In the remote and peaceful Strandir on the east part of the Westfjords of Iceland, many a pearl of nature awaits you. On my last visit to Strandir, I stayed for one night at Hotel Laugarhóll in Bjarnarfjörður, where you will find several of these pearls, amongst them the preserved hot pool of Guðmundur góði - Guðmundur the Good, who was the bishop at Hólar in the 13th century.
I chose this family-run country hotel because of the peaceful surroundings and beautiful nature. I sorely needed to soak in a hot pool and relax in nature before I set off on an 8-day exploration of the Westfjords.
Hotel Laugarhóll is located in the building of a former boarding-school Klúkuskóli, where Einar Unnsteinsson and Vigdís Esradóttir, the hotel managers, welcomed me to their lovely hotel.
Einar and Vigdís were teachers, who got a teacher's position at Klúkuskóli school after they finished their studies at the Teachers' University in Reykjavík. They taught for some years at Klúkuskóli school before returning back to the capital.
But Bjarnarfjörður at Strandir always had a special place in their hearts and later on, they decided to move there again, built a house of driftwood on the hillside at Steinholt, where they live all year round. And now this lovely couple has been running Hotel Laugarhóll since 2009.
At Hotel Laugarhóll, which can accommodate up to 40 guests, you will find 16 single, double and triple rooms, either with private bathrooms or shared facilities. And you can even book a room in the old schoolmaster's quarters!
Vigdís told me that the guests at Hotel Laugarhóll are now mostly foreign visitors, who have booked well ahead of time. We Icelanders tend to follow the sun and book a hotel on the very same day, so I was lucky to get a room, as on the night before the hotel was fully booked!
We opted for a double room with a private bathroom. The room was bright and spacious with a beautiful view of the lush and green valley of Bjarnarfjörður with a calm river running through it.
In the cosy and lovely decorated living room on the ground floor, a former classroom for the younger children, you can read, play chess or cards or make use of free internet access. I also noticed an exquisite old harmonium in the living room.
The original boarding school gymnasium on the ground floor is perfect for entertainment of all sort, concerts, meetings and conferences. Also, check out the art-gallery focusing on Icelandic art.
At the restaurant homemade local food is available, soups and salads, home-baked bread, lamb and fish from the province along with more international food.
If you are vegetarian or vegan then vegetarian dishes are available, and I was even lucky enough to get a spicy vegan pumpkin soup, which was ever so yummy. Even though you are not a guest of the hotel and only passing by you can pop in and get a meal.
In the evening of our stay my husband, who is a professional magician, entertained the hotel staff after we had dined at the hotel. It is always loads of fun travelling with this guy ;)
Recreation in this area is amongst other possibilities horse-rental and sailing to Grímsey island in Steingrímsförður fjord, where you will see the ever so popular puffins in late June and July.
You can also join a whale watching tour from Hólmavík village. The granddaughter of the managers of Hotel Laugarhóll had gone whale watching on the day before our visit. She told us that on the whale watching tour a humpback whale had put on a 30-minute acrobatic show, as it were, next to the whale watching boat - it even breached (jumped) by the boat!
So off we went the next day whale watching in Hólmavík hoping to see a humpback whale breaching :)
Now, let me tell you about the hot pools by the hotel. Firstly we have the medieval Gvendarlaug hin forna - the Old Pool of Gvendur the Good, which is the only natural geothermal pool in the Westfjords known to have been blessed by the saintly Catholic bishop Guðmundur Arason the Good (1161–1237).
Healing water was taken from Gvendarlaug pool to give to the sick and proved to be beneficial. By the way, Gvendur is one of the nicknames for Guðmundur, thus the name of the pool.
The natural pools, which were blessed by bishop Guðmundur Arason, are believed to have healing powers and you can find them in several locations in Iceland. These old preserved pools are archaeological sites in the care of Þjóðminjasafn Ísland - the National Museum of Iceland. Gvendarlaug is believed to have been blessed back in 1237, it was preserved back in 1989 and there is no bathing in it.
On the other hand, bathing is allowed in this lovely spring above, which is also called Gvendarlaug - the Pool of Gvendur. This is a natural geothermal spring in which you can soak in temperatures of 41° C - and a lovely warm picturesque creek is located next to it.
It is one of the best hot pools I have visited in Iceland as it has a natural "pot" in the middle from which bubbles arise giving one natural foot massage, so to speak.
Seeing that the water is natural geothermal water coming straight from the ground then it is advisable to always check the water temperature before dipping in. And remember, it can be slippery!
One of my favourite pools is the heart-shaped pool in the warm creek. You can soak in it, but I like sitting on the stone in the middle and take a foot bath - it makes for such a lovely photo :)
These 2 photos above are taken one year apart. I had visited this area back in 2016 for one day only on my way back from a 9-day stay in the Westfjords of Iceland. I was headed for Reykjavík, where I live, but promised myself that the following year I would stay at this beautiful location for longer.
Next to Hotel Laugarhóll, you will find a large swimming pool, which is also called Gvendarlaug hins góða - the Pool of Gvendur the Good. Gvendarlaug is a 25 meter's long geothermal swimming pool, built in 1947 by the farmers in the region and the aquatic club Grettir. It is ever so lovely bathing in the 37° C natural warm water coming from the blessed, healing pool.
I put my head under the inlet to the swimming pool and prayed for healing for my body. I was alone in the pool and stayed like this for the longest time. The healing properties of the water have yet to be tested, but my hair had never been as shiny, full-bodied and luscious and I didn't have to wash it for the whole duration of my stay in the Westfjords!
The swimming pool belongs to the community and the entrance fee, ISK 500, is payable at the reception desk at Hotel Laugarhóll. Opening hours are 08:00-22:00. And remember, don't forget to take a good shower in the pool house before you enter the pools!
By the geothermal pools, you will find the most extraordinary flowers, amongst them Brönugras - Dactylorhiza maculata, the Icelandic wild orchid, which I like to call the Orchid of the North.
There are so many beautiful flowers here, which I haven't seen in other locations in Iceland, like this purple flower below Blákolla -Prunella vulgaris. I wandered around this area for the longest time and basked in its beauty.
The best thing about travelling in Iceland in the summertime, in my opinion, is the bright summer nights, when you can be alone in nature in daylight in the middle of the night. I sidled out of the hotel in the middle of the bright night and admired these flowers.
Another very rare and beautiful purple flower grows at Svanshóll, a little bit west of Hotel Laugarhóll. This rare flower is called Vatnamynta - Mentha aquatica.
Vatnamynta can only be found in 3 places here in my country and solely in the Westfjords. Apart from at Svanshóll, you will find it at Reykjanes by Djúp, and at Reykhólar on the southern part of the Westfjords, where I stayed for 3 days last year. If you are interested in flowers then you can see a photo of the Vatnamynta in my first travel-blog on Reykhólar.
Right next to Hotel Laugarhóll at Klúka in Bjarnarfjörður the mystical Kotbýli kuklarans - the Sorcerer's Cottage is located. It is a remarkable replica of what the habitation and living conditions of a sorcerer might have looked like in the 17th century. While exploring this cottage notice the magical staves, which are carved onto the walls and onto the bedstead.
The Sorcerer's Cottage also represents the normal living conditions of tenant farmers at that time in Iceland, but from the time of Settlement in Iceland in around 874 until the 19th-20th century almost every Icelander lived in a turf house, both rich and poor. The last inhabitants to move out of their turf house here in Iceland did so in 1965 and 1966.
The Sorcerer's Cottage, which is the second exhibition of Strandagaldur, was opened in July 2005, five years after the ever so popular Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery was opened in Hólmavík village. That museum is known worldwide for being the "home" of the necropants.
The Sorcerer's Cottage is known for being the habitat of the sorcerer himself. Age-old methods were made while building this replica of a turf house, which depicts 3 connected houses made of turf, rocks and driftwood.
The turf houses vary from region to region as the material closest at hand was used. In Strandir driftwood can be found in abundance and used to be one of the main resources in this remote area.
The location of the Sorcerer's Cottage is no co-incidence as one of the most powerful sorcerers of Iceland settled here at Strandir, Svanur at Svanshóll - but Svanshóll is located a little bit west of Hotel Laugahóll.
Svanur is mentioned in chapters 9-12 in Njálssaga - the Saga of Njáll, which is one of the best-known Icelandic Sagas. He was the son of Björn and Ljúfa (Sweetie), who are mentioned in Landnáma - the Icelandic Book of Settlement, as being the settlers of Bjarnarfjörður. Björn and Ljúfa were the grandparents of Hallgerður langbrók, but she is one of the best-known heroines of the Icelandic Sagas.
Svanur was a known sorcerer and is described in the Sagas as being a difficult person to handle. He knew how to conjure up a thick fog to prevent his enemies from passing Bjarnarfjarðarháls chine in Bjarnarfjörður.
You can read the whole account on Svanur at Svanshóll in my travel-blog on the Sorcerer's Cottage.
You can see by now why I like this area so much and decided on staying at Hotel Laugarhóll for the night. Those of you, who read my travel-blog, know that I love folklore, Vikings, turf-houses and hot-pools, so this area is perfect for me :)
While I was visiting the Sorcerer's Cottage the whimbrel was on the look-out, making its utmost in luring me away from his nest, which it, of course, didn't have to worry about as I was only there to take photos.
By now it was time to explore further the area of Strandir and say goodbye to the lovely couple at Hotel Laugarhóll. Here I got a very much appreciated rest soaking in the geothermal pools, wandering around amongst the beautiful flowers in nature and listening to the migrating birds singing - before setting off to explore the rest of the Westfjords of Iceland.
I said goodbye to this lovely place with sadness in my heart and would have liked to stay for much longer. If you possibly can, then stay for 2 nights and make the most of your drive from Reykjavík to Hotel Laugarhóll by stopping at several locations on the way.
On the next day, you can drive around the mysterious Strandir, which I will be showing you in my next travel blog. The exploration of the Strandir area will take a whole day with stops, so the next night you can soak again in the hot pools at Hotel Laugarhóll and be refreshed for your journey towards the rest of the beautiful Westfjords of Iceland.
I just want to show you a bit of what to expect on your exploration of Strandir - this is just what you can expect in the immediate vicinity of Hotel Laugarhóll - there is so much more to see and do in this very remote area of Iceland.
During your stay at the hotel, you can hike up to Goðafoss waterfall - the Waterfall of the Gods, which bears the same name as the ever so popular and historical waterfall up in North-Iceland. See also:
This beautiful waterfall in the river Hallardalsá is hidden away inside a narrow canyon, Hallardalsárgljúfur canyon, and is referred to as Goðafoss in Bjarnarfjörður. You only have to drive for a couple of minutes away from Hotel Laugarhóll on road 643 to reach it.
A very short hike will get you to the best view of the waterfall, where you will get a peek at it through the canyon. I hiked further up and after 10 minutes I stood above the waterfall looking down, which didn't give me a better view though of the waterfall.
A valley with the same name, Goðdalur valley - the Valley of Deity, is to be found northwest of Hotel Laugarhóll. There a ritualistic stone from the Viking times was found - the only ritual stone ever to be found in Iceland - with animal blood still remaining in the bowl.
Old Icelandic folklore tells us about a heathen temple in Goðdalur valley and a burial mound containing the remains of the Viking Goði. You can find the ritual stone on display at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. In Goðdalur valley a very sad incidence happened in 1947 when 6 people died in an avalanche, which hit their farm.
To reach the next village Drangsnes, you can either drive over Bjarnarfjarðarháls hill on road 643 or take the scenic route on road 645, which will take you along the coastline towards the small village in Steingrímsfjörður fjord.
There, and along the whole coastline of Strandir, you will find driftwood in abundance. In three places by the scenic coastline, you can see artwork like this one below. They were built by Michael Thomas, a German environmental concept artist.
On my way to Drangsnes village driving on road 645, I stopped by the old church at Kaldrananes. I visit all the farm churches on my travels in my country, as I find these old churches to be true gems. This church is being renovated at the moment, so I show you instead a photo from the graveyard - notice how driftwood has been used instead of iron bars.
The farm at Kaldrananes is mentioned a couple of times in Sturlunga - the Saga of the Sturlung - but there is no mention of other farms in this area. Back then it must have been even more remote than it is today.
From Reykjavík, the distance to Hotel Laugarhóll is around 258 km, which is 3 hours of driving. Take ring-road 1 north from Reykjavík, drive through Borgarnes town in the west and turn left onto road 60 for Búðardalur; turn right on road 61 and right again on 643 over the mountain until you will see a beautiful valley.
Here you will see the route from Reykjavík to Bjarnarfjörður on Google maps.
The closest villages and petrol stations are Drangsnes, which is 18 km away, and Hólmavík, which is 25 km away.
Have a lovely time in Strandir and if you want to continue following me on this trip, then I have written a travel-blog on the remote Strandir in the Westfjords of Iceland - Stillness & Sorcery :)