Wild beauty and adventure in the Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands found themselves making world headlines a couple of months ago, when it was the very best place on earth to watch the full solar eclipse. National Geographic Magazine had noted their charm quite some time ago, voting them at the very top of their long list of the best islands in 2007. Despite that accolade, this small country, part of Denmark but also proudly independent, retains an exotic sense of isolation. There are still only about 50,000 permanent residents of these mysterious and ruggedly scenic isles. Visitor numbers may be steadily growing, but for now it remains a dream destination for the cognoscenti rather than the mass market.

Hosvik, Faroe Islands

Tórshavn, the charming little capital, is both a picturesque day trip destination and the ideal place to stay. Its harbour, subject of many picture postcards, is the perfect launching spot for the wildlife and adventure cruises for which the Faroes is famous. A short boat ride provides access to extraordinary biodiversity: teeming gannets, diving puffins, and for the fortunate, glimpses of the seals and whales that mass in the cold, clear, azure waters. It’s hard to get the true measure of the islands without getting out on the water, feeling as the Vikings must once have felt, rushing with the wind from one islet to another.

Torshavn, Faroe Islands

One of the region’s, and perhaps the world’s, finest restaurants, Koks, can be found in the capital. A pioneer of new Nordic cuisine, it offers an unmissable crash course introduction to the culinary practices and delicacies of the Faroe Islands, all served with a panoramic view of Tórshavn. It is the best, but by no means the only, place to sample unique local products, including the Faroese take on dried cod, served smeared with butter. Many houses still follow the traditional practice of wind-drying cod under the eaves of their roof. According to locals, holding it and testing its scent will reveal whether it is being prepared for consumption or simply on show for curious foreign visitors. Another fascinating local treat is Skerpikjøt, a kind of wind-dried lamb, strong and distinctive and served with hearty dark brown bread. Typically this is washed down with a schnapps or local beer, although the startlingly pure, clear local water is just as intoxicating in its own way.

Kaldbaksfjordur, Faroe Islands

In a country with pleasingly moderate visitor numbers, the widest choice of accommodation can be found in Tórshavn. The best bet for travellers, particularly families, is one of the small range of luxury holiday apartments in the town. A stay at one of them not only ensures space and comfort, but is in close proximity to many amenities which are scarce across the rest of the sparsely-populated islands, including bars, nightlife and car hire. In a beguiling blend of old and new, the Faroes live a traditional life but are very twenty-first century in terms of their virtual connectivity.

Sydradalurolavur,  Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are as enjoyable explored by car as they are by boat. Inland, winding roads reveal one imposing and pristine landscape after another. From a distance animals could just as well be vegetables or minerals here, as sheep blend into the hills like gorse bushes and birds sit stark and stone-like on the boulders strewn over the landscape, as if ancient gods have been playing marbles. A favourite Faroese joke relates to a small detention centre overlooking the lovely Mjørkadalur valley: apparently the views from the prison are so gorgeous that many have been tempted to do something naughty just to spend some time in there.

Velbastadur, Faroe Islands

Falls and streams bubble down all the hills and mountains in the Faroes, with many feeding into the largest freshwater lake. Just one long-standing provider, known simply as Lakeside, offers tours around the lake, which also take in the nation’s biggest waterfall. Between a pleasant and relaxing boat ride with light meals, there is a panoramic hike which offers access to both the waterfall and spectacular views of the waves crashing against the sheer cliffs in one side, the rolling green valleys on the other.

A spectacular job has been done of retaining the Faroes’ charm through sympathetic, low key development over the centuries. Keenly environmentally aware, with an aspiration to have zero reliance on fossil fuel in the medium term, in the Faroes settlements add to the beauty of the landscape rather than denuding it. Amongst the most beautiful villages is Saksun, stunningly situated on a beautiful coastal inlet with its own church and museum. The clue is in the name of another village, Gjógv, whose name literally means “gorge”, and where multi-coloured cottages dot the incline towards the dramatic natural harbour.

The Faroese love their country, and they love sharing their country. Friendly and gossipy like all the best small islanders, every conversation reveals fascinating new insights into the isolated culture and unique, quirky history.

Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande is Director of Passepartout Homes Ltd.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Janice says:

    Is one week in the Faroe Islands enough time to get the first taste? I would want to spend one night in Mykines too. Thank you!

  2. Janice,

    One week in Faroe Islands may be enough.

    This year it is too late to book Mykines, as the high season is already fully booked (if you travel there off season you will only experience a limited bird life).

    I would therefore suggest you book now your trip to Faroe Islands for 2016, to stay preferably between mid June to mid August.

    Hope this helps.

    Paola

  3. Emma French says:

    Hi Janice,

    You will feel sad to leave the Faroe Islands after just one week but that is enough time to explore many of its beauties. You must spend a day in Torshavn and go to Koks restaurant. Mykines is also a great idea. If you hire a car, you will ne able to get around many other important sites and stunning villages and seascapes. I had an amazing time there last month!

    Thanks, Emma

  4. Jim says:

    Looks wonderful, but you forget to include pictures and info about the annual pilot whale slaughter. http://observers.france24.com/content/20140917-faroe-islands-pilot-whale-slaughter

  5. Jim, thank you for reminding us that behind this natural beauty lies a terrible stigma. Nevertheless, it is a special place to visit.

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