Welcome to the land of theatrical geographical formations, where towering cliffs, which look like slices of intricate basalt dominate the landscape, and streams and waterfalls pierce the verdant slopes.
Viewed from above, the Faroe Islands resemble wedges of massive emeralds that seem to plunge into the blue raging sea, so it’s not unusual to believe these surreal lands cannot be inhabited by anything but birds and sheep (and indeed here you will find about two million seabirds such as guillemots and fulmars and, of course, the famously endearing puffins as well as some 70,000 sheep). But once you step foot on its virescent pastures, you will also spot quaint colourful timber houses covered in carpets of thick grass — and even an occasional local who is casually performing his weekend ritual of mowing a rooftop lawn.
Located somewhere between Norway and Iceland, the Faroes are a self-governed country within the Kingdom of Denmark, where inhabitants have long made their living from the sea. With its collection of 18 craggy islands and capricious weather — which in only five minutes can change from an eerie haze wrapping the deep-green mountains to heavy downpours to a peculiar sky suddenly erupting into bright colours — the archipelago can easily be confused with Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’.
Beautiful in its unpredictability and ruggedness, the Faroes surely have their own obvious charms to woo any intrepid traveller — besides being one of only two places in the world where the solar eclipse on 20th March 2015 can be observed — but there are also a few other surprising elements that this isolated country has up its sleeve.
Far, Faroe away
Faroe Islands are beautifully and even bizarrely structured, with mind-blowing viewpoints ideal for hikes and long walks. The incredibly fresh air and landscapes — which really seem carved by Norse gods — are indeed a feast for the eyes, transporting visitors to a forgotten yet charming land. Plus, quaint turf-roof houses, verdant hills, and the endearing grazing sheep never fail to be eye candy even for the most exigent sightseer. Aside from Mykines (which is also a paradise for puffins), walking options include a hike around Sørvágsvatn Lake on Vagar, a stroll around Saksun village on Streymoy, a tour of Tórshavn, and the historic postal road hike to Gásadalur. An ultimate scenic walking path is also in the village of Gjógv on Eysturoy island, located just an hour’s drive from the capital.
Fresh take on fresh
Until one or two generations ago, most locals were either fishermen or shepherds, subsisting on a simple diet of fermented lamb called skerpikjøt and fish — a type of cuisine that had little to do with gastronomic art. But these days, the small nation emerges as an exquisite culinary destination, where even the most discerning gastro-tourists can satiate their refined palate. In the Faroes, you will observe for yourself that the movement of New Nordic Cuisine has been given an ever fresher take than anywhere else in Scandinavia. Inspired by nature and tradition, the innovative Faroese cuisine has actually been thoroughly refined for the pure pleasure of all senses. Here, both local and international chefs practise foraging no matter how busy they are in the kitchen. With a deep curiosity and imagination, these chefs create masterful interpretations of local fare and many times you will be surprised with fine touches such as plates decorated with locally sourced herbs, driftwood and seaweed. Also, rumour has it that the islands are home to some of the world’s best seafood (you may even come upon langoustines as big as lobsters!), prepared in unique combinations that unravel a symphony of tastes, smells and colours.
The cream and navy Faroese sweater became a cult fashion item after the success of the popular Danish TV detective series “The Killing” and ever since, everyone became smitten with its design and authentic Nordic feel. With its interesting patterns originally used by the fishermen’s wives to distinguish their husbands as they approached the shore after long periods at sea, the jumper somehow represents the symbol of a nation’s identity and culture, as for many local women, learning how to knit on their grandmother’s lap has always been the norm. Nowadays, the remarkable knitting culture is still perpetuated and even made “public”, with an interesting Faroese Knitting Festival (16-18th April 2015) which is held in the homes of the people of Fuglafjørður. As the Faroese are known for their social gatherings, good food, soulful singing, and joyous dancing, you can be sure to have an amazing time!
Engulfed in music
The Faroes might not be the kind of place you first think of when it comes to music. But despite its small size, the country experiences a real cultural microcosm — communities, audiences, festivals and gigs all make the musical scene extremely vibrant and attractive. In the tiny village of Gøta, you can attend the effervescent G! Festival (16-18th July 2015) with its quirky bands and amazing location: here the sky is peppered with wheeling guillemots and gulls and the background is a dramatic green sloped mountain. To celebrate and endure long winters, the Faroese have long held the tradition of ‘húsaganga’ or ‘house-walking’, by which communities gathered around the fireplace in the living room to share stories and sing songs. Today, visitors can experience a glimpse of the tradition at the homespun Hoyma Festival, where villagers’ homes are turned into stages and anyone is welcome to catch live gigs of alt-folk duos, classical guitarists and even reclusive folk heroes.
Hooked on a feeling
To go angling in the Faroe Islands is a memorable experience one can’t find anywhere else in the world. Thanks to the sheer isolation of the islands, fishing is a surreal experience, which will leave anyone in awe with the incredible force and glory of nature. Faroese waters are bountiful in brown trout, lake trout, sea trout and salmon, so feeling the fish nip on the hook can be quite exhilarating, especially as afterwards, the catch can be yours to enjoy. Do note that fishing along the rivers and streams is only allowed from 1st May to 31st August, and you’ll need to get a permit at the nearest tourist centre. If you’re in for the thrill, head to Streymoy, Eysturoy, Vágar and Sandoy islands, considered some of the best locations for trout fishing.
Editor’s note: The Faroe Islands are recommended in Quotient’s A-Z of Travel for 2015.