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The Faroe Islands - Remote and Undiscovered

Image Title: Hiking the Old Postman Trail in the Faroe Islands [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Hiking the Old Postman Trail in the Faroe Islands [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: The resting stone between Bøur and Gásadalur on the island of Vágar [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
The resting stone between Bøur and Gásadalur on the island of Vágar [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Sky Fishing for seabirds in the Faroe Islands, circa 1880 [Photo: Faroe Islands National Heritage Museum}
Sky Fishing for seabirds in the Faroe Islands, circa 1880 [Photo: Faroe Islands National Heritage Museum}

Image Title: Just where are the Faroe Islands? [Photo: Google Maps]
Just where are the Faroe Islands? [Photo: Google Maps]

Image Title: Waterfall above the village of Saksun [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Waterfall above the village of Saksun [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Photographing sea cliffs in the Faroe Islands [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Photographing sea cliffs in the Faroe Islands [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Barbara's Fish House and Ræst restaurants in Tórshavn [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Barbara's Fish House and Ræst restaurants in Tórshavn [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Sky Fishing. Really. It’s a thing in the Faroe Islands and our hiking guide for the day, Jóhannus from Reika Adventures, was taught how to snatch sea birds as they fly around sea cliffs by his father and grandfather like they were taught by their fathers. Evidently, the trick is to hold on to the 40m (120ft) cliff with one hand, use your other two hands to catch a flying bird using the 15 foot bamboo pole with fish net on the end, and then use your fourth hand to pull the angry bird from the net and wring it’s neck. No Problem. Jóhannus’ family settled in the Faroe Islands many generations ago. Today, he is guiding us along the Old Postman Trail between Bøur and Gásadalur on the island of Vágar. Before 2006 there was no road connecting these two Villages so three times a week, the Postman would pick up and deliver mail using this 6km (3.5mi) trail that climbs over a saddle and is far too steep for horses. The poor people of Gásadalur also didn’t have a church so they walked this trail at least once a week to go to church. Legend has it when somebody died they carried the coffin over this trail and were only allowed to set it down on the consecrated resting stone at the top.

On our Old Postman Trail hike in late March, we were fortunate to have the second sunny day of the month. The views from the trail and the saddle were spectacular. We could see Mykines Island to the West and Tindhólmur Island to the South across a gentle swell in the North Atlantic Sea. At the top of the saddle between the villages, we stopped for a breakfast snack of coffee and homemade cakes before heading down the steep switchbacks to Gásadalur and the dramatic waterfall that flows through the tiny village before tumbling 40m (120ft) into the sea. By Faroe Islands standards, the Gásadalur waterfall could be considered Iconic since it is easily the most photographed waterfall in the Faroes. After a sea cliff lunch of homemade Faroese salmon and lamb sandwiches, we drove to the tiny village of Miðvágur and hiked another 4km (2.5mi) each way along Lake Sørvágsvatn to see where this spectacular hanging lake spills Bøssdalafossur falls 30m (90ft) into the North Atlantic Sea. We wrapped up our day by abselling/rapelling 30m (90ft) into Ravnagjógv Gorge (Translated: The Raven’s Gorge) and the [extremely cold] creek running through the bottom. All in all, it was a brilliant day.

The Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 islands roughly half way between Norway and Iceland. The whole archipelago is 50 miles wide and 70 miles long. During WWII, the small island of Vágar was occupied by British troops who built an airstrip at the North end of Lake Sørvágsvatn that would eventually become the Faroe Islands' commercial airport. Today the airport, FAE, services 10 European cities with daily flights from Iceland and bi-weekly flights from the European continent and the UK. The Faroes are also remarkably well connected with good roads and sea tunnels, well-established helicopter and ferry routes, and 3G/4G mobile coverage through many of the islands. The permanent resident population of the Faroes passed 50,000 people in the spring of 2017 to much celebration but the sheep population is holding steady at around 80,000 sheep. The number of sheep will swell to over 100,000 in the spring as lambs are born but many of these will be slaughtered.

The weather is, well . . . . North Atlantic weather.  Cold and rainy is the basic forecast in the winter, but summer month forecasts warm up to cool and partly sunny. The economy is largely based on fishing exports which are primarily farm-raised Atlantic Salmon. Tourism is a distant second, but there are many organizations like Visit Faroe Islands and Visit Tórshavn that are working hard to help tourists make the most of their visit.

Politically, the Faroe Islands are an independent country but not a sovereign nation. They are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark and use Danish Krónur as their currency; however, they compete in national sports as their own country and are not part of the European Union. 

When we visited in March, we were invited to join a local Supper Club sponsored by Visit Tórshavn and hosted by a delightful couple from the small village of Velbastaður, near Tórshavn. The meal served traditional Faroese dishes like fermented lamb and pickled herring along with cabbage and rhubarb. As a special treat, we were served meatballs from their neighbor’s dairy cow that had been slaughtered the previous fall. Delicious. The evening began with a toast out of a common friendship glass with Aquavit, a schnapps type liquor, and dinner was served with Okkara (Translated: Ours in Faroese) beer which is brewed in the same small village of Velbastaður.

One of our best drives was to the village of Saksun near the Western coast of Streymoy Island. It has a reported population of 30 people and appeared to be at least four times as many sheep. The village has a church and signs for a museum, that unfortunately for us, was still operating on winter hours – and March is definitely still winter in the Faroes – so we were not able to see inside. Many of the villages, including Saksun, do not have restaurants or lodging so you need to plan your trip ahead of time with the somewhat limited tourism infrastructure, particularly during the long winter season. This is important if you are coming to the Faroes to attend one of the five annual music festivals.

One thing you can count on year-round is hearing legends about trolls and witches. You can also see many rock formations that – legend has it – come from trolls and witches who were caught by the sun and turned to stone. You can also count on seeing plenty of sheep year-round. Faroe Island Sheep are an interesting breed with spike horns like mountain goats and long, stringy coats of wool. Our guide Jóhannus from our first day told us there were seventy different words for the color sheep in the Faroes language. So there you have it.

During our four day stay in the Faroe’s, we spent our first night literally across the street from the airport at Hotel Vagar and the next three nights in Tórshavn at Hotel Hafnia. The best meal that we had in the Faroes was at Barbara’s Fish House. The fish soup arrived with large pieces of cod, salmon, and shrimp in a bowl and a fish broth was served in a tea kettle to pour over the seafood. It was a delightful presentation for a wonderful dish. The village of Kirkjubøur has the Faroe’s first Michelin Star restaurant, Koks; however, they are only open during the summer season from May through September, so we were not able to try it. We also had nice meals at the Gjaargardur Guest House in Gjógv (which has accommodations as well) and at Friđa Café in Klaksvik. For a truly authentic Faroese meal, check out Raest in Tórshavn for a complete meal of fermented dishes served in a building with a grass roof.

Our time in the Faroe Islands was special even if the weather really wasn’t. The people were friendly and our experiences felt more authentic than the spoon-fed tourism that you find in so many discovered parts of the world. If you like to get off the beaten path and use a globe to explain where you are taking your holiday, then the Faroe Islands should be put on your bucket list. Bonus points for hiring a boat to explore the islands from the sea, but that is for our next trip to these amazing islands in the North Atlantic Sea.

Phil & Diane

Tórshavn, Faroe Islands

[Disclosure: Open Door Travelers received no compensation or discount from the businesses mentioned in this blog entry.]