There are countless articles singing the virtues of this or that stretch of road, claiming it to be “the best in the UK/Europe/world” (delete as applicable). So what’s the point in writing another one? What’s the use of increasing the count of Best road to ∞+1? The reason is that I’ve really found the best road, at least for me and, since I’m not a selfish bastard, here it is: the ring formed around the Icelandic Snæfellsnes peninsula by routes 54, 574 and 56.
The recipe for the perfect road isn’t really hard to ace; all you need are the right ingredients. Once you’ve bagged them it’s “all over but the shouting” as Frank Borman famously said on the Apollo 8 return trip.
The first key ingredient to be tossed in the cauldron is the road. It must have a balanced blend of straights, ups, downs and corners. In fact, it must have all the types of corners under the sun. Fast ones, switchbacks and those large, swooping ones – yeah, you know the kind – that make you smile, put an elbow on the window frame and invite you to take in the views.
The views, then. They are as fundamental as the road, if not more. To me, they are the real deal-breaker: no road can be truly enjoyed if all you can see around are flatbed trucks or industrial estates.
There are also other elements in my recipe – let’s consider them those extra toppings at the bottom of the menu – such as smooth tarmac, no traffic, a radio station alternating Creedence and DJ Krush, but my best road needn’t a fancy car in order to be appreciated. Sure, there might be a bit of a fox-and-grapes complex lurking around here but my best road is egalitarian: whatever the car hire roulette has blurted out, you’ll enjoy it. How do I know? Well, I had a toffee-black Suzuki Vitara and I did. See if you can spot it in this video.
The start of my road, so I’ve decided, is at a landmark some 35km north of Borgarnes. As you drive north you’ll see, on your right, Eldborg crater. Its name and meaning (“Fortress of Fire”) will definitely appeal to the JRR Tolkien in you.
From there all you need to do is follow the road as it worms its way along the coast. It’s that easy: keep the wet bit on your left and, as they say, Bob’s your uncle.
It’s not as if this is only a road to be driven on, for there’s plenty to do in case you’re the kind of guy or gal who enjoys a break every now and then. There’s, for instance, a seal colony at Ytri-Tunga where you can admire our aquatic cousins perfecting the art of being fat. Or, but you need to be past the tip of the peninsula for that, you can hike to the top of Saxhóll volcano which, let me tell you, works better if you’re not risking frostbite. Add the occasional team of Icelandic horses to the mix.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Once you’re past the cape the road snakes around hills and mountains abutting to the fjord in a parade of vistas where water and stone and snow continuously trade places. This is where you can find little gems such as black beaches or, of course, Kirkjufell mountain (be aware of awe-struck tourists walking in your path, though).Grundarfjörður is nothing but a blip before you get back in a wonderland that feels dragged out of a saga and often is.
If I had to choose, this is where the road’s party piece is. Past a lava field is a junction: carry on forward for Stykkishólmur and the Westfjords, turn right to head back towards Reykjavík. That’s where we are headed.
In this part the road, now no. 56, will run over the mountains that make the spine of the peninsula: what awaits is a spectacular journey amongst meadows, often blanketed by thick snow, and interludes of utter serendipity when the view is almost 180 degrees wide.
It is, alas, brief, over before you can say Eyjafjallajökull: soon the familiar shape of Eldborg will appear, this time on your right, heralding the end of the road and the start of the return. You might be tempted to say no and to U-turn for another round; go on, I won’t judge: I might’ve done the same.