Seventeen kilometres up Route 76 from the Hólar junction, HOFSÓS is a tiny, nondescript village on the eastern shores of Skagafjörður, consisting of one street and a tiny harbour, with a population of around two hundred. Nonetheless, it does have two good reasons to stop: a visit to the Vesturfarasetrið offers a fascinating insight into Icelandic emigration to North America; and a swim in one of the country’s most beautifully located outdoor pools.
Hofsós is primarily a base for the hundreds of Americans and Canadians of Icelandic descent who come here to visit the Vesturfarasetrið, or Icelandic Emigration Centre, housed in several buildings beautifully set on the seafront by the harbour. The centre’s genealogy and information service is located in a red-roofed building furthest from the harbour, Gamla Kaupfélagshúsið, which is where you’ll find the main exhibition of the migration story, “New Land, New Life”, detailing the living conditions of Icelanders who moved to America at the end of the nineteenth century and where they settled. Next door, in the Frændgarður building, the Silent Flashes exhibition of around 400 photographs, taken in America between 1870 and 1920, traces the lives of some of the 20,000 Icelanders who emigrated west over the sea. Finally, in the Konungsverslunarhúsið, before the footbridge across to the main exhibitions, there’s a moving display of black-and-white photographs, known as the “Prairies Wide and Free” exhibition, recounting the lives of children who emigrated to North Dakota.
Designed by the same architect responsible for the Blue Lagoon, on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the new swimming pool in Hofsós is quite simply magnificent. It may not be Olympic size, but because it has been built into the hillside above the sea, the views over to Drangey are breathtaking. It’s not strictly an infinity pool, but the impression you get as you swim in the geothermal waters is that you’re right next to the sea’s edge. The pool was donated to the town just before the economic crash by two bankers’ wives, frustrated by the fact they had nowhere to swim.