Vellir: Riches of the Earth
Svarfaðardalur is one of these secret gates to a world of natural wonders, hidden in plain sight, right off the main road between Akureyri and Dalvík in North Iceland.
Encircled by tall mountains, the valley is lush and green in summer, with optimal conditions for agriculture. It’s a paradise for bird lovers because it has a large wetland reserve with more than 30 species of nesting birds, marked hiking trails, and bird-watching blinds.
In winter, Svarfaðardalur is covered by a thick, white blanket of snow, turning into a playground for winter sports enthusiasts. There are cross-country skiing tracks, opportunities for snowshoeing, and in Skíðadalur – another “secret” valley that stretches from the innermost part of Svarfaðardalur to the glaciers on the Tröllaskagi peninsula – is a base for world-class backcountry skiing.
Many Icelanders, too, are unaware of Svarfaðardalur’s attractions. “In 2004, we were looking for a summer house,” says Bjarni Óskarsson, owner of NINGS restaurant in Reykjavík. He and his wife, Hrafnhildur Ingimarsdóttir, live in Mosfellsbær in the capital region. They owned land in West Iceland, but it was expensive to build a house there, so they started looking into other options. “Then I saw this house in Svarfaðardalur for sale. I had never heard of the valley before, but I drove up there in January and bought the house!”
This was Vellir, an old farm complete with a house, outhouses, pastures, and a church! “Would you like some holy water?” asks Bjarni. Outside the church is a stone sculpture serving as a drinking fountain out of which drinkable holy water pours.
Bjarni explains that the original idea was that Vellir would become a holiday retreat for the family, but soon enough, the couple found themselves as busy as ever. He says, “I can never stay put, so I started planting trees. We’ve planted tens of thousands of trees. Then I started planting black currant bushes. Now I have the largest black currant field in Iceland. I thought of growing carrots for NINGS in greenhouses, and now there are seven greenhouses in total."
All images: Joe Shutter DARE TO FLY®
"One spring, there was so much snow that I couldn’t enter the greenhouses in time to plant carrots. Therefore, I grew strawberries instead. Suddenly, I had so many strawberries that I started to sell them, and it evolved from there.”
The Vellir farm store has proven very popular. The couple sells jams, other farm products, and cheeses from MS dairy, which they have smoked, olive oils imported from Italy, and much more. MS, in turn, buys their jam for cheese gift baskets. When the photographer and I visited in October, Bjarni and Hrafnhildur had just finished making 3,000 jars of jam with the help of volunteers from Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
The couple also recently started experimenting with growing hemp. At the store, they sell tea from dried hemp leaves which has soothing qualities. “It’s possible to make a range of products from hemp, says Bjarni. “You can use it for everything from concrete to jeans – it’s much stronger than cotton. It grows fast, so it’s a great solution for binding CO2. The potential is tremendous!” The store is open daily in summer, on weekends in winter, and through the Vellir webstore (Icelandic only for now).
Bjarni is a professionally trained waiter and passionate about cooking and creating inventive recipes. In a restored barn is a small restaurant where groups can book dinners. The space is ideal for celebrations of all kinds in the peaceful countryside. The barn is decorated with curious objects Bjarni has collected, from old aluminum candy boxes to an antique dentist’s chair, creating a special kind of atmosphere – it’s like dining in a museum! For information and bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.