Travel is a passion of mine. When I am not on vacation, I am planning the next one or reflecting on the previous. Research suggests that anticipation of a great trip can be a source of happiness in itself, and I could not agree more.
Wanderlust is my periodic travel fix. I will either review one of my favorite destinations or share some research on a dream destination. My aim is not to provide a comprehensive travel guide, but rather to inspire you to feed your travel bug. The world is a huge, wonderful place. I can’t see it all, but I can try!
Travel Review #1: The Faroe Islands
Immediately after our plane touched down on the island of Vágar, we rushed to catch a ferry to the fabled seabird sanctuary island of Mykines, only to have the trip canceled due to rough seas. For the next 3 days, the weather blew (pun intended): low clouds, occasional gale-force winds and sideways rain made us glad for our waterproof jackets. It was disappointing but not surprising. After all, this was the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean.
We resolved to enjoy ourselves despite the weather, but nearly lost hope upon our arrival in the southernmost island of Suðuroy (literally South Island). The open seas had been a bit rough during the two-hour ferry from the capital city of Tórshavn to the town of Tvøroyri on Suðuroy (good luck with these pronunciations), a trip made more painful for other reasons (hint: hangover). In a move that will not soon be forgotten, my beautiful wife disappeared from sight upon disembarking, only to be discovered a few minutes later—barfing into the pristine waters of the fjord (in fairness, she is a self-described “easy puker”).
A coffee and pastry break got us reasonable, and we had a few hours to kill before our flat was ready, so we hopped in the rental car and headed further south to see the legendary sea cliffs at Beinisvørð—the highest on the island at over 1500 feet.
We stepped out of the car and strolled leisurely toward the top.
I have never been in a hurricane, but I imagine this was not terribly different. After a few minutes, I had the distinct need for a men’s room—the wind chill was likely a factor—but nary a bathroom was in sight. Giant sea cliffs: how could I resist? I’ll let you imagine the resulting scene, as I am assured that no video exists. To me, it was reminiscent of the Ghostbusters firing a proton pack.
We trudged back to our car, and then: a miracle! As we drove down the mountain, the clouds began to part for the first time in three days…
The Faroe Islands are amazing
Despite our blustery introduction to the Faroe Islands, I cannot recommend a visit highly enough. Before I get into my reasons, many of you are no doubt wondering:
Where are the Faroe Islands?
In the North Atlantic, about halfway between Iceland and the northern tip of Scotland, you’ll find this archipelago of 18 craggy and grassy islands with about 50,000 inhabitants. There’s a good chance you passed right over the Faroe Islands on a flight from the USA to Europe, but few people have heard of them, let alone ventured there. Remote location and iffy weather keep them under the tourist radar, meaning you might be the only tourists around. My wife and I represented precisely 50% of the total tourists on Suðuroy during our time there.
How to get there
We combined our Faroe Islands visit with a trip to Denmark, where my wife had studied abroad. The Faroes are technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark, although there they have their own parliament, with periodic calls for independence/secession.
Most flights to the Faroes are via Atlantic Airways (the national airline), and the majority of those arrive from Copenhagen. Seasonal flights are also possible from Iceland, Norway, and Scotland.
If you have more time or fear of flying, Smyril Line offers limited ferry service from Denmark or Iceland. You can bring your car and dramamine along!
Eight reasons to visit the Faroe Islands
1. Endless Summer days. We traveled in June near the summer solstice, just before the peak (although slow by most standards) tourist season of July and August. The Faroes’ northern latitude means that, while the sun sets, the glow of twilight never quite subsides before the sun rises again. For us, it was fun and disorienting—if a bit exhausting—as we increasingly stayed up later and woke up earlier during our time there. Bring sleeping masks!
2. Jaw-dropping hikes. A combination of wide-open space, wind, and huge sea cliffs makes for some exhilarating hiking in the Faroes (I recommend Björk as a hiking soundtrack). We did a fair amount of hiking on established trails, but a few times we just pulled off the road and scrambled a few hundred yards to cliffs with endless 360-degree vistas.
Some of the most dramatic hiking was on the southernmost island of Suðuroy. The Kallur lighthouse—at the north end of the island of Kalsoy—was also a highlight, as was the abandoned village of Múli on Borðoy. Sadly, our attempts to summit Enniberg, the highest sea cliffs in Europe at almost 2500 feet, were foiled by two straight days of fog. Is it clear the Faroe Islands are not San Diego when it comes to weather?
3. Puffins. These playful seabirds are a national symbol of the Faroes. Once ubiquitous in massive numbers throughout the islands, their numbers have dropped in recent years in part due to the reason-for-all-that-is-bad: climate change. Puffins were historically a critical source of food for the Faroese, and they are still eaten today.
I felt obligated to try some when offered a taste by our bed and breakfast host. Let’s just say I would be shocked if it’s ever on the menu at Chipotle—imagine beef with oily, fishy overtones. The manner in which puffins are (sustainably) hunted during certain times of year is a sight to be seen. Fleygingarstong—triangular nets attached to long poles, like a big lacrosse stick—are used to snatch the birds right out of the air, often near the edge of large sea cliffs.
4. Playing chicken in one of the many tunnels. An impressive network of tunnels, bridges, ferries, and helicopters connect the communities around the islands. Some of the tunnels were quite old (100 years?), and the tunnel design reflected that age. We traversed several one-lane tunnels like the one below. Oh yes, the traffic was two ways. If headlights are barreling at you, either you or the other guy has to pull to the side in designated “caves” that the designers helpfully placed at regular intervals—proving they were not suicidal, merely unconstrained by modern safety standards.
5. Sheep! Like most places with lots of grass, the Faroe Islands have tons of sheep. It was amazing to see them walking near the edge of vertiginous sea cliffs without a care.
6. Sculptures galore. It seems to me that the Faroe Islands has a slight obsession with modern sculpture. We saw many weird, wild and wonderful pieces scattered throughout the islands.
7. Crack ice cream. I don’t think there was rock cocaine in the ice cream from the Bónus food store, but I have a hard time explaining why we craved it daily, and why I still think about it years later. The vanilla ice cream had perfect texture and sweet-tart balance, but the crunchy, malty chocolate sprinkles put it over the top.
8. The Faroese People. It may be travel cliché to mention the friendly locals, but only because it’s generally true. The Føroyingar, as they are called in Faroese, are a proud and hearty people, and we remain in touch with a few individuals seven years later.
One worked in the salmon farming industry, and pointed out the many fisheries speckled among the fjords and inlets around the islands (have you seen Faroe Islands salmon in your local grocery? I have!) Another invited us to a party in Tórshavn after closing time at the pub. Leaving the house and strolling through town in the 3am twilight is a memory I won’t soon forget, especially since we had a 7am ferry to catch the next morning!
Looking for something a little different?
The verdant, vertical, windswept, yet seldom-traveled Faroe Islands should be high on your list. I plan on visiting again someday. If I see you there, I will buy you a crack ice cream cone.