“Whale blubber? We’re going to be eating whale blubber?” Of course, I knew that the Faroe Islands were isolated but I hadn’t imagined that the inhabitants might still enjoy food that their Viking and Celtic ancestors survived on.
The tradition of hunting pilot whales, called The Grind, goes back hundreds of years and the Faroese are proud that they eat and use every bit of the animals.
For visitors whose curiosity is piqued by this traditional type of food, it is worth visiting Aarastova, a restaurant in an ancient building by the docks in Tørshavn, which boasts this traditional Faroese fare and excellent international food. Yes, dried whale meat and salted whale blubber is on the menu plus wind-dried lamb on toast, too. My advice – eat along with new potatoes and you might just manage to get it down.
Our Faroe Islands adventure started with a unexpected 27 hour delay before finally landing on Vágar Island. The weather had looked reasonably good, but after two hours of flying, we began circling for an hour before it was announced that we were being diverted – to Iceland!
I imagined that the weather must be horrific beneath us – freezing hail, gale force winds or blinding rain, but apparently, it was a fog bank hovering at one end of the runway that was preventing our descent. Finally, the next afternoon, the fog cleared and we were safely able to land.
On starting our adventure in the Faroes, I was immediately impressed with the soaring cliffs and the generally sparse, rocky, yet largely green landscape. It was bleak but also incredibly dramatic.
And dotted everywhere were woolly sheep (72,000 in total on the islands). Waterfalls too were plentiful, cascading down sheer rock faces. The villages we drive through are wonderfully austere, with a Nordic look to them – the exception being that roofs of many older houses have grass growing on top.
Not far from Vágar, romantic Mykines Island is a real treat, particularly for hikers. It can only be reached by helicopter or boat and we opted for the speedier, and incredibly scenic helicopter ride, very reasonably priced at under £30 return. Within about ten minutes we landed near the island’s only village, nestled above cliffs that tumble down to the sea.
We made our way to the start of a path leading to a lighthouse on a spit of land called Mykinesholmur via the ‘bridge over the Atlantic’. This private path took us up over hilly grazing land to a high ridge and then across a steel bridge spanning a deep gorge with the volatile Atlantic far below. I didn’t get as far as the bridge, due to the extremely slippery descent to it, but those who did make it as far as the lighthouse said it was breathtaking. Our guide, Emly, and his wife own a farm house on the island which can be booked by visitors looking for an escape from it all destination.
One of the many interesting sights on the islands are the nesting sea-birds and the best place to view them are the bird cliffs of Vestmanna. These cliffs are a towering 1,200 feet high and are swarming with guillemots, gannets, puffins, oyster catchers, kittiwakes, razorbills and other sea-birds and there are regular sailings out to see the cliffs.
For more bird watching, take a schooner, the Norolysio, to Nolsoy Island, directly across from Tørshavn. This island boasts about half of the world’s population of storm petrels, that begin appearing here in late spring.
I must admit that the Hotel Føroyar, where we stayed is delightful. Built into the hillside above Tørshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands, the grassy slopes come right up to window height for guest’s rooms located on the ground floor. There is a tale that one person left their window open to take a bath and was astonished to find two sheep had managed to get into his room.
A visit to Gudrun and Gudrun’s woollen-wear shop in Tørshavn was one of the top items on our itinerary, as it is famed for providing the snowflake design knitted woolly jumper for the main character in the Danish crime drama The Killing. Thirty women from across the Faroe Islands knit all the shop’s clothing. Though most of the garments are warm and utilitarian, many designs are strictly high end fashion and I was fascinated to discover that the two Gudruns are starting up projects with women in Jordan who are also known for their knitting skills.
The Faroe Islands are truly a charming place to visit and a hiker’s paradise. People are rugged and a bit quirky but friendly and, as long as you are ready for any weather conditions, you are guaranteed a memorable time.
How to get there
A three-night stay starts from £540 per person, four-nights from £600 per person. From August 11-25 Sunvil Discovery is offering savings of £278 per person. This offer includes return flights from London Stansted, bed and breakfast at Hotel Tørshavn or Hotel Føroyar in Tørshavn and taxi transfers.
A seven night holiday with car hire is from £999 per person. To book call 0208 758 4722 or visit Sunvil Discovery.
This feature is part of our Offbeat Trips series.
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