With the choice of unique and unconventional travel experiences becoming ever more abundant, it is not difficult to find the next Icelandic adventure and with the guidance of Lotus Cars, who always provide us with great plans , cars and exciting expeditions the choice is certainly there.
However, should you desire something more than predictable with professional hospitality in luxurious but often somewhat superficial surroundings you are probably looking for a warm-hearted Icelander who is keen to offer something quite different: A beautiful secluded island in the mouth of one of Iceland’s largest glacial rivers, raw and stunning nature, sustainable Island life ,wild salmon feasts and starry nights by the fire pit. For the discerning traveller, who wants an unusual base to explore Iceland’s incredible South, this isolated yet easily accessible island, Traustholtshólmi, is the perfect place for recharging the soul with minimal distraction from modern life.
Enjoying the bright but relatively brief Icelandic summer, this is our choice. The islander´s name is Hákon, the owner and sole inhabitant along with his trusty sheepdog Skuggi. When greeting us on the river bank before ferrying us to the island, it soon becomes apparent that it occupies a special place in his heart. As a child, Hákon tells us, he spent his summers here. Today, he is pursuing his dream of building a sustainable and eco-friendly space, using off-the-grid solutions to preserve the tranquil nature of the island’s unique environment. As soon as we step out of the boat we find that there is something quite magical to be experienced here and the yurt feels a very suitable shelter from the elements, not too intrusive on this mild July afternoon.
A short drive from Selfoss, the largest town in the south of Iceland, and less than an hour´s drive from the capital, Reykjavik, we have for a short while parted company with modernity and are soon shown our exotic dwelling place, a sizable Mongolian yurt, and presented with the island’s modest but fitting facilities. Once settled and rested after our journey, Hákon invites us for a tour of the island, during which we learn about the history of the island and its surroundings—spanning all the way back to the first settlers of Iceland.
As it is the summer season, we accompany Hákon as he tends to his salmon nets and hauls in the catch of the day. Fresh from the water he dresses and prepares the fish on the riverbank and we enjoy fresh sashimi straight from the water. This, we are told, is the entrée to a three-course feast awaiting us later that evening. On either side of the salmon season, from 10 June until early August, Hákon prepares other delicatessen. In spring, wild geese nest on the island and their eggs are harvested and served up with freshly picked herbs. In late summer and autumn, the focus moves to wild herbs and earthy vegetables. Whenever visiting, guests will always be presented with a unique meal experience and enjoy coming into first-hand contact with their food sources.
Everywhere you look, Hákon ´s resourcefulness and tender care for the environment is evident. The home-built fireplace, echoing social practices of the early settlers in Iceland, makes a perfect focus for conversation before sharing stories in the communal yurt while enjoying the freshly made salmon meal - a most fitting way to end the day. Usually, the fire will be built outside but on cold or rainy days, guests can enjoy sitting around the fireplace inside the largest Mongolian yurt, which serves as the common area for all guests staying on the island.
As the summer light lingers on towards midnight we retire to one of three private yurts. They are fully made up with warm down bedspreads and offer a unique and unusual experience, along with breath taking views of the river and the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. In mid-August, when late summer dusk reappears, the Northern lights glimmer in the sky over Traustholtshólmi. The absence of light pollution on the island makes this rare and beautiful sight, we are told, particularly mesmerizing.
The following morning we wander off on our own, exploring this dwelling place of ours in every detail, walking in the deep and tender grass, enjoying the incredibly varied growth of wildflowers and fragrant bushes. Our hike takes us to a sandy beach on the riverfront and further on we find the perfect shelter from the brisk summer wind when we discover a small dell, a sort of place that is rarely found or easily accessed and hence treasured by Icelanders for enjoying a picnic away from the ever prevailing summer breeze. We fall asleep under the blue sky with sweet herbal scents in the air.
Sometimes the alluring messages from hosts of hospitality don´t quite ring true when you are there to enjoy what has been promised. On this occasion, it was the other way around. No words could have done justice to what we had in store on Traustholtshólmi these two days in July - a rare place of peace among tall grasses.