The Story of Hótel Búðir
17th century - Búðir as a trading centre
Búdir's history stretches back far. Long before there was a hotel there, it was a trading centre from the 17th century. Its location had the most to do with this since Búdir was on a harbour, and in those days there were numerous farms on both sides. It can therefore be said that trade in Búdir played an important role for the people living there in earlier centuries.
Banner Photo: Frederick W. W. Howell, from Budir at the end of 19th century.
Snaefellsnes Residents' Association
In 1945 the Association of Snaefellsnes and Hnappadalur Residents prepared a draft on hotel operations in Búdir. For some time the association had sought a suitable spot on Snaefellsnes Peninsula to build a summer recreation site for its members, and Búdahraun (Búdir Lava) fulfilled the association's conditions. It also proposed that the lava field be protected and that a plant nursery and park be built in Búdir under the association's auspices.
In February 1945, when the State Treasury advertised the sale of the old apartment-store complex in Búdir to be torn down, the wheels began turning. In March the same year, the association bought the house for ISK 6000. Then it launched extensive and costly construction – a road to the house was built, and a water main was run into the building along with installation of an oil-burner hot water tank for heating.
Then, the summer of 1948, the new guesthouse in Búdir received its first guests. Nevertheless, 1947 is always given as Hótel Búdir's first year since the building's official consecration took place then. The Association of the Residents of Snaefellnes and Hnappdalur operated the hotel the next several years, but since the building's maintenance entailed great outlays, the decision was made to lease its operation. From 1951 to 1954 various parties operated the hotel, and this arrangement worked well.
The hotel was popular, attracting a great stream of guests, and in the evenings records were usually played on a gramophone while the guests enjoyed food and drink in the restaurant. The Búdir Meets were also extremely popular. "The Búdir Meets were indispensable from the beginning of the guesthouse operations of the Association of the Residents of Snaefellsnes and Hnappadalur since they were staged to bring together people who had moved away from the peninsula and those on the farms, for a holiday weekend each year. Their atmosphere was in fact very festive. For example, in the beginning, a dance floor was built behind the guesthouse specifically for these get-togethers. An effort was also made to offer novel entertainment at them, and one instance of this was in 1953 when an act electrified people and filled them with admiration.
A young daredevil named Halldór Gunnarsson had an enormous barrel built, in which a ramp was placed, running from the bottom edge up to the top. In the bottom of the barrel, there was an opening allowing entrance. On the outside of the barrel there were benches for spectators all the way around, and there were stairs to get to the benches. Halldór showed up at the Búdir Meet with this barrel, which was on two trucks because of its size. He had the barrel set up in front of the hotel, tying it down with strong steel wires. Then admission tickets were sold to the spectator benches. When spectators had taken their seats, the act started. Halldór rode a motorcycle through the opening at the bottom of the barrel and drove all the way up the ramp to great cheering from the spectators. Bjarni Vigfússon from Hlídarholt was four years old when he saw this and said that he would never forget how wonderful and remarkable he and many others found it, whether young or old."
Lóa in Budir
In 1956 Hotel Budir was converted to a limited-liability company with Alexander McArthur and Fridsteinn Jonsson then in charge. This ended the involvement of the Association of the Residents of Snaefellsnes and Hnappadalur in hotel operations in Budir. Fridsteinn Jónsson and his wife, Loa Kristjansdottir, both became shareholders, and since they had previously operated a restaurant in Reykjavik, the most natural thing was for them to see to the operation of the hotel. Nevertheless, since Fridsteinn was working full-time in Reykjavik, it was Loa who went to Budir to take over operation of the hotel.
Lóa ran Hotel Budir for 15 years, and those years were an enormous boost for the place. She began by cancelling the Budir Meets and stopped selling alcohol at the hotel. She hoped to make Budir a family place where people could come and enjoy life without worries. Loa quickly became known for her great hospitality; she greeted her guests with a handshake, made them feel at home and offered scrumptious food, always made from the best materials.
Many well-known people stayed at Hotel Budir in Loa's day, including Nobel Prize laureate Halldor Laxness, who was a frequent guest, and the acclaimed painter Johannes Kjarval. During the time that Madame Loa ran the hotel, it was considered to be one the best in the country, and people stayed not just one to three nights but from one and up to three weeks. Loa never advertised because the place advertised itself through satisfied guests who sang its praises. This arrangement continued all the way through the 1960s, but then there were new currents of thought about travel; trips abroad started becoming popular, and times changed. People shortened their stays, and when Loa's husband died in an accident in 1970, she decided to leave the hotel business.
Flower children take over in Búdir
Over the next several years, various parties were involved in running the hotel in Búdir, with uneven results. No one seemed able to follow in Lóa's footsteps, until finally in 1978 and 1979, there were no operations in Búdir, and the hotel stood empty. The summer of 1979 Gunnhildur Fenger, the housekeeper in Lýsuhóll, who also had strong feelings for Búdir, discussed the idea of reviving the hotel with her husband, Jakob Fenger. The couple, along with a cook, Rúnar Marvinsson, rented the hotel the same year from Ásbjörn Magnússon, who had just bought it from the Association of Snaefellsnes Residents. The hotel they took over was rundown since it had been completely open to animals, and getting it back into cosy shape was therefore a big job. They shined up the tables and chairs and painted and fixed everything because their motto was to refurbish the old. They strove to revive the hotel's old spirit, and there were embroidered tablecloths and freshly picked flowers and wild plants. You might say that a hippy spirit imbued the area. In 1979 the hotel opened its doors, and the word quickly spread that the old spirit of Búdir was back, and in the wake many of the old guests from Lóa's time began staying at the hotel along with an ever-growing group of new guests. Besides hotel operations, Jakob Fenger and Rúnar Marvinsson did various odd jobs, Rúnar as a fisherman and Jakob as a carpenter.
Word gets out about the restaurant
It was about this time that Rúnar began developing his innovative fish dishes that later enjoyed great popularity at the hotel. In this regard, butter-fried fish cheeks, spice-marinated fish tongues, stuffed trout and plaice with shrimp, garlic and mild blue cheese (Dalayrja) are worth mentioning. New paths in food preparation were trodden; for example, you could order the chef's soup of the day, but it was impossible to know what Rúnar would conjure out of the pot. Snails were also on the menu, which was then considered an innovation. Rúnar heavily emphasized fresh fruit, fresh-caught fish, meat direct from the farmers and homegrown vegetables. There was also a diverse offering of wines, and the hotel was quickly known for its terrific cosmopolitan service and food. The menus and wine lists were decorated with pictures, and there was a new menu every week. Mineral water from springs near the hotel was also offered.
The hotel flourished at this time, and the popular musician and singer Pálmi Gunnarsson was among the regular guests. He usually performed weekends for the hotel guests. The summer of 1981 Jakob and Gunnhildur withdrew from the operations, and in January 1982, Rúnar Marvinsson and Sigrídur Audunsdóttir, Sigurdur Vigfússon and Sigrídur Gísladóttir, Eyjólfur Gunnarsson and Hildur Sveinbjarnardóttir, along with Magnús Magnússon and Gudbjörg Jónsdóttir, bought the hotel from Ásbjörn Magnússon.
In 1986 Rúnar Marvinsson and his wife Sigrídur withdrew from the Búdir operations and shortly thereafter opened the restaurant Vid tjörnina in Reykjavík. Sigrídur Gísladóttir then took over the operations. That summer expansion of the hotel began. The additional space was for employee accommodations and operation of the restaurant. The new part included a kitchen, bakery, warehouse and laundry and three double rooms with a bath. After these changes, the old kitchen was converted to a dining room, and the hotel could accommodate 80 people for meals. Originality and freshness were the hotel's hallmark under Sigrídur's management, and the hotel was popular and known for its unique menu and service. As before, there was a new menu every week and a definite theme each week.
the era of Viktor
In 1994 the hotel again changed hands when Viktor Sveinsson and Ingvar Thórdarson bought it. They renovated and improved the old building. The rooms were entirely redone, the beds replaced, the hotel painted on the outside, for the goal of the new owners was to maintain the original style of the hotel insofar as possible.
Cook Hafthór Ólafsson, known as a singer in the Súkkat Duet, was hired as the main cook in Búdir, for he had worked there many, many years at Sigrídur's side. The services for tourists were improved; a dock was built, and tourists were offered whale-watching trips.
Hotel manager Viktor emphasized reviving the custom from Lóa's time of preparing as much of the food as possible at the hotel and letting the food keep its natural flavour. Viktor did business with farmers in the area and also raised pigs for pork dishes considered great delicacies. He also experimented with weekend flights to Búdir and offered sightseeing flights over Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The flight to Búdir took about 40 minutes, and after sightseeing flights diverse activities – hikes, horseback riding and sea angling – were offered.
The Súkkat Duet performed on weekends, to the great delight of the guests, and various musicians sought inspiration in Búdir. For example, two members of the band Unun stayed at Búdir in the spring of 1996 and wrote five songs on their new album.
Fire in Búdir
The evening of 21 February 2001 fire totally destroyed the hotel. One of the main meeting places on Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a special favourite of numerous Icelanders, was destroyed. The hotel was unoccupied when the fire broke out, and it burned in a very short time. The building had just been wired for electricity, for hotel operations had been suspended since September 1999. Viktor had begun organizing a grand build-up of the hotel when the fire occurred. The plan to build up the old hotel in Búdir therefore headed off in a different direction. A new hotel was built from the foundation up, which opened for restaurant operations in 2002, but full operations formally began on 14 June 2003.
Hótel Búdir ehf. New emphases, but the same values
Hótel Búdir, as before, is still run with the goal of providing guests with a unique experience so that they return as soon as possible to this special natural paradise. In Búdir you enjoy world-class service, fine food and drink, which is an experience per se, and when you leave, you take a life-long memory of an unequalled stay in an indescribably beautiful environment. We hope to see you soon in Búdir. Enjoy and stay well!
Resources: Manuscript of the story of Hótel Búðir and the place by Andrés Erlingsson.