Lonely Planet Writer

The Secret Life of Iceland's Renaissance man, Hákon Kjalar and his Mongolian yurts

It began with the arrival of Ben Stiller and his film crew, shooting Arctic scenes for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in rural Iceland. In the spirit of a film driven by bizarre coincidences, one of the props — a large Mongolian yurt — ended some years later in the hands of Hákon Kjalar, a kind of Renaissance man living on a private island in the middle of Þjórsá, Iceland’s largest glacier river. He pitched the tent and created one peculiar listing on Airbnb.

Trausholtsholm Island, Iceland
Hákon Kjalar’s yurts on the island of Traustholtsholmi © Egill Bjarnason/ Lonely Planet

Two years later the island of Traustholtshólmi is dotted with four elegantly furnished yurts and one wooden house with a windmill on top — Kjalar’s home. “My foreign friends find a little odd when I tell them my home is not just in Iceland, a remote island in itself, but on an even smaller island within,” he said.

Hákon and Skuggi out on a boat
Hákon and his dog, Skuggi. © Egill Bjarnason/ Lonely Planet

While the boat ride over the muddy Þjórsá takes just three minutes, the place is still far apart from the mainland, or so it feels at least. On top of the accommodation, the middle-of-nowhere-vibe spurs from the lack of electricity and the resourceful self-sustainability; Kjalar catches salmon in the river, grows his own root vegetables and collects wild herbs. Meanwhile, the dog Skuggi, the Icelandic word for shadow, lives up to his name.

Close up of one of Hákon's yurts
One of the yurts on Traustholtsholmi. © Egill Bjarnason/ Lonely Planet

And this secret life of Hákon Kjalar is grabbing some attention from the outside world. Last June the prestigious chefs at Dill, Iceland’s only Michelin-star restaurant, created a supper club at the Mongolian yurt. The twenty available seats sold out.

Catching fish for dinner
Hákon Kjalar fishing on Traustholtsholmi. © Egill Bjarnason/ Lonely Planet

Never before has Traustholtshólmi, Kjalar’s family estate for three generations, been open to the public in this way. The population increase took some time to get used to, Kjalar admits. “I like to keep it small and personal,” he said, usually hosting no more than six people at a time, “that way life here keeps its charm for me.”

While Traustholtshólmi remains off the grid — hence, without central heating — the island will only be open to visitors over summer, from 15 May – 15 September. For booking and more, visit thh.is.

By Egill Bjarnason