The West


icelandthaler 05.JPGIn the West and the West Fjords, one can read the geological history of Iceland, from its formation 15-16 million years ago until about the time of the settlement in the 9th century, which is when volcanic activity ceased in the region. The oldest rock formations are found at Kögur in the West Fjords, the youngest in the inner reaches of Borgarfjörður, and the region has an unusually wide variety of natural features. Every kind of volcano is found here, and water flows from the earth in every form, from cool, sparkling mineral water to Europe's most voluminous hot spring, Deildartunguhver, from which water pours at 97°C at a rate of 180 liters per second. The clearest sign of volcanism is the perfectly formed crater of Snæfellsjökull, with its glacial cap, at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, to which various mysterious powers have been attributed. This is now a National Park, and Snæfellsnes is now bench-marked as a Green Globe 21 sustainable community with emphasis on tourism. The landscape is shaped by erosion as much as volcanism, and in the Ice Age glacial action gouged out Breiðafjörður bay, with its innumerable islands, and formed the fjords and valleys of the West Fjords peninsula, where waterfalls cascade down steep mountain slopes.

Snæfellsnes - Budir beach.JPGThe bird life of the region is also varied. Breiðafjörður is a mecca for birdwatchers, who may even spot the monarch of Icelandic birds, the white-tailed eagle. In the West Fjords are the three largest bird cliffs in Europe: the largest of them, Látrabjarg, is at the western-most point of Europe.

In olden times West Iceland and Breiðafjörður were flourishing agricultural regions with plentiful food resources. Many of the Icelandic sagas took place here and in the West Fjords. Historic sites in the region include Reykholt, home of the medieval chieftain/scholar Snorri Sturluson, and the town of Borgarnes with its Settlement Center, where visitors can see two exhibitions featuring audio-taped narrative: one on the settlement of Iceland, and the other on Egill Skallagrímsson, one of the most colorful personalities of the Age of Settlement. Another intriguing destination is the reconstructed saga age farmstead at Eiríksstaðir, home of Erik the Red. Eiríksstaðir is also reputed to be the birthplace of Eiríkur's son Leif the Lucky, who found the New World.

Hraunfossar waterfall, West Iceland.JPGTwo universities in Borgarfjörður have been growing rapidly in recent years: the Bifröst School of Business and the Agricultural University at Hvanneyri. Through the centuries, the West Fjords have been primarily a fishing region, but today large areas are uninhabited, such as the wild Hornstrandir, which attracts many holidaymakers. Visitors can learn about the history of the region at the Ósvör maritime museum at Bolungarvík and the Maritime Museum in Ísafjörður, and also on organised hikes to historic sites.

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www.west.is