Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Stykkisholmur is a town of about 1,100 people on northern shore of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is a centre of service and commerce in the area, and the ferry Baldur sails from here to Brjanslaekur in the Westfjords.
Stykkisholmur has long attracted settlers due to its natural harbour and its access to the fertile fishing grounds of Breiðafjörður.
Because of its early settlement, it features in the Sagas (if not by name), notably Laxdæla Saga, one of the great early works of Icelandic literature. It is one of the earliest European stories with a passionate and powerful female lead Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir, who struggles against a destiny to lose four husbands while trying to keep her children close and safe.
According to the tale, she eventually became the country’s first nun, and when she died, was buried at Helgafell, a small mountain near Stykkisholmur.
The first proper development for the town, however, came in 1550, with the creation of a trading post. Trading posts were uncommon in Iceland at the time due to the dangers and distances involved with travelling across the Atlantic, but Stykkisholmur’s natural harbour made it possible.
The settlement grew further with the beginning of the Danish Trade Monopoly over Iceland, starting in 1602 and not ending until near the end of the 18th Century. Though the policies of this monopoly disenfranchised and impoverished many Icelanders, it did help the development of towns along the peninsula such as Stykkisholmur.
In spite of the animosity felt from Icelanders towards the Danish under their colonial rule (a wound that has all but healed in every arena apart from perhaps sports), Stykkisholmur has always boasted good ties with their former rulers.
Every years since 1994, on the third weekend of August, Stykkisholmur holds a ‘Danish Day’, where it celebrates the historic and continued relations between the town and country. It is also the sister town of Kolding in Denmark.
Stykkisholmur is a cultural hub, particularly considering its size. There is museum called the Norwegian House, which is the oldest two-storey building in Iceland, from 1828, and reveals what life was like for wealthy Icelanders of the day. There is also a Volcano Museum and the country’s oldest weather station, dating back to 1845.
Scenes to represent Greenland in the film ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ were shot in Stykkisholmur. In the novel Red Storm Rising, the town was the landing point of American troops liberating Iceland from the clutches of the Soviets.
Kirkjufell is often nicknamed Iceland’s most photographed mountain; it rises from the edge of the ocean like a pyramid, and can be admired from many angles. Particularly pleasant is viewing it from beside the waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss, which trickles nearby.
Snæfellsjökull is one of Iceland’s three National Parks, named after its crowning glacier and volcano. This magnificent, twin-peaked feature has featured in novels such as Jules Verne’s ‘A Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, and Halldor Laxness’ ‘Under the Glacier’.
It is also steeped in folklore and mystery, said to home the spirit of the peninsula’s guardian spirit and a centre of strange energies. This was so much the case that thousands of people, including new crews from the United States, showed up one evening that some theorists predicted an alien craft landing on it.