Fortitude is supposed to be in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago halfway between the mainland and the North Pole, but the snowy town at the heart of Sky’s sci-fi thriller is actually in East Iceland.
It’s called Reydarfjordur and it sits on a dramatic fjord surrounded by mountains. To get here, you have to take a 50-minute flight from Reykjavik across Iceland’s glacial centre to a town called Egilsstadir, then it’s a 45-minute drive through the mountains. Those who venture to these remote parts are rewarded with spectacular scenery and you’ll have it all to yourself at this time of year.
Reydarfjordur is only small and fans will soon spot landmarks, but for the full Fortitude experience book a guided tour (meetthelocals.is), which includes a snoop around an old fish factory still stuffed with scenery and props.
My guide was a chap called Samuel Sigurdsson who worked as a fixer on the show, sourcing anything and everything the props department needed. Unsurprisingly, they asked for some pretty weird stuff: a mammoth tooth, a burnt-out boat, a dead cat.
Did he manage to find a dead cat?
“I told them ‘no problem – I have a cat I can shoot.”
Hoping he was joking, I climbed into his enormous jeep and my Fortitude tour began…
1. We started at Fortitude’s bar, which has kept its signature neon fox. It’s actually called Kaffi Kasg and is also Reydarfjordur’s only bar.
On the building next door is a mural of a polar bear (look closely), although you don’t actually get polar bears in Iceland, crazed or otherwise. Well, apart from the one that a farmer in the north-west shot last spring…
You do get reindeers here. In fact, East Iceland is the only place in Iceland where you do get them. Unlike some of Fortitude’s residents, East Icelanders do not drink “reindeer juice” though.
2. Next door is a guesthouse called Taergesen that fans will also recognise. This is where the crew and some of the younger actors stayed. (Most of the cast stayed in the more upmarket, but less atmospheric IcelandairHotel Herad in the nearby town of Egilsstadir.)
The owner is a friendly fellow called Jonas Helgason, who has decorated the restaurant with strange antiques like a stuffed puffin, a liquor cabin disguised as an old telephone and a collection of fossils. This is where Dennis Quaid treated locals to a private guitar concert. Over a lunch of trout and local beer, Jonas tells me that otherworldly things happen in the real Fortitude too: he has a ghost living upstairs.
3. Across the road is Fortitude’s snowmobile shop, N1, which still has a map used in the show on the walls. I also spied the bank, Dennis Quaid’s fisherman’s yellow house, the taxidermist’s workshop, the menacing-looking research centre (pictured below – it’s really a school) and its health centre (a nursery). The mayor’s office doesn’t exist; it was built in a studio back in London.
At this time of year this little town is usually knee-deep in snow, but when the cast and crew arrived to film the first series, there wasn’t even a snowflake. The crew had to truck in snow from mountains and make fake snow to sprinkle over all these buildings.
4. The crew took over an old fish factory as their base and all the props and scenery are still here awaiting series three. Here’s a Norwegian police car and my guide/fixer Samuel, who had a cameo in series one: he was Stanley Tucci’s stunt double.
5. Look out for Sofie Grabol taking an icy dip in the fjord in series two. Samuel had to source a hot tub for her to defrost in afterwards. Incidentally, soaking in outdoor hot tubs is Icelander’s favourite hobby, even when the temperature plummets below minus 10.
6. Reydarfjordur’s fish and chip shop!
During World War II, the Allies occupied Iceland and established a training camp for 4,000 soldiers in Reyardfjordur. This tiny fishing hamlet was suddenly overrun with bored British soldiers and enterprising locals opened cafes, bookshops, a cinema and this fish and chips shop. There are still old army barracks on the hill above the town where you’ll also find a fascinating WWII museum. Sadly the fish and chip shop doesn’t appear in Fortitude.
7. Fortitude’s grocery shop is in a neighbouring fjord called Eskifjordur, which you get to via a dramatic coast road. Eskifjordur is a fishing town and the old red fishermen’s huts were also used during filming, along with a statue in memory of sailors lost at sea.
This photo was taken at 10am when it was just getting light. Iceland’s eastern fjords don’t see the sun at all in the middle of winter, and the days only last a few hours; in summer, they get the midnight sun – 24 hours of daylight.
And that concludes the Fortitude tour, unless you want to strap on ski gear and snowshoes to explore the snowy peak where Michael Gambon came a cropper in series one. I wimped out and went in search of the local swimming pool and a hot tub…
For more information on Iceland and East Iceland, go to: east.is
Radio Times Travel special offers:
Save up to 50% on a cruise to Reykjavik, Orkney, Shetland and the Faroe Isles, 12 nights from £869pp This unique cruise from Tilbury includes two nights in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, and calls at the Orkney, Shetland and the Faroe Isles. It’s the perfect way to discover these rugged, beautiful islands, and gaze skywards in search of the magical Northern Lights. Click here for the full itinerary and to book
Save up to 40% on a cruise to Iceland, Greenland and Spitsbergen, 34 nights from £3,279pp. Combine two unforgettable cruise adventures as Marco Polo heads across the Atlantic to xplore the pristine landscapes of Iceland and Greenland, and then up the Norwegian coast to the remote island of Spitsbergen, with a brief pause in Rosyth in Scotland mid-cruise. Click here for the full itinerary and to book