in the Westfjords or go on guided bus tours. 

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

The southern part of the Westfjords was and is very popular, with the main attractions being Rauðasandur and Látrabjarg bird cliff, which are 2 extraordinary places in this part of the Westfjords. After the Fosshotel chain opened, more and more travellers were visiting this area.  So as time went by a bigger travel agency was needed and Jóhann and his friend founded Westfjord Adventures, which took over the bulk part of the smaller scale Umfar.

Accommodation was needed for the travel agency and the building of the old cooperative, standing empty for the longest time and having seen better days, seemed to be perfect for this new enterprise. It was for sure dilapidated and renovations would be costly. To be able to renovate this building additional income was needed, so it was decided on opening up a hotel in this building by getting bank credit to cover the initial cost of the renovation.

I had heard plans about the opening of a new hotel in Patreksfjörður from a relative when we were thinking about where we could stay for our next family reunion. So I had planned on checking out this hotel next time I visited the Westfjords. We had already had one family reunion back in 2010 further up in the Westfjords, at Núpur in Dýrafjörður, as my grandmother was born in this area in a very remote place in Ingjaldssandur

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

The commune was not into opening up an information centre in Patreksfjörður so Jóhann took the lead and opened up an information centre in his new travel agency in Hotel West.  The information centre is now located at the offices of Westfjords Adventures in Þórsgata 8a.

Hotel West was opened with ten en-suite rooms in the attic in the summer of 2014. The hotel got great reviews, and more and more people were visiting the Westfjords, so more rooms were needed. Seven additional en-suite rooms were fitted in on the first floor along with a reception. And on the 1st of May in 2016 Hotel West opened up with 17 en-suite rooms.

And then I walked in, just after the new rooms had been presented, and wanted to talk to somebody at the information centre about what there was to do here and where I could find a local to talk to, seeing that the museum had closed down! And thus I met Jóhann, the owner of this new hotel by coincidence – or was it fate? As the travel agency Westfjord Adventures and the information centre had just moved to another location in the village, but the information sign was still hanging up ;)

Jóhann told me that he had sold his company and was concentrating on the hotel business.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

I stayed for the night in one of the new rooms on the first floor. The room was lovely, brand-new, spotlessly clean and minimalistic. It was so lovely snuggling up under the fresh and clean duvet in a hotel room after days of travelling in the Westfjords - it was just what the doctor ordered. As when I travel I have to see everything of interest, so my travel days are long and full of hiking and seeing this and that (turf houses, elf locations, museums, this monolith, that waterfall, this remote valley etc. - you get my drift).

I love staying in hotels, but don't get to do it very often, so I did not want to go to sleep.  Our room had 2 big windows with a beautiful sea view - and I mean the sea was just across the street as the hotel is located right next to the waterfront. 

I just stared out of the windows from my bed for the longest time – it was so calming having such a fantastic view. The night was still and I felt like I was in heaven. I had been having loads of allergies on my summer vacation so I was really tired. And on top of that I had spent a sleepless night in a tent in a remote valley with sheep paying the tent a visit the whole night long!

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

The following day Jóhann told me that it was lovely watching the Northern Lights in winter time from the room. I bet it is!  I only see the Northern Lights in Reykjavík from my balcony and there is light pollution in the city. I would love to see the Northern Lights away from light pollution.

Sometimes whales show up in the sea right in front of the hotel! Jóhann told me that one day he had seen 5-6 Porpoise whales following schools of mackerel in the fjord just outside the hotel. The Porpoise whales rounded up the mackerel and for 1 minute there was a lot of commotion while the whales fed on the mackerel. I would have loved to see this! 

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Once in a while Humpback whales can be seen in the fjord. I have seen Humpback whales on Whale watching tours and they are so playful that it is a delight watching them.  Especially when they breach - i.e. jump into the air.

There are many birds on the sea and Jóhann told me that there were also 2 pairs of the loon staying on the ocean by the hotel - the loon is such a beautiful bird, and a favourite of mine.  I took this video of a group of loons singing at Lómatjörn pond at Reykhólar 2 days after my visit to Patreksfjörður. 

Due to the big windows our room was bright and lovely. The floors are wooden and in the bathroom there was a heated towel rack. 

I think heated towel racks are a must and had one fitted in my home. 

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

I always visit the local swimming pools when I am travelling around my country, but every town and village in Iceland has got a swimming pool. So I am always travelling with a wet towel and swimsuit in the car. I was very grateful for the heated towel rack in the hotel - one gets to be more appreciative of the amenities after camping in a small tent. 

Also when camping finding electricity to charge my 3 cameras feels like having found gold - I know that other travellers will be able to relate to this ;)

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

There was a free Wifi and a flat-screen TV in our room and breakfast was included in the price of the room. I cannot get out of bed in the mornings without my coffee, so my husband had breakfast and brought me some coffee in bed :)

He had a continental breakfast and made himself some waffles in the dining room, where waffle dough is provided. In autumn you can get home-made whortleberry jam (blueberry jam), which is delicious.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Dinner is not served at Hotel West, but at restaurant Heimsendi - the restaurant at World's End and the hotel have joined hands so the hotel guests can visit the lovely World's End to get their dinner. 

My husband and I had lunch in the Heimsendi restaurant - outside on the big terrace in still and sunny weather and 20°C - it was heavenly and I did not want to leave this lovely village.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

This brand-new cosy little restaurant is located in a bright red building on Eyrargata 5 down by the docks. It is bigger than it looks from the outside as it is on two floors.

The restaurant staff was very friendly and welcoming and I loved the bright and colourful decor and the multi-coloured lights. So cheerful :)

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

If you look closely you will see that the stairs are made of pallets, an excellent idea.  And I saw a play-corner for the kids, which is always good to have in restaurants.

What I especially noticed is the beautiful big wall-size painting of Patreksfjörður town, which you can see in the photo above.  Very colourful.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

I looked at the restaurant menu and saw that Heimsendi offers a wide selection of food, so everybody should find something to their liking. Heimsendi offers a wide variety of fresh seafood, of course, as the main industry in Patreksfjörður is fishing. Seafood soup, cod, catfish, halibut, cured trout from the next fjord Tálknafjörður, traditional Icelandic fish stew, fried trout from a local farm etc., etc.

They have an excellent selection of meat as well and the premium meat comes straight from a local farm in Barðaströnd in the vicinity - so everything is local, fresh and first-class, which speaks for itself, I think.

An on the menu was deep-fried SKYR, which is an Icelandic speciality. 

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

My husband loves hamburgers so a big hamburger was his choice of the day, which he said was very yummy. 

In the photo below you will see the lovely Una Lind, one of the owners of Heimsendi - the Restaurant at the Edge of the World (which is actually what the Icelandic name "Heimsendi" means). 

Heimsendi is a good, family friendly restaurant and a lovely place to visit in Patreksfjörður town.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Hotel West and Heimsendi restaurant are open all year round. The road to Reykjavík leading to the southern part of the Westfjords is always kept open, as it is of utter importance that the commercial vehicles carrying fish can reach their destination quickly.  In winter time Hotel West offers jeep rides over the heath and all the way up to Bíldudalur village.

This heath leading to Bíldudalur is cleared of snow as the salmon from Bíldudalur has to be transported to Reykjavík - the commercial vehicles carry up to 10-50 tonnes of fish. The heaths further into the Westfjords north of Bíldudalur are closed in winter time due to snow – and heaps of it. 

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

I know that a lot of our foreign visitors are intrigued by the Westfjords and want to know how the locals live there in winter time. Guide to Iceland's blogger Bernharður Guðmundsson writes a blog about living in the Westfjords and I have seen the great interest our readers are showing his blog - they love to know more about the Westfjords!

Now you will get a chance to visit this remote area both in summer time and in winter time and spend some time in a town in the Westfjords with the locals. And experience a life of tranquillity, which so many city dwellers around the world seek nowadays. And as Hotel West writes on their website: You can enjoy nature's tranquillity - the real "sounds of silence".

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Jóhann said that April and May in Patreksfjörður are usually beautiful and calm months, when the nature is starting to wake up and the migrating birds start flocking over to Látrabjarg to breed.

He told me that in winter time he can take his guests on a guided tour around the village and show them the fish market and the fish farming.  Fish farming is the equivalent of a large scale industry in the Westfjords even though you don't notice it much, apart from the fish farming rings you will see in the ocean in the fjords in the Westfjords.  Jóhann himself experimented with fish farming back in 1971 as a hobby, which shows what a forward thinking man he is. There are many more such experiments which he told me about.

Remember the hotel owner, Hörður in Hotel Laki?  He and Jóhann are very much alike. I love talking to such forward thinking entrepreneurs!

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Jóhann had so many good ideas which he shared with me. One of them I particularly like - "Follow your birds to Iceland" directed at the foreign countries where "our" migrating birds live in wintertime. We always look at the migrating birds in Iceland as being ours as they spend ca 5 months in Iceland for their breeding period. But where are they in winter time?

On my travels in winter time around the world I have come across some of "our" migrating birds and have had an "aha" moment when I realised where "my birds" live in winter time in the warmer countries. I met f.ex. the whimbrel, the one on the right in my photo above, on the beach in the Canary Islands - very far from Iceland. And I know that "our" Arctic tern flies all the way down to South-Africa in winter time!

I think this is a great idea, which unfortunately has not yet come into fruition. Have you ever wondered where "your" birds stay in summer time? 

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Jóhann Svavarsson and his wife Sigríður Björg Gísladóttir are both born and bred in Patreksfjörður, but moved away to other parts of Iceland for some decades because of work. Jóhann worked as an Electricity Utility Director for our Icelandic power company RARIK - and stayed in the beautiful, historic Skagafjörður in the north for 35 years for work. So he is very knowledgeable about other parts of Iceland as well. They moved back to their birthplace and now live and work in their hotel in Patreksfjörður.

I was telling you that I wanted to meet a knowledgeable local in this area to introduce both Patreksfjörður and the neighbouring areas to you, and I think I met the right person :) 

I am very interested in family run hotels in my country, as I know that they offer personal service and you can always go to them with questions and problems and they will be fixed right away. In Hotel West you will meet the owners, Jóhann and Sigríður, Jóhann's niece and their grandchild, who is also working at the hotel. And seeing that they are locals they can tell you so much about their area - and after you leave you feel like you have gained a friend.

That is at least how I felt after leaving Patreksfjörður - that I had gained a friend, and now this fjord is so special to me, both for its beauty, but also for the local connections I got.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Jóhann is an experienced hiker and has offered guidance to both small and larger groups through the ancient roads in the Westfjords. I would love to go on such a hike next summer and hear stories from the Westfjords. Jóhann knows all the ancient roads in the Westfjords and can guide groups from 4-20 people. One of the hikes is a 6-hour-long hike in Látrabjarg and Rauðasandur. And another tour is spending equinox on the 21st of June on Látrabjarg bird cliff.

Hotel West is centrally located and excellent as a second stop if you are coming from Reykjavík visiting the Westfjords.  It is a comfortable and friendly family hotel.

Sadly Jóhann Svavarsson died of cancer on the 3rd of June 2017 :(  He was taken from us way too soon and will be missed.  His family will keep on running Hotel West.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Just across the fjord from Hotel West you will find the road to Látrabjarg, the largest bird cliff in Europe, and Rauðasandur, which is an extraordinary beautiful part of Iceland. These 2 places are the best known attractions in the south part of the Westfjords. And a little further up north is Dynjandi waterfall, the Jewel of the Westfjords

I spent 9 days in the Westfjords and found many more beautiful places which I will be writing about later on. 

Látrabjarg is the largest sea-bird cliff in Europe and one of the western most parts of Europe. The bird life here is amazing and you will see the most popular Icelandic bird, the puffin, with its colourful beak and feet, in abundance here.

It is possible to get very close to this cute little bird, which is so tame in this area that you almost feel like it is posing for the camera :)  I have found Látrabjarg to be the best place in Iceland to photograph the puffins.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

Rauðasandur or Red Beach is a beautiful red beach in the southern part of the Westfjords. Most beaches in Iceland are black, but the beaches in the Westfjords are golden or pink in colour.  

Rauðasandur reaches for ca 10 km from Látrabjarg bird cliff. It is an amazing place which in my opinion is a must visit, given that you are not afraid of heights.

An Interview with Jóhann Svavarsson, the Owner of Hotel West in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords

When I had decided on exploring the Westfjords in my summer holidays I sent a letter to the travel agency Westfjords Adventures and asked them if I could join their tour of Látrabjarg and Rauðasandur so I could show you what the tour is like. Westfjords Adventures now belongs to a new owner in Patreksfjörður, with loads of interesting tours. If I had been able to stay for longer I would have joined more of their tours to show you.

Not everybody is up for driving to the most popular places by themselves and then it is good to join a guided tour. I have written about the tour in another blog.  In 2017 I returned to Patreksfjörður and joined a 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.

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