BORGARFJÖRĐUR EYSTRI: AN ICELANDIC SECRET
In the far east of Iceland, 70kms off the Ring Road, is a district called Borgarfjörður eystri. Nestled at the bottom of the fiord is the small hamlet of Bakkagerði. It has fewer than 100 residents, a tiny school, a handful of houses and one store which is open three days a week for three hours. Bakkagerði is also breathtakingly beautiful.
It is a testament to how lovely the people are when a car full of idiot tourists arrived with three apples, half a bar of chocolate and a bottle of whisky, expecting to find a restaurant. The guesthouse phoned the store owner, who sent his son down to unlock the door and let them in. Thankfully the car full of idiot tourists did not go hungry.
While not part of Iceland’s tourist highway, here are some reasons you should visit Borgarfjörður eystri and see this corner of the world for yourself.
THE DRIVE IN
The road to Borgarfjörður eystri from Egilsstaðir is sure to impress even those jaded individuals who think they’ve seen it all. The road follows the Lagarfljót river, across a a vast plain which has been ground out by massive glaciers over millions of years. It veers off before reaching the sea heading straight for the mountains. It zigzags its way upwards, weaving between the snowy mountains whose peaks are lost in a seemingly perpetual mist before dropping down towards the fiord. The views down towards the water are truly spectacular, even by Iceland’s standards.
PUFFINS, SEALS AND OTHER CREATURES
Puffins, also known as Toucan Penguins (citation needed), winter at sea and then return to land. They form long-term pair bonds, getting to know each other properly before performing that special kind of pants-off hug. During the summer months, over ten million flock back to Iceland. They’re so cute it makes it difficult to consider eating one. While puffins are the most popular, there are a huge number of other birds in the area. Seals also grace the rocks around the cliffs, lumbering back into the ocean whenever someone sneezes within earshot.
VÍKNASLÓÐIR TRAIL AND OTHER TRAILS
Borgarfjörður is the starting point for some of the best hiking in Iceland. The surrounding mountains have a number of popular hiking trails, including the Víknaslóðir trail, a multiday hike through the central province of the elves. There are a few guided walks operating in the area to help ensure you don’t get lost in the hills, never to be seen again.
HOT TUB OVERLOOKING THE NORWEGIAN SEA
There are several guest houses in Bakkagerði and while I shouldn’t comment on any of the others, which may be perfectly lovely, I can comment on the Blabjorg Guesthouse. Nice, modern, clean, reasonably priced and it has several hot tubs overlooking the fiord and the Norwegian Sea. That last part really sold it to me. While only able to use them in the evenings from 8PM until 10PM, there is plenty of time to take photos to send to jealous loved ones, especially those at work. Go for a swim in the Norwegian Sea before getting in the hot tub, unless you’re a giant wimp who hates fun.
ÁLFABORG – THE CITY OF THE HIDDEN PEOPLE
Borgarfjörður eystri is home to a large population of elves according to local folklore. The elves are known as the hidden people, which I can attest to having not managed to see any in my time there. Álfaborg is the local elf city and, more importantly, the residence of the Icelandic elf queen. According to folklore, the elves are similar to humans, but taller, fairer and more beautiful. If that is the case, I may have met some elves already but in my jealousy may have called them a different name entirely.
Turf House – Lindarbakki
Lindarbakki is a small turf house in Bakkagerði. It is a private residence. This means you shouldn’t stand in the garden taking photos through the window at dear Mrs Sveinsdóttir. She is the current owner of Lindarbakki. There is a well in the cellar and an old black oil heater to keep the place warm. While much of the house was built in 1934, the cellar is dated to 1899.
The local church has an interesting issue. Above the altar is a painting of Jesus, as is quite common, but Jesus is standing on the Álfaborg. When the bishop came to consecrate it, he refused, as the painting was clearly related to the mythology of the elves. It has remained unconsecrated to this day. The church generally isn’t open to the public, but anyone with the desire could walk up to the window and peer in through the window.
BRAEDSLAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
Every year in July, a music festival kicks off in one of the local buildings. 800 tickets are sold, which may not seem like a lot, but considering there are only 75 people who live in this town it would be positively bubbling. There is a lot of local music on at the same time, and with the added tourists it could swell the population into the thousands.
First you have to get to Egilsstaðir for supplies, then drive along highway 94 out through the mountains. To get to Egilsstaðir, personally I would drive the ring road, but there is also a regional airport. There is an air strip in Bakkagerði, so you may be able to hire a local pilot to drop you off. From what I saw of the weather though, I would rather drive.
Is this going to be the most dynamic and interesting place you’ve ever been to? Probably not. But it is a great little corner of the world for some wonderful hiking and chill time. It is roughly halfway around the Ring Road, so not a bad place to do some laundry and recharge the batteries.