On my search for turf houses around Iceland I visited Sænautasel turf house on Jökuldalsheiði heath in the highlands of Iceland. It is in my opinion an extremely cute turf house :)
Sænautasel dates back to 1843 and for 95 years people lived in this beautiful turf house - until 1943 when the last people moved out. From 1840 until 1862 sixteen turf houses were built on the heath. Now only Sænautasel is remaining.
Snænautasel is one of the homes, which had to be vacated when Askja caldera erupted back in 1875. It was not until 5 years later that people moved back into Sænautasel turf house. Since then it has been rebuilt a couple of times.
After this massive volcanic eruption only six houses were lived in again and many people emigrated to the New World.
In 1992 Sænautasel was rebuilt and is now a museum. When we visited Sænautasel the proprietor was busy entertaining, so he told us to have a look inside the turf house on our own.
This building material, turf or sod, was used as it was cheap and it insulated the houses and kept the cold out. There is an older part of the turf house, which shows how people used to live in the olden days.
The floors are dirt floors with even stones. And the walls are made with stacked rock. The building material varies from one turf house to another, as building material from the vicinity was used.
I have seen turf houses which are made from lava rock, f.ex. Grenjaðarstaður in North-Iceland, where lava is easily accessible, and others which are made from more turf, f.ex. Laufás turf house in Eyjafjörður fjord.
The doorways of these old turf houses are pretty low and every single time I visit a turf house I bang my head ;) And even though I am not the tallest of people, then my ancestors were considerably smaller.
At Sænautasel there is no electricity, but nowadays there is running water.
Inside there is also a much newer part, with wooden floors and wooden walls. That part seemed to be lived in. We went upstairs and felt a little uncomfortable as if we had just entered somebody's home ;) Upstairs on a bed was a cat with kittens and all around the turf house kittens were running around, so lovely :)
I later found out that the people "running" Sænautasel in summer time live relatively close by (30 km) and stay at Sænautasel during summer time.
This area was the source of inspiration for the Icelandic Nobel prize winner for Literature, Halldór Kiljan Laxness. He wrote an excellent book, Independent People.
It is believed that Sænautasel turf house was the prototype for the turf house where the well-known fictional character, Bjartur í Sumarhúsum, lived and struggled.
Since 2004 there has been a restaurant in the old sheepcote (1843-1943) at Sænautasel. There one can get coffee and small pancakes "lummur" amongst other things, and woollen Icelandic sweaters are for sale there as well. They have been offering small pancakes with sugar from 1994.
The restaurant is open in summer time from mid June - mid September from 09:00-22:00 (9 am-10 pm).
The turf house is located next to Lake Sænautavatn. The lake is filled with Arctic char and a fishing license can be bought to fish in the lake.
You will find a camping area at Sænautasel. I would love to camp there one summer and get the feeling of old Iceland. I think this is one of the places in Iceland where one can get closest to the feeling of having stepped back in time.
Don't miss visiting Sænautasel if you are driving the ring-road - and make the small detour to see this cute turf house. The turf house is by road 907, only ca 5 km from the old ring-road, yet so remote in the highlands of Iceland.
Here you can see the location of Sænautasel on the map. To visit this beautiful turf house you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive there yourself. Or take one of the self-drive tours around the ring-road and include Sænautasel in your trip.
Also check out: The deserted fjords of East-Iceland, The Ring-road and the East fjords - 11 Day Self Drive Tour, 4 day Winter Tour in East-Iceland, East-Iceland Horse Riding Adventure, East-Iceland Multi Adventure and all the wonderful tours of Travel East-Iceland.
Close to Sænautasel turf house you will find Skessugarður - the Rampart of the two Giantesses, which has been called one of the most amazing natural formations in Iceland, although less visited than other places.
I have written articles about several other turf houses in Iceland: