June 18, 2014 00:00 By Bernd F Meier
Greenland is the only country where you can swim in a geothermal pool while watching icebergs off the coast
The water taxi from Qaqortoq ploughs along at 30 kilometres an hour, helmsman Anguteerak Hoegh-Olsen steering a careful path between the ice floes and drifting icebergs.
Some of these cold blue giants tower up high, while others are more like squat supertankers. The water taxi is aiming for Ipiutaq, a farm of Greenland where Agathe Devisme and her husband, Kalista Poulsen, keep sheep and have taken in guests since 2007.
“We are the only sheep farm in southern Greenland with a guesthouse,” Devisme says, as she shows visitors her 6 hectares of meadow located on Eriksfjord, halfway between Narsaq and Narsarsuaq.
Devisme was working as an architect in the Paris region when she came to Greenland for the first time more than 10 years ago. After getting to know her Inuit husband at the agricultural research and training centre in Upernaviarsuk, she decided to stay.
“My life had reached a point of change. I turned a new page,” she says. The couple took over the abandoned sheep farm in 2005, starting from scratch to rebuild a working farm.
“In the first winter we had no electricity and lived through the long hours of darkness by candlelight,” she says.
It may sound romantic, but it was in fact extremely hard work over many months to make the farm workable once more. They extended the sheep shed, levelled the roads and cleaned up the meadows over the long winter.
“At some point we got the diesel generator going and ensured regular water supply from the nearby Ilua River. After that we could begin to take in our first guests,” Devisme says.
They now have 300 sheep that are turned out onto the hills during the summer. There is now holiday accommodation for eight visitors in a house next to the farmhouse, providing comfort for walkers and anglers.
“Many go fishing in the Ilua, which is rich in arctic char,” she says. Walkers can take a day-long hike to the Narsaqhalvhoen, which has a rocky peak rising to 700 metres.
In the evenings Devisme offers a tasty meal of what she terms “French-Greenland fusion” cooking, with reindeer and wild sorrel, or bouillabaisse with char from the local waters.
Sixty kilometres away, the bustling town of Qaqortoq with its brightly coloured houses provides a contrast to the rural peace of Ipiutaq. There are supermarkets, a hotel, a home for seamen, youth hostels, the fish and vegetable markets and even a helipad.
From Qaqortoq, population 3,500, there are hikes, kayak trips and other excursions. The town also has 10 kilometres of beach, but there is no pleasure to be had swimming in Arctic waters.
On Fridays the boat sets off for Uunartoq, some 70 kilometres away. Here, hot water at 38 degrees Celsius bubbles up from a geothermal source, and holidaymakers can take a pleasantly warm dip in the pond as the icebergs drift past in the fjord.
While individual tourists have discovered Qaqortoq and its green surroundings, package tour groups tend to go to Ilulissat Icefjord some 1,000 kilometres to the north, with the Sermeq Kujalleq (Jakobshavn Glacier) on Disko Bay.
The Icefjord was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004. Its glacier is the most productive in the northern hemisphere, shedding huge icebergs every summer into the sea across its width of seven kilometres, some measuring hundreds of metres across.
Narsarsuaq, close to the southern tip of Greenland offers history, ancient and more recent, in the shape of a Viking settlement and a US Air Force base. The airport still shows traces of the Blue West 1 airbase dating back to the period 1941-58.
The base was an important staging post for military flights to war-torn Europe, but lost its usefulness with the advent of mid-air refuelling.
A speedboat ride away across the fjord from Narsarsuaq are the remains of what is thought to be where Erik the Red settled around 985 after arriving from Iceland.
A few years later, around 1000, Greenland’s first Christian Church is said to have been built here. A reconstruction of it stands on the grassy slope running down to the fjord.