Off the coast of Iceland there’s one particular island upon which is built a single, solitary house. It is a house that looks like the sort the Dursleys could have hidden Harry Potter for his 11th birthday.
Over the years, photos of this house — some snapped from airplanes, most from boats — have circulated around various blogs. And as people have glimpsed the digital images of the abode’s stark setting and seemingly impossible seclusion, internet gossip about the place has mounted.
So, let’s start by dispensing with some misconceptions. Here’s some of what the house is not:
It is not located on Iceland’s third largest island. It was not a gift by the government of Iceland to its most famous pop star, Bjork. The house is not a hoax created using PhotoShop. And it is not inhabited by a secretive billionaire, nor by a religious hermit, nor by a paranoid recluse intent on surviving a coming zombie apocalypse.
In fact, technically, it is not a house at all.
The structure in question is on the Island of Elliðaey†. Or, rather, it’s on an Island of Elliðaey. Iceland, confusingly, has two islands by that name. One is in the west of the country (and is home to a property owned by Bjork). The other Elliðaey Island — the one with the lonely-looking residence — is part of the Westman archipelago (Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic) off of Iceland’s southern coast.
Three hundred years ago, Elliðaey was inhabited by five families. They lived there in huts and survived by fishing and raising cattle on the island’s grassy pasture — and by hunting puffins
Over the next two centuries, sustaining a community on Elliðaey became increasingly impractical and unappealing (to say nothing of inbred). People started to leave; sometime in the 1930s, the last permanent residents of Elliðaey moved away.
The island’s former residents found that Iceland had many places more economical than Elliðaey from which to fish and raise cattle. But, as it turned out, there weren’t too many better places for hunting puffins. So, in the early 1953, the Elliðaey Hunting Association built a lodge on the island for its members to use during their commando puffin missions.
It is this structure, the hunting lodge, that captures the imagination of photographers today. The lodge has no electricity, broadband internet (oh, the horror!) or indoor plumbing. This being Iceland, the lodge does have a sauna. The water for the sauna — and for less important tasks, such as cooking and drinking — comes from a rainwater collection system. The lodge, oddly, is surrounded by a fence, perhaps to keep the puffins from launching a counter attack.
Visiting Vestmannaeyjar and Elliðaey Island
Unless you happen to be a member of the Elliðaey Hunting Association or are friends with some one who is (what are the odds?) you can’t stay in the lodge‡. But you can visit Elliðaey on a boat tour from the main island of Heimaey. The Rib-Safari tour company will not only boat you around the islands of the Westman archipelago but also prepare for you a barbeque meal en route!
The Westman Islands, not incidentally, are a wonderful place to visit for a slice of rural Iceland life. Though Vestmannaeyjar is relatively easy to get to (there’s a car ferry, or you can fly from Reykjavík in about 20 minutes), the islands have an off-the-beaten-track feel. Vestmannaeyjar offers hiking and climbing opportunities, several historical sights and even a golf course. But the main attraction is the rich abundance of bird and marine life. We are epsecially fond of the islands’ puffins. But please, cool hunting lodge or no, we’d rather people stick to shooting these cute little birds with a camera.
† There’s nothing wrong with your screen. That character between the I and the A is an Icelandic letter that’s pronounced like the “th” in English. The name of the island is often transliterated as “Ellidaey.” Being in a particularly quirky mood at the time of writing, Spot Cool Stuff has decided to use the Icelandic spelling for this post.
‡ Maybe they’d let you stay if you offered to build them a zip line — few places look like it could use one more.
Related cool travel ideas from Spot Cool Stuff:
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
Where to Swim With Penguins (Besides Antarctica)
Poland’s Mysterious Crooked Forest
A Review of the Osprey Meridian and Sojourn: The Best Backpack-Wheeled Bag Hybrid Luggage
Elsewhere on the web: