1. Seyð­is­fjörður

Em­brace the fjord’s rich and colour­ful marine his­tory, then dis­cover its new role as an un­likely hub for Ice­landic arts and crafts

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Eastern Iceland -

IT’S A COOL, BREEZY DAY, the salt-tanged waft of the Nor­we­gian Sea blow­ing in from the north­east, and Seyð­is­fjörður is de­cep­tively calm. Sheep doze and ei­der ducks nest, with one eye on the fish­ing boats deep in the chan­nel trawl­ing for cod. In the village, a few peo­ple shop for lamb­swool knits, while oth­ers walk the curved seafront, ad­mir­ing the nat­u­ral splen­dour of the ar­row-headed moun­tains cradling the har­bour. Be­hind them stands a sky-blue timber church, creaky and wel­com­ing, yet empty in­side. The an­swer why it’s so quiet can be found at Skaft­fell, a cen­tre for vis­ual art that’s be­come ground zero for this im­prob­a­ble crafts com­mu­nity at the edge of the Arc­tic. Rather than fish the antler­shaped fjord as their an­ces­tors once did, lo­cals have em­braced the arts and can be found sketch­ing, sculpt­ing and stitch­ing in for­mer boathouses re­pur­posed as work­shops. Ev­ery­one is part-time pain­ter or en­tre­pre­neur and ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion men­tions LungA, the an­nual in­ter­na­tional arts fes­ti­val held in July. ‘This isn’t a nor­mal Ice­landic town,’ says clothes de­signer and Skaft­fell reg­u­lar Philippe Clause, who runs knitwear startup Esu­alc. ‘Fish­ing vil­lages are dy­ing out, but Seyð­is­fjörður is re­vers­ing that trend. I work with nee­dles to cre­ate elvish pointed hoods and wo­ven cowls, but some use scrap or rein­deer hides. To­gether we wanted to cre­ate some­thing more or­ganic and in­de­pen­dent here – and it’s had a huge snow­ball ef­fect.’ Seyð­is­fjörður has al­ways been a world apart from the rest of Ice­land. Cut off by the Fjarðarheiði moun­tain pass, and lo­cated some 17 miles from the Ring Road (one of Europe’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary driv­ing routes) the village has long looked out­wards for in­spi­ra­tion. Days were once mea­sured by ship­ping fore­casts, and in the 1800s Nor­we­gian sailors docked while fish­ing for cod, leav­ing be­hind a her­itage of brightly painted wooden houses and red-roofed farms. Ask a lo­cal and they’ll say they still rely more on the fer­ries con­nect­ing the in­let to the Faroe Is­lands and Den­mark than the road to Reyk­javík. Across town on a hill­side bluff, Skaft­fell alumni and con­cep­tual de­sign­ers Hanna Sig­urkarls­dót­tir and Lit­ten Nys­trøm of art col­lec­tive RoShamBo are gaz­ing at the fjord’s widescreen panorama in the evening’s af­ter­glow. Fram­ing the view is Tvísön­gur sound sculp­ture, a se­ries of in­ter-con­nected con­crete igloos by Ger­man artist Lukas Kühne. Cre­ated in trib­ute to Ice­land’s long singing tra­di­tion, it acts as a gi­ant mega­phone, en­cour­ag­ing lo­cal mu­si­cians to use the art­work as a re­hearsal space. ‘It gath­ers to­gether sound and song, much like Seyð­is­fjörður brings artists to­gether,’ says Hanna, lis­ten­ing as her words re­ver­ber­ate around the struc­ture. ‘The village is open-minded, there are no taboos or as­sump­tions, and there’s an ac­cep­tance of cre­ativ­ity. Maybe it’s too much fresh air, but lo­cals here think they can do ev­ery­thing.’

A spec­tac­u­lar 90-minute drive north­east along Route 94 takes you past spout­ing water­falls and across a glacial river delta onto the gravel road to Bor­gar­fjörður Eys­tri.

48 Seyð­is­fjörður’s colour­ful Nor­we­gian-style build­ings make it one of Ice­land’s most unique towns

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