From its mountain-top junction with Route 60 by Lónfell, Route 63 descends towards Trostansfjörður, one of the four baby fjords which make up the Suðurfirðir, the southern fjords, forming the southwestern corner of Arnarfjörður. This section of the road is in very poor condition and features some alarmingly large potholes and ruts. Unusually for the West Fjords, three fishing villages are found within close proximity to one another here – barely 30km separates the uneventful port of Bíldudalur from its neighbours, identical Tálknafjörður, and the larger Patreksfjörður, a commercial centre for the surrounding farms and smaller villages. However, it’s the Látrabjarg cliffs, 60km beyond Patreksfjörður to the west, that draw most visitors to this last peninsula of rugged land. Here, in summer, thousands upon thousands of seabirds – including guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins – nest in the cliff’s nooks and crannies making for one of the most spectacular sights anywhere in the region; and what’s more, the cliffs are easily accessible from nearby Breiðavík, an idyllic bay of aquamarine water backed by white sand and dusky mountains.
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Located on the shores of the southernmost of all the West Fjords, PATREKSFJÖRÐUR is named after Saint Patrick, a bishop from the Scottish islands who acted as spiritual adviser to one of the region’s first settlers, Örlygur Hrappson. With a population of 770, the village now is large enough to exist independently of Ísafjörður, 172km away, and is the only place in the West Fjords outside the regional capital to boast more than the odd shop and restaurant. Over the years, this tiny village has won a reputation for pioneering excellence: trawler fishing in Iceland began here; a particular style of saltfish now popular in Mediterranean markets was developed here; and, somewhat less notably, the town also dispatched the only Icelandic vessel ever to hunt seal in the Arctic.
Built on two sandspits, Geirseyri and Vatnseyri, Patreksfjörður comprises a main road in and out of the town, Strandgata, which runs along the shoreside to the harbour. Several side streets branch off Strandgata’s western end, including Eyrargata, while the main shopping street, Aðalstræti, runs parallel to it. There’s little to do in town other than amble up and down the parallel streets peering in windows, or take a swim in the open-air pool.
Patreksfjörður’s one saving grace is its spectacularly located open-air swimming pool, perched high above the fjord at the western edge of the tiny town centre. As you swim here, you’re treated to uninterrupted views across the fjord to the mountain of Vatnsdalsfjall, which rises on Patrekfjörður’s sandy southern shore; soaking in the hot pots, drinking in the views, is equally as pleasurable. Though the pool should have been built a little longer (the neighbouring graveyard is in the way), a swim here is one of the most restorative and relaxing activities in the whole of the West Fjords region.
Beyond the Hnjótur Folk Museum, Route 612 will bring you, after 10km or so, to a church and handful of buildings comprising the settlement at idyllic Breiðavík bay, with open views westwards over white sand to the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic. This exquisite beach, without a doubt one of Iceland’s finest, is irresistible, and when the sun shines the sands are seen to their best advantage: kilometres of empty, unsullied white strands, punctuated solely by trickling mountain streams finally reaching the ocean, flocks of squawking seabirds and the odd piece of white-washed driftwood, which can provide welcome shelter from the wind if you’re intent on catching the rays.
The Fossheiði trail
The Fossheiði trail
What Bíldudalur lacks in attractions it more than makes up for with stunning scenery, and there are some lovely hikes in the area, such as the excellent 15km Fossheiði trail (4–5hr) up the Fossdalur valley to the tiny settlement of Tungumúli on the Barðaströnd coast (Route 62). It begins at Foss farm, 6km south of the airport at the head of Fossfjörður, following the route taken by local postmen in the late 1800s. From the western side of the farm, the track leads up through Fossdalur towards the small lake, Mjósund, beyond which the route forks. Keep right and take the path over the Fossheiði plateau, which has fantastic views over the surrounding rocky countryside, until it descends through Arnbylisdalur valley on the western edge of Tungumúlafjall mountain, to the coast and Route 62 at Tungumúli. The route is shown on the Vestfirðir & Dalir maps available from regional tourist offices. From Kross and Tungumúli, it’s possible to link up with the three weekly summer buses to Látrabjarg or Brjánslækur – check the schedules first at Ísafjorður’s information office or online at wbsi.is.