In Iceland, summer cabins are ‘unionized’

in the mountains. But unlike the rustic Canadian log cabins, these are more luxurious. Though many Icelanders own their own summerhouses, often in…

in the mountains.

But unlike the rustic Canadian log cabins, these are more luxurious.

Though many Icelanders own their own summerhouses, often in co-ownership with other family members, most simply use the dozens of cabins available to each person through a union.

Unions own hundreds of cabins throughout the country, and nearly everyone belongs to a union.

This is one mark that socialism has left on Icelandic culture: Though you are not, by law, made to belong to a union, most people do. What’s more, few would reject union membership.

Who would, if one of the benefits of belonging to a union is to be able to rent a lovely cabin in the woods, with a hot tub, a gas barbeque and all the comforts of a modern home?

Well, perhaps not in the woods — this is Iceland after all. It’s more like bush, but the rest of this is true.

(Also, should you decide not to belong to a union, chances are that you will still have to pay into it, as it negotiates salary rates, job security and other issues on your behalf, even though you don’t belong to it.)

Every union owns a number of summerhouses, which members can rent at a relatively low cost.

The rent is often less than that of an apartment in Reykjavík, but there are rules about how much time one can spend there, at least over the summer.

Though they are called sumarbústadir, summer dwellings, most of them are functional — and well used — year round, with a central heating system, plenty of hot water and janitors who look after driveway shovelling, along with general maintenance.

The union-run cabins are well equipped.

They’re all heated, have both hot and cold running water and electricity.

Hot tubs can be found in most of them, where one can relax in nearly any kind of weather.

These cabins come with one or two double beds, a couple of bunk beds and usually a collapsible baby crib.

Duvets and pillows are supplied as well, along with comfortable woollen blankets, but guests must bring their own duvet covers, pillowcases and sheets.

There is a full kitchen, with a fridge, stove, running water, dishes, cups and cutlery for 12 or more.

In many cases, one can find candles, matches, aluminum foil, salt and other staples in the kitchen, but not always.

Often there is a radio and a television, and some even offer a DVD player or a VCR.

Many supply soap and toilet paper, particularly when the cabins are on a private sewage system, and most forbid animals, but there are some that permit pets, though you must specifically ask for these cabins.

Most are situated somewhere with a lovely view, where there are tonnes of fat blueberries in the fall and a short distance from either a golf course, a horse rental or a fishing lake bustling with fat trout.

But as a general rule, Icelanders don’t go to the summerhouse to fish, hunt, tend flowers or pick berries.

Of course they do these things as well, but the main idea is to relax.

In other words, we do nothing but sit in the hot tub and read a book while a tasty leg of lamb slowly simmers on the gas barbecue.

However, all, or nearly all, are located within a short distance from a swimming pool, and you’d be surprised how many still make use of the pool, even though they’re staying at a cabin with a hot tub.

This is particularly the case if there are kids in the family.

You see, it’s much more fun for the little ones to play in a large pool with a slide, than to sit quietly with Mom and Dad in the hot tub!