Something is Fermented in the State of Denmark

The Faroe islands is a self-governing archipelago and part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but there is more to this small Atlantic archipelago than the traditional dishes of fermented lamb and fish.

I was lucky enough to get to visit the Faroes to see what it is like first hand and to explore the possibility of Archipelago Choice organising holidays to this destination.

From the UK, the only direct flight (at the moment) is from Edinburgh Airport. From Edinburgh it’s a surprisingly short flight (under 90 minutes) to Vágar Airport, so I arrived late afternoon on a Thursday. It was then a short transfer to Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, which meant I was able to get to Hotel Hafnia, my home for the next four nights, with plenty of time to start exploring the area.

Before heading out for food I took myself down to the harbour to see the 16th century fortress, Skansin, with it’s more modern cannons, lighthouse, and views across the harbour to the grass roofed government buildings on Tinganes (which has been the seat of government on the island since the earliest settlers).

Those that have seen my blog about my trip to Lisbon earlier in the year will know that I am partial to some fine dining. In the Faroe Islands there is a 2-stared Michelin restaurant (KOKS) as well as two other restaurants that are listed by Michelin; however, their menus were more traditional (i.e. seafood/sheep based) and being vegetarian I did wonder if I would find enough places to eat of any quality at all! For my first evening in Tórshavn I went to the restaurant Katrina Christiansen and had a 5-course vegan taster menu with matching beer, and it was, quite possibly, one of the best meals I have ever had – but maybe that was the novelty of beer being served like it was a fancy wine.

My first full day on the Faroe Islands was spent visiting accommodations and activity providers, which was informative, but not really the sort of stuff that makes an interesting blog post. Between the hotel visits I did stop by Bitin,  a lovely little café in the centre of town for a coffee and what they describe as a ‘new style’ Nordic sandwich, which was, again, delicious.

In the evening I ate in one of the restaurants in the hotel before heading out to sample the nightlife of Tórshavn and ended up in a grass-roofed craft beer pub teaching two Danes how to play chess.

Despite a slightly late night and perhaps one too many local beers I was up and out early the next morning for one of the things I was looking forward to the most  – getting out of town and exploring the bleak but beautiful landscape. I was collected from the hotel by my guide for the day, Per. We drove, via viewpoint looking toward the island of Koltur (population, one – although this doubles when the occupant’s wife visits), through the picturesque village of Bøur, to the start of the postman’s path that leads to the village of Gásadalur and the eminently Instagrammable waterfall of Múlafossur.

I’m not usually one for hiking with a guide, but I was glad to have Per with me to tell me stories behind some of the rocks/cairns that we passed on the way. I have of late forgone all custom of exercise, but the scenery here was just too enticing, so I had to run back the way we had came, whilst Per walked back through the new tunnel connecting the village of Gasadalur to the rest of the island (that was only opened in 2003 – previously the postperson had to walk this route three times a week).

Heading back to the car we were delayed as the shepherds were bringing the sheep off the mountains and we didn’t want to get in the way. Whilst waiting I hear a sound familiar to anyone from the Lake District – someone up on the fell shouting commands to their sheepdog: ‘come-bye’ (telling the dog to move in a clockwise direction).

After the walk we headed to a café (Fiskastykkið) to refuel. There was one vegetarian option on the menu (excluding the cake – baking is apparently a popular activity in the Faroe Islands), but it was, again, delicious and easily a match for anything you would find in a more cosmopolitan destination.

Heading back to Tórshavn we stopped at Sornfelli, just below the old Cold War radar station. I’d spent most of my time since arriving on the Faroes Islands slack-jawed in amazement at the scenery (it’s very much like the Lake District, but with added fjords and huge sea cliffs), but the views from this location were something else again. I was talking to a local lad behind the bar at the hotel that evening  and when I asked what his one highlight would be of life in the Faroe Islands, and he said it was going to this location on a summer evening (when the sun does not completely set) and seeing the landscape and layers shifting cloud beneath you – I’d find it hard to disagree.

The next day I decided to get a bit of Faroese culture. I walked out through town to Svartafoss Waterfall, located in a protected area within Tórshavn, before heading back via the Nordic House (a cultural centre/theatre with café), and the National Gallery (the image at the top of this post is a work called Colony by Edward Fuglø) located in a park toward the north of the town.

In the afternoon I met up with Bartal from the local bike shop for a guided mountain bike ride. We headed south out of town before heading up the valley behind Tórshavn where he will be hosting a mountain biking competition in a few weeks’ time – I was worried that this would mean it would be gnarly mountain biking more suited to my colleagues Max and Paul, but the trails were gentle and shared with dog walkers and horse riders (we did have to dismount once to cross a small muddy stream).

On my last day I was to be picked up after lunch and taken back to the airport. In the morning I had a walk around the government building on Tinganes (including the Prime Minister’s office) and found the Viking compass carved onto the rock.

I then headed to the lithographic workshop, Steinprent, where I was shown around by Jan. As with everyone I met on my trip, he was incredibly friendly and welcoming. After chatting for a while, he invited me to join him and his colleague Friða for a coffee and some Icelandic liquorice and chocolate sweets whilst we talked about art, food, and life in general.

After that I had enough time to do some souvenir shopping and to buy some Faroese treats to bring back for the team. Then it was a short transfer back to the airport for my return flight back to Edinburgh.

I was only in the Faroe Islands for a few days, but it felt longer – in a good way! I certainly want to go back again as there is still so much stunning scenery to explore be it on foot, by bike, by boat, or even by helicopter.

By: Steve J