When the first settlers came to Iceland in around 870 A.D., they must have been delighted by the unspoilt nature – rivers teeming with wild salmon and trout, virgin lands that they populated with crops and animals. But the climate was harsh, and with just a few wild berry varieties growing natively (and no fruit or nut trees), they had to learn how to preserve meat and fish, and do it over compressed sheep manure and hay. This process is still employed all over the country today, and any traveller can visit a smoke house at a farm and taste the delicately flavoured smoked Icelandic lamb. Which would be, in a way, like tasting Icelandic history – quite literally.
A private tour guide with established connections to local farms make such visits possible. This is how one such trip could happen for you. A convenient pick up time is arranged (I must have my breakfast before I do anything, even a foodie tour). On the way to the farm frequent stops are made in various beauty spots, short hikes taken and snacks eaten as the exercise and fresh air are sure to increase your appetite. And the best thing about hiking next to Icelandic waterfalls, such as Hraunfossar waterfalls (more about these beauties in a second) is that you can scoop the freezing, freshest water from them downstream into your arms and taste… well, you just have to taste it to see for yourself what Icelanders are so proud of they never buy bottled water.
So, where were we? Right, Hraunfossar waterfalls… They are proof that small can be really beautiful. Hraunfossar is a series of stunning waterfalls that flow from under the edge of a lava field that formed when a volcano erupted under the Langjökull glacier. Upriver is another waterfall called Barnafoss, or Children’s Waterfall. It gets its name from an ancient saga telling a story of two local children probably drowning in the river near the waterfall.
The lunch stop would be near Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring, Europe’s most powerful. It provides 180 l/sec of 100°C hot water and when it reaches Akranes 64km away, the water is still is about 78 – 80 degrees hot. (This is great news for a lover of long hot showers like me.) What could you have here in Iceland for your lunch? Smoked lamb, cut thinly and served on sweet rye bread, a potato salad, cow cheese, skyr and tomatoes grown in geothermally heated greenhouses are just a few tasty options for food on the go.
And then a very warm welcome from a local farm family. Picture this scene: a leg of lamb being prepared for the stove, a big jug of fresh milk (never store bought) and strong coffee on the table, home-grown potatoes for supper, faithful border collies on the kitchen floor. And the farmer herself, the strong and hardworking farmer, who after milking the cows, driving a tractor and feeding her animals, comes home to her armchair and picks up her knitting. She sells her handmade “lopapeysa” sweaters to tourists her husband drives around the area, not forgetting cosy gifts for her many grandchildren. She would not want to live any other way, she would tell you. And hearing her stories and tasting her home cooked food, you might just say, I would not want to live any other way, too.
By Svetlana Graudt
Svetlana was born in Moscow, where as many as nine million people use the metro every day. After 12 years in London she moved to Reykjavik for love. Svetlana loves cities and reading long articles in The New Yorker.