Hotel Skaftafell in Freysnes, South Iceland
One of Iceland‘s most beloved country hotels nestles in the foothills of Iceland‘s highest mountain and Europe’s largest national park. Owner Anna María Ragnarsdóttir, whose family has lived in the area for over 700 years, founded Hotel Skaftafell in Freysnes in southeast Iceland in 1989. “We recognised the potential for this region and took a chance on a career in tourism,” she says. “We’re 7 minutes by car from Vatnajökull National Park‘s visitor centre in Skaftafell, and 40 minutes from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The petrol station, mini-market, and restaurant across the road from the hotel also belong to the family.”
Accommodation with private facilities was rather uncommon in the countryside in Iceland in the 80’s and non-existent in the Skaftafell area. “In the first year we rented out rooms in our own house to travellers,” says Anna thoughtfully—obviously reminiscing the past. “A trend towards accommodation with private facilities was developing at the time. We received some good advice and encouragement from people in the know, who recommended that we include private facilities in the rooms. As a result, we decided to open a hotel rather than sticking to the guesthouse concept.”
The present hotel was started by Anna and her husband back in 1989, but her career in the tourism service industry began at age 13. “I got a job at the Skaftafell Co-Op store and petrol station on the 13th of July, 1974. I remember the day very clearly because it was the day before the last and longest of the three bridges that cross Skeiðarársandur was completed and the ring road around Iceland was officially opened.”
Hospitality is what she does best, says the author of this article, who has stayed in Hótel Skaftafell several times over the past 15 years and can vouch for Anna’s friendly and service minded attitude. “Besides, back when we started in the hotel business” says Anna, “tourism seemed to be the only viable option for self-employment here. The alternative could have been to farm mink and fox for their pelts, or to get into fish farming. In hindsight, we made the right decision because pelt farmers and fish farmers have struggled right from the start.”
Contrary to popular belief, the people in this region were not isolated. “Visitors have passed through this district ever since settlement,” says Anna. “The rivers were forded on horseback and we had a pony postal service for a long time before the arrival of motorized vehicles and the ring road.”
The petrol station, mini-market and restaurant across the road is a favourite stop with truckers and tourists heading for the national park or the glacier lagoon. The restaurant serves hot, home-style food at lunch and dinner, and grilled fare is available the rest of the day.
Tallest mountain and largest glacier
The Skaftafell region in southeast Iceland is perhaps the most beautiful part of the country. Vatnajökull National Park was established in 2008, the largest in Europe. “What makes this area so special is the contrast between the white glaciers and the black volcanic sand,” says Anna, who obviously and not surprisingly, loves the place where she was born. However, she is not the only one who is passionate about the scenery. It has been featured in Hollywood films to name but a few—Batman Begins, Laura Croft’s Tomb Raider and James Bond’s Die Another Day and With a View to a Kill.
Several of the main attractions around Skaftafell can be seen from the comfort of one’s car, including Vatnajökull Glacier and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The spectacular glacier covers about 8 per cent of Iceland and is the largest in Europe.
Jökulsárlón is one of the most popular places to visit along the ring road because of its scenic beauty. Melting icebergs in various shapes, sizes and colours float towards the bridge which spans the narrow outlet from the lagoon. “Visitors from all corners of the globe are drawn to this place and for good reason,” says Anna. “The combination of calving glacier, icebergs, lagoon, black sand beaches and the Atlantic Ocean, with a view of the highest peak in Iceland in ever changing light conditions is numbered among some of the most impressive landscapes in the world.”Hótel Skaftafell
Freysnesi • 785 Öræfum
+354 478 1945