What if you can wake up to a million dollar view every day? Hailing from the land of volcanic eruptions, glacial lagoons, northern lights and viking lore, Nordur-Vik Youth Hostel owner Æsa Gísladóttir shares what it is like to live in one of the most magical places in the world.
Against the stark and haunting beautiful backdrop of treacherous cliffs and vast mountain ranges lies the charming coastal town of Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland’s southernmost village. Right at the edge of this town, you will find this quaint little hostel in a picturesque setting. Nordur-Vik Youth Hostel is the perfect budget accommodation to rest your weary feet as well as a jump off point to explore what the spectacular southern coast of Iceland has to offer.
Two winters ago, the Tomboy Tarts duo of Persis and Raven arrived cold and exhausted at the hostel amid howling winds and a fierce hailstorm. We quickly found refuge in this homely and cosy place which reminded us of home. Every morning we woke up to a delicious breakfast spread which included fresh hard boiled eggs from the resident chickens and homemade items such bread, waffles and jam. It was where we met the friendly and welcoming hostel owner, Æsa, who organised our trip of a lifetime to Jökulsárlón (the glacier lagoon) at a short notice despite it being off-season.
With its black beaches, basalt columns, glacier lagoons, dramatic alpine mountainscape, mysterious viking tomb, puffins sightings in the summer and northern lights in the winters, Vík is a magical place indeed like nowhere else on this earth. It’s unsurprisingly that Æsa still calls Vík home and there is no other place that she would rather be. And life is very busy for this Vík native!
Hostel manager, Kalta Geopark guide, mother of two, avid jam maker, sustainability advocate, traditional Icelandic sewing enthusiast and serious hiker – the active and vibrant Æsa wears many hats. Life is short and she wants to live life to the fullest. With a zest for life and appetite for adventure, Æsa is out to achieve her sky high goals and sustainability ideals. Last summer she finally realised her long-held dream of learning to paraglide, proving that the sky is really the limit. Now she can fly – literally – and is a proud owner of her own wings.
So if you happen to find yourself in Vík on a clear and windy day, do remember to look up! You may be able to spot Æsa paragliding across the beautiful skies. And if she’s not busy with running her hostel, she could be up in the mountains again, scaling yet another peak.
Q: ARE YOU FROM VIK? WHY DO YOU CHOSE TO LIVE HERE?
I am from Vík. Lived here most of my life. I LOVE Vík. I think growing up in Vík is a privilege so that is why I am also raising my daughters up here.
Q. HOW IS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE? ARE YOU A TOMBOY?
I still don´t know if I constitute as a tomboy or not. I wore the clothing I like, usually jeans and lopapeysa which is an Icelandic wool sweater and I dress it up with skirt or trousers.
I do the things I like, some are “typical” for women and some not. I like making jams, knitting and sewing but I am also the manager of the hostel and last summer I learnd how to paraglide and now I have my own wing It is the nicest thing I have ever done. I wanted to learn it for some years and you know, time really flies so if I am suposed to get even half of it done, I really need to keep going [emoji smiling face with sunglasses] I planned to hike up to Hvannadalshnjúkur end of May. For end April I am going to hike up to Eyjafjallajökull. I already did it 2 years ago and it was awesome.
So you have to tell me … am I a tomboy or just a little weird ? 🙂
I did play a lot outside, more than kids do now. And I spent almost all summers at my grandparents farm 60km east of Vík. Best place in the world. Even better than Vík.
Q: HOW DID YOU END UP RUNNING YOUR OWN HOSTEL?
My grandparents had a farm 9km away from Vík but moved to Vík before 1980. From 1982, they ran a HI (Hostel International) hostel during summer in their house. When I was a teenager, I sometimes helped out my grandmother at the hotel. In 1999 I had finished college and didn´t know what to study next.
My grandmother had been feeling tired and was not doing too good. So my mom came up with the idea that I would run the hostel the following summer. So that was our plan.
On 6th of November 1999 there was a fire in the house (it was a 2 floor stone house) and the higher floor burned down. The first floor was still filled with a lot of useful things. After few weeks of thinking what to do, we came up with the idea that we would look for a house to rent for the comming summer, using the beds and stuff that were still ok and had been cleaned from the fire.
After looking around for a while we figured out that Norður-Vík could be a really nice as a hostel so we asked the one old lady living in the house if it would be possible at all to rent it for the summer. She said no but you could buy it . So with a lot of help from my grandparents I bought the house and started a hostel. My other grandmother who lived at the farm further away had chickens that I used to take care of so it is no surprise I do have chickens now.
Q: BESIDES THE SPECTACULAR BACKDROP OF THE MOUNTAIN RANGE, WHAT I REMEMBERED MOST FROM OUR STAY IN THE HOSTEL IS THE FANTASTIC HOMEMADE BREAKFAST AND THE RELAXED, FRIENDLY VIBE. I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO INCORPORATE SUSTAINABILITY IN THE RUNNING OF YOUR HOSTEL? WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY BEHIND RUNNING NORDUR-VIK YOUTH HOSTEL?
We first opend Vík hostel on 15th May 2000. First it was just a summer hostel but we opened earlier and closed later every year and now we have been open all year round. I like running a hostel. Having the food local and home made as possible is my “hobby” or I don´t know what to call it. I was always a little weird. But luckily for me it is getting more and more popular to think this way. After spending all these summers at the farm, I really do like animals and I don´t like any kind of waste! So putting new home made jam into jars which others throw them away and things like that is my kind of style. To reuse things as often as possible. Also I just like old things. I have heard from guests that the hostel looks like it have been decorated by an old person. I am sure it was not meant as a compliment But I take it that way anyway. And I LOVE to make things from the nature like rhubarb jam and crowberriejelly from scratch. If you want to make something but then you first go to the store and buy everything you need for it … well what is the fun in that? Then you can just as well buy what you need.
Sustainability – easier said than done but we try. Sort the garbage and do all the small things we can think off but I really can´t tell if we are anywere close to it yet.
Q: WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT RUNNING YOUR OWN HOSTEL? WHAT ATE THE CHALLENGES?
My home and my work is next to each other. I work at home and wait for my daughters to come home from school. I can control my work hours. If the weather is good, we focus on outdoor work. If the weather is bad, we work inside. The challenges is to not to be working all the time since it is so close to home. Trying to leave my laptop at the hostel so I don´t spend the afternoon working when I can be having a good time with my girls.
Q: TELL US A FUNNY STORY FROM RUNNING A HOSTEL.
I should have kept a diary. There are thousands of small stories but there is nothing special that comes to mind now. Let me sleep on that one. My memory is not as good as I would like it to be
Q. ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM MY ICELAND TRIP WAS THE VISIT TO THE MAGICAL JOKULSARLON. THANK YOU FOR ORGANIZING THE TRIP AT SUCH A SHORT NOTICE, ESPECIALLY DURING AN OFF-PEAK SEASON. WHAT ARE YOU FAVOURITE PLACES TO EXPLORE IN VIK?
My pleasure if I manage to make your trip nicer than it already was !!!
I love Vík all year round. Every season has its charm. While visiting Vík, you need to go to Vík beach and Reynisfjara beach at the other side of the mountain. You need to visit the Myrdalsjokull glacier (best is if you join an ice climbing tour), you need to visit Dyrhólaey, you need to walk up Reynisfjall mountain and take a look at Reynisdrangar rocks in the sea from above. During May to August you will also see the puffins there. Vík summer = puffins, Vík winter = northern lights You need to hike with me to the first Viking tomb at Hjörleifshöfði , you need to visit the old pool from 1923 in the mountain (Seljavallalaug), you need to eat at Suður-Vík restaurant next door to the hostel. Our guests get discount there. You need to look for the old plane at Sólheimasandur you need to. You need a week in Vík. And to see all the waterfalls.
Q: WHERE ELSE SHOULD WE EXPLORE IN ICELAND?
The most icelandic part of Iceland is from Seljalandsfoss to Höfn. Since that area is the newest, it has the most eruption activity now so the landscape is still in shape. But the West fjords are beautiful and so far I haven´t seen an ugly spot in Iceland. But I would say highland and West fjords are the best places but it is all nice really
As for the best time to visit Vík, I would say June and then join me for a sunset hike from the hostel!
Q: WHEN IS YOUR PEAK PERIOD?
We are busiest in July and August but now we are pretty busy in May, June and September as well.
Suðurvíkurvegur 5 870, Vík í Mýrdal, Iceland
Tel: (354) 4871106 / 8672389
Heading to Reykjavik? Check out our 10 Things to Do in Reykjavik guide.