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