It all began with an idea….
A couple of months ago I returned from the trip of a lifetime. During the month of June, in the short space of eight days, I left planet earth. Momentarily of course. I visited another planet and returned with my Faroese tales.
For me personally, ‘the trip of a lifetime’ means that I am alone, discovering a new place without too many tourists to compete with. The Faroe Islands taught me that the landscape on planet Earth can be so impressive that I am made to feel small, like we are all insignificant in this world.
This is the destination you need to visit if you a) need some good air b) want to escape ‘reality’ for a period of time and c) want to see scenery like never before.
It all started with an idea, a crazy one you might say. My cousin was visiting and she wanted to see Scandinavia. As I’m based in Germany, driving to Scandinavia didn’t seem like a difficult feat. We made plans to head north from Frankfurt and take the German-Danish ferry from Puttgarden to Rodby and zip around Denmark for a week or so. My cousin has Danish neighbours and they were kind to arrange accommodation for us in a couple of different locations. En route to Copenhagen, we decided to stop at Mons Klint – a place which seems so ‘un-Danish’ that it’s worth a look. Forget the white cliffs of Dover, or Normandy – Denmark’s lesser known giant chalk cliffs must be seen!
A lingual liability…
After leaving the cliffs, we lost tire pressure in all four of our friends. I’ll put this down to driving on what ‘seemed’ to be a road but was indeed not. During this moment, I was wishing I had listened to Dad more when he tried to teach me how to maintain a car. Feeling a little ridiculous, we drove around Denmark’s most remote farmland, in search of a mechanic. Elated, we spotted one – run by a man so old but so kind. There was a clear language barrier, which was unusual for Denmark. Most of its citizens are more fluent in English than most English native speakers. However, my acting skills prevailed and I swiftly sorted the situation. While imitating the blowing up of a balloon and pointing to the tires, he quickly got the job done. At the end of it, I paid him with a bottle of wine, which I had cheaply smuggled over the border from Germany.
Let’s go to….. Sweden…
Fast forward a few days in Copenhagen, we realised it would be a geographic crime not to step foot onto a train bound for Sweden. “It’s never been cheaper to get to Sweden!” I said to my cousin after paying 30 euros for the ticket. The entire trip was done in under 30 minutes. We spent half of the day in Malmo & the other half in Lund. A separate Swedish blog post will follow, stay tuned.
On my 29th birthday, (a very insignificant number), we headed for Aarhus via Odense. Odense was nice enough to stop at for lunch and a coffee but we were on to bigger things. We also realised we had been pronouncing Odense wrong the whole time. It sounds less like an audible word and more like a sound you make when you’re choking on a biscuit.
Aarhus was without a doubt my favourite Danish spot. Its tiny little cobblestone streets, endless supply of locals on bikes and rows of colourful houses were a delight to the senses. I’d love to return to Aarhus properly another time.
I checked European Coffee Trip for a speciality coffee option and found Great Coffee owned by the Danish barista champion Søren Stiller Markussen. Originally an old bathhouse, this factory style café has been converted into an ultra-hip, speciality coffee institution in Aarhus.
Our days in Denmark were numbered – the trip we had been fantasising over was just on the precipice. It was time to drive to the most northern part of Denmark’s coast and wait in line at the Hirtshals harbour and board the Smyril Line ferry.
Taking the ferry to the Faroe Islands…
Many people had asked me if I was crazy before the trip. They couldn’t understand why we would drive all the way up to take a 45 hour ferry when we could easily fly to the Faroese island of Vagar and rent a car from the airport. I made this decision for a few reasons – firstly, our car was new, and we wanted to take it for a real spin. Secondly, taking your own car brings something so adventurous. It’s yours which means you don’t have to worry about what happens to it like you do with a rental.
So there you have it – our black beast boarded the ferry and we crammed onto the boat. It was at this point that I realised why our cabin ticket had been so cheap. Do not for one second assume that I had booked pure luxury for this trip. Oh no. We were shoved to the very bottom floor of the ship, like poverty stricken third class people on the Titanic. We were even below the cars. There must have been some kind of seafood ‘catch of the day’ being stored down on our level as the entire place stank like fish. Gross.
Anyway, the trip wasn’t all that bad. If you’re on a budget and don’t mind sharing, it’ll be okay. In saying that, we upgraded to a pricier room on the way back. Overall it was a two-night stay – the morning of arrival the alarm woke us up at 4AM to get to our car by 5AM. And this is when the magic began.
A first look at Torshavn: the smallest capital city in the world.
It was everything we could’ve imagined. However, not as small as I had thought. There is no apartment living in this country – everyone has a house and there’s quite a bit of sprawl. So although the city only has around 12 000 inhabitants, Torshavn felt more like a bayside town.
The island of Streymoy
After disembarking the ship, we checked into our Torshavn accommodation and hit the road with the car. It was a classic sense of “let’s go get lost” as eye-rollingly cheesy as that sounds. We followed our loins and well, it was a pretty good first try. After following the first scenic route we could find (a long, barren road for about thirty minutes), we pulled over to stop and take some photos of the landscape. We were already impressed by this point.
We pushed forward – only to come across a change in landscape. It went from being slightly mountainous and a rich auburn brown (see above) to being foggy, mystical and dark green (see below).
We took a swift turn left from the green scenic route number 50 and were met with the most spectacular view at a place called Stidjafjall. It was here that my cousin took a photo of me and the car (which Mercedes Benz actually reposted on their Instagram page) and we sat there absorbing it all. I won’t bore you with the details of our emotion – but after such a long and arduous journey, it was lovely to be rewarded with this.
It was at this very point (above) that we knew the next eight days were going to be unforgettable and full of colour, life and adventure. We weren’t wrong.
The Faroe Islands is a country made up of 18 islands – most of which are connected by underwater sea tunnels or bridges. Those which aren’t, are connected by ferry and helicopter services.
Streymoy is the largest island and is home to many incredible tourist spots such as Torshavn (the capital), Kirkjubour (the country’s most important historical site with a 12th century church), KOKS (a recently Michelin Star awarded restaurant), Saksun (an idyllic village with 20 inhabitants, grass covered roofs and a big lake surrounded by a valley – see above) and Vestmanna (a region with very tall cliffs and a good spot for bird sightseeing.)
Vestmanna is also home to the funny looking dome houses (see below). Drive to Vestmanna town centre on the number 21 red road and you can’t miss them. Also, if you’re chasing puffins, we had been told that we might see a couple in Vestmanna. Sadly we didn’t see them but the man at the tourist information told us we could catch them in Gjogv. As we were heading there the next day, we thought that would be our chance. More on the puffins later….
Island of Streymoy: Kirkjubour & KOKS
Walk into the restaurant and you’ll immediately smell the scent of wood and get a sense of space. At one given time, they will only allow bookings for around 30 people each night. This means it could be a little hard to get in however I suppose that’s the sign of a healthy business. They are usually fully booked so make your reservation early. The restaurant is almost entirely made up of windows which overlook Kirkjubour’s bay.
We were lucky to watch Ziska create two signature dishes from his menu specifically for this article. The first was ‘skate (in the stingray family) with potatoes, seaweed powder, bladderwrack seaweed broth and tapioca’.
Next up he created a desert of ‘gel of grass, baked rhubarb, wild chervil plant garnish (stems, leaves, shoots and flowers) with dandelions and daisies to go with a burnt cream.‘
KOKS’ Restaurant Concept
“The starting point of KOKS style is Poul Andrias Ziska’s culinary creations. Head chef at KOKS, he has the ability to put Faroese landscape in a pot.
Pioneer of the New Nordic Kitchen in the Faroe Islands, KOKS is characterised by its unique Faroese identity and by its commitment to sustainable and local products. Its cuisine style is earthy and refined, ancient and modern. Instead of the new, it emphasises the old (drying, fermenting, pickling, curing and smoking) with a larger goal of returning balance to earth itself. At KOKS, the cuisine is about seasonality, seriously engaging with agriculture and history and of making age-old food delightful to modern palates.”
Address: í Geilini 13 / FO-175 Kirkjubøur / Faroe Islands
Open Tuesday to Saturday / Click here to book a table
Kirkjubour is a great place to start at if you’ve just arrived in the Faroe Islands. Besides the scenery to take in, the area is steeped in history with the oldest inhabited farmhouse dating back to 1100 and an old 12th century church. I have read online that it’s a nice hike from Torshavn if you’re feeling active. That being said, we drove. We had plenty of hiking opportunities coming up.
After spending a good three nights on the island of Streymoy, we thought it was best to change the location. We hopped into our car and headed for a new island: Eysturoy. This turned out to be a great decision. Eysturoy was completely void of well…. people. It was however plentiful in sheep supply. We’d seen sheep on the previous island but the amount here was *never before seen*. Imagine you’re driving around a rocky, cliffy island, surrounded by newly birthed spring lamb, fleecy sheep, swooping oyster catchers (the national Faroese bird) and to top it off, you’re staying in a picturesque and quaint little village.
Puffin chasing in Gjogv….
Oh my. I had read that Gjogv was a must see but to see this place with my own eyeballs was something else. We paid a few bucks and decided to do the 10KM hike through private property. We knew from previous exercise attempts that we get hangry pretty quickly, so my cousin and I made 6 sandwiches. Yes you read that correctly.
I think I stood at the Gjogv gorge for about 25 minutes, hoping to see a flash of orange, hoping that my beloved puffin would appear and show itself to me. To no avail. However while staring out aimlessly towards the ocean, a friendly Japanese woman said hello and in conversation discovered that I was on the hunt to spot a puffin. She told me to simply book a ferry to the island of Mykines and that she had been there the day before. She said it was practically a puffin wonderland. I made a mental note to do it and continued my hike.
Goodbye Gjogv, hello airport pickup!
Time to check into our third accomodation for the trip and drive to the airport to collect my man. The airport is on the island of Vagar and it’s a really scenic and easy 45 minute drive from Torshavn. (Everything is easily driven in the Faroes.)
There was no time to fluff about – we ordered him straight into his hiking gear and told him we were going to do an easy 45 minute hike. Four and a half hours later, after getting lost several times and being swooped by nesting sea birds, we had made it to the top of a very special place. Definitely one of the most remarkable pieces of landscape I’ve seen in my 29 years.
Sorvagsvatn Lake: Island of Vagar
See what I mean? This place is one of the Faroes’ most easily recognisable nature spots. It’s known as the optical illusion. Actually, it was beyond breathtaking in person. As I was dangerously perched here, (sorry Mum) I watched the waves crash hundreds of metres below me, I saw the biggest & fattest seagulls swoop around me, heard the wind blowing in my face and smelt the strongest scent of salty sea air.
Reaching the lake for this hike should be easy enough, we just had no idea what we were doing. Oh and the country doesn’t really believe in many signs. So you need to know what to look for. Here are my vague instructions: heading from Torshavn, through the underground tunnel to Vagar, just before you hit the airport, you’ll see a big lake. There are some small wooden huts like the one pictured above. If you can see a tiny little unmarked car park nearby these huts & beside the lake, park your car and walk through the small iron gate. Lift the latch to enter.
*Pictured above wearing Helly Hansen hiking boots and the Kara parka*
More of Vagar’s Gems: Gasadalur Waterfall….
We’ve all seen this waterfall in all Faroese photos. It’s a pretty powerful waterfall spewing out of the ground. Definitely worth the drive from the airport & the Sorvagsvatn Lake. Head for the town Gasadalur and you should see a few cars parked on the road. A couple of cars parked = tourists / tourist spot. That’s how few people there are in the Faroes.
***Mykines Puffin Alert***
I love birds, especially funny ones and this was some kind of bird paradise. Immediately upon arriving, we heard the prehistoric squawks of all types of birds. I had a good feeling that in my puffin quest, the third time would be a charm.
The island of Mykines is a little bit of a local taboo right now. I’ll tell you why. The local business and perhaps even the tourism board have clocked on that puffin spotting is a big potential enterprise. They are in the process of making it impossible for regular tourists to book a ferry, turn up and just roam about as they please. Pretty soon you’ll have to have a certified guide to show you around. And that guide will be very expensive. The tourist office in Torshavn was already beginning to sell helicopter ride + a Mykines guide for a couple of hundred euros per person. We were lucky and were still able to get the ferry by ourselves.
I can’t choose which photo to keep. The puffins are acting so hilariously in both photos.
The local authorities say that the new restrictions are to protect the environment and the puffin colony. In direct contrast to that, one day the headline of the newspaper declared that Mykines “shouldn’t become a money making venture.” I guess it’s a polarising issue. I’m all for preserving and protecting the environment of course – although I do have to point out that the 9KM hiking track goes directly through the colony. If there’s any sense that the birds are nervous of you walking through their home, there’s no way to avoid that.
Home hospitality in Mykines….
As you know by now, the Faroe Islands is a sparsely populated place. In total I counted roughly 25 restaurants in the entire country. Before you spit out whatever you’re currently eating in shock, yes that’s correct. But do not fear – there’s a system in the country to help the starving and it’s called home hospitality. If you see such a sign, simply knock on their door and you will sit at their table and be served anything on the menu. On the island of Mykines, we were delighted to meet Marit at his B&B. He served us hot tea and freshly made orange cake. It was so delicious and after finishing my piece, I asked him why it was so good. He told me it was full of lard.
The black house in the middle of the below photo (with the white windows) is his house. If you want to email in advance, I think they offer a bedroom stay: email@example.com
Edging closer to the end of the trip in Kunoy…
Wanting to tick another couple of accessible islands off the list, we drove to Kunoy, Bordoy and Vidoy for the day. Admittedly it was raining and the weather was gastly this entire day so it could’ve had a slight impact on our impressions but we didn’t find anything magical in Vidoy. In Bordoy you’ve got the Faroes’ second largest city called Klaksvik. We were bordering starvation and had to stop – luckily we all had a great meal at the only restaurant in town called Frida.
Bordoy was an interesting experience though. Although it was moody and foggy, we decided to take some slow driving videos with music. What we failed to see was a herd of sheep coming down the mountain to tell us to back off. (We were close to their babies.) After being accosted by mama sheep, the three of us were held hostage in our car for a while. This took place right after the photo of me in the car (below).
Kunoy is the only island with trees. It actually has the country’s last remaining forest. I hope the word forest hasn’t conjured up impressive images of vast plantation for you though. It was anything but that. Honestly a handful of trees. Apparently the Vikings cut all the trees down back in the day and they never grew back. (*There is no photo of the forest in this post.*)
If you got this far, I’d like to congratulate you! This was indeed a very long post. I’d like to ask you a favour now… you know how long it took you to read this and you can probably imagine how long it took me to take the photos, collect the info and write this blog. I would love you to share this with your network, email it to friends and family or just leave me a comment telling me what you think of what you’ve read. I read every single comment.
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The Faroe Islands is a self-governing archipelago, part of the Kingdom of Denmark. It comprises 18 rocky, volcanic islands between Iceland and Norway in the North Atlantic Ocean, connected by road tunnels, ferries, causeways and bridges. Hikers and bird-watchers are drawn to the islands’ mountains, valleys and grassy heathland, and steep coastal cliffs that harbour thousands of seabirds. (Wikipedia)
Still looking for more information?
Consult the following two blogs for more info on the Faroe Islands
Infrastructure & Signage:
The Faroe Islands is a self-governing country under the Kingdom of Denmark. (For reference, Greenland is also in the Kingdom.) This means the Danes built all of their bridges, roads and tunnels in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and naughties. For this reason, the roads were of fantastic quality. Any car you drive will make driving here pleasant. A couple of times we went ‘off the beaten track’, driving on unpaved roads and out of those times, only one caused us trouble. (What happened was a small stone got lodged between two metal parts above the tire and the car was driving with a scary screech for quite a while. We took it to a mechanic, he found the stone and charged me 50 bucks for the ‘service’. I had disrupted his dinner though, so fair enough.)