Travel: Denmark - Faroe Islands

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Travel: Denmark - Faroe Islands

Postby xiaostar » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:48 pm

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Straits Times - Faroe and away (10th March 2013)
Drive around the Faroe Islands of Denmark and discover a majestic landscape of rocks and sea
By Huiwen Yang

No hunky jocks tanning on glistening sandy beaches. No sun-kissed bikini babes sipping on pina coladas. No noisy tourists or stalls of touts selling postcards. Instead, there is a rugged landscape of rocky coastline and crashing seas.

With 150 more rainy than sunny days in a year, the Faroe Islands are not your typical island getaway. The self-governing Faroe Islands are an archipelago of 18 jigsaw-shaped igneous rocks - formed when volcanic magma crystallises - in the North Atlantic Ocean, about halfway between Iceland and Norway. Together they cover a land area of about 1,400 sq km, about twice the size of Singapore.

Most people I know have never heard of them, but my eyes lit up when I first read about the islands on a flight back home to Singapore from a trip overseas. In 2007, National Geographic Traveler magazine rated the islands the most appealing destination in the world after more than 500 well-travelled experts put them tops in a survey of 111 island communities.

The Faroe Islands were voted the most authentic, unspoilt and likely to remain so based on criteria including environmental and ecological quality, social and cultural integrity and condition of historical sites.

Never mind that I was going back to the daily grind of routine life - I knew where I would be going next.

The Faroe Islands were home to the Vikings, who first arrived more than 1,000 years ago. Today, their 50,000 descendants still speak a derivative of Old Norse and continue the centuries-old tradition of killing pilot whales for sustenance and to mark a man's coming-of-age. There was one such killing two weeks before we arrived.

Armed with a map and a stack of colourful, informative brochures, we sat in our little Suzuki Liana, which we rented on arriving at the airport for about US$90 (S$111) a day, and marked out our route for the day. This was it - the beginning of a five-day, self-guided odyssey on a remote island.

The plan was to experience the island of Vagoy, where the airport is located, and make our way north past Streymoy and Eysturoy before reaching the town of Klaksvik, a base for exploring the northernmost islands of Kalsoy, Kunoy and Vidoi.

We would then drive to Torshavn, also known as the world's smallest capital, before returning to Vagoy for our flight out. Road infrastructure on the Faroe Islands is very well-developed - the islands are connected by roads, bridges and subsea tunnels and mountain passes. Cars are the most common means of transport, with several car rental agencies such as Avis and Hertz present in the bigger towns.

While the map looked daunting, the islands were surprisingly accessible. We drove more than 1,000km, which involved the main two-lane highway that gave way to open paved minor roads connecting the villages. The coastal roads were beautiful. We entertained ourselves with stopping and listening to the enchanting crash of the waves, and obsessed about predicting the weather just by looking at the clouds.

Driving inland, we had to be on the lookout for stray sheep that would dart out from the dreamy shades of green. And one tricky part involved navigating dark subsea tunnels that connect two islands and a handful of narrow, one-way mountain passes.

We stopped as often as we liked. Whether it was to gasp at a thundering waterfall, wander into a horse stable right by the sea, wave at a Faroese (as locals are called) diligently mowing the grass roof of his house - losing track of time was a breath of fresh air. The temperamental weather showed what it was made of. Within moments, a clear blue sky with brilliant sunshine would be swallowed by thick fog that covered the fjords in the distance.

Whenever we managed to see locals going about their business, we made it a point to get out of the cocoon of warm air in the car and brave the biting wind to chat with them.

There were farmers and fishermen who had just returned from a trip out to sea to catch seabirds.

"Pardon the smell, they taste good when they're cooked, you know," said a white- haired fisherman with nails stained black from blood and bird bile. He packed the two-dozen plump Fulmar carcasses neatly into a box (Fulmars are a type of seabird similar in appearance to a gull). "Want to take one home?"

Sometimes, we saw nothing but wandering sheep dotting the lush green pastures that rolled on endlessly. There are, after all, 70,000 of them on the islands.

On the third day of our road trip, we found ourselves tucking into rye bread and air-dried lamb at the home of Tordur Niclasen, a chirpy resident of Eioi village, whom we met at the local grocers. The village is on the north-west tip of Eysturoy, the second-largest island in the Faroes. Tordur, who could speak English, was excited to talk to us because it was rare for them to meet people from Asia.

It was a privilege to step into his home while we waited for the rain to stop. Cuddling Abu, the family's sweet old King Charles spaniel, we spent the afternoon sharing stories from our side of the world. His living room, with a moose head mounted on the wall, sepia photographs of his ancestors and a commanding polar-bear skin rug, felt like a movie set.

Tordur's wife, Sigrun Gunnarsdottir, 63, a Faroese painter who has exhibited her work in Japan and Denmark, showed us her studio in a charming wooden house. I fell in love instantly with the breathtaking view overlooking the village and the sea. It would be any artist's dream to work in a space like that.

Despite their beauty, the Faroe Islands are seeing an attrition of younger folk as they move to other European cities in search of better prospects. Tordur's two sons and a daughter are working in big cities such as Copenhagen and London, while he is based in Kuummiut, East Greenland, which is about a four-hour flight away. Tordur works there as a nurse and was back home for a two-week break.

We continued our journey up to the Northern Islands, invigorated by the lovely afternoon with our newfound friends. While driving up a narrow dirt path to get a bird's-eye view of Klaksvik town, I was lamenting about the incessant rain when I saw something that left me speechless.

As the arc of a double rainbow swept across the sky, sun shafts emerged from looming clouds, illuminating the town down below with streaks of gold.

We stood there, transfixed. We knew we were surrounded by something splendid.

Huiwen Yang is a writer at a creative studio offering writing, photography and film-making services.

Getting there

The Faroe Islands tourist season runs from May to the end of September. The average temperature is around 7 deg C in May and 12 deg C in June, July and August. Summers are cool with relatively high humidity and there is no dry season. Tourists should bring a good windbreaker, warm clothing and a rain poncho. Umbrellas are not recommended, given the strong winds.

The easiest way to get to the islands is to fly from London. Atlantic Airlines flies directly to the Faroes twice a week (every Monday and Thursday) in the summer (June to September) from London's Gatwick airport, with a flight time of about two hours, 15 minutes. The airfare costs about 2,368 Danish krone (S$520), but it is cheaper to take a package with a local operator which usually includes car rental and accommodation.

Most cars are left-hand drive and manual, so be sure to state your preferences while booking a self-drive tour. You can also fly in from Copenhagen and Reykjavik, where there are several daily flights on Atlantic Airways.


Several local operators such as Greengate Incoming ( and 62°N travel ( offer value-for-money packages which include round-trip flights, car rental and accommodation.

A four-night package (inclusive of flight, car rental and hotel) costs about 5,990 krone (S$1,300) a person. There are only a handful of guesthouses, B&Bs and hostels on the different islands, making it easy to plan your journey. Popular options include:

Hotel Airport on the island of Vagar, a two-minute walk away from the airport.
Hotel Gjaargarour, a guesthouse in the village of Gjogv on the island of Eysturoy.
Hotel Klaksvik on the island of Bordoy.
Hotel Hafnia, Hotel Torshavn and Hotel Foroyar in the capital of Torshavn.

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