Terji Rasmussen’s hearty laugh filled Maggie’s Bar before he got any words out.
Half pitying, half mocking, and clearly bemused, this friendly landlord politely explained to me – the lost foreign idiot – how there were no taxis available on the whole of Nólsoy.
It’s a tiny isle across the bay from Torshavn, the colourful and picturesque capital of the Faroe Islands, which itself is more charming seaside town than bustling metropolis
What did I expect from a country that’s home to fewer than 50,000 people? A quick and convenient cab back to where I was supposed to be?
Standing alone amid the ferocious ocean, the Faroe Islands are remote North Atlantic waypoints above Scotland, below Iceland and Greenland, and hardly renowned for transport links.
Remote Nolsoy (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)In fact, the recent rise in tourism to this country is entirely because it lies off the beaten track, offering untouched serenity, jaw-dropping natural drama, and enough mystical moodiness to make you think Tolkien himself had carved the landscape.
I reached Maggie’s by mistake, having boarded the wrong ferry when my schedule should have put me on another island altogether, and there was no way back for at least three hours, when the next vessel from the main port docked.
It wasn’t all bad news, mind.
This imbecilic error placed me in front of a fridge stocked with the best of the nation’s favourite brewery, Foroya Bjor, some challenging local aquavit, and a pub owner who has turned this single storey watering hole beneath a traditional house into one of the go-to Faroese musical haunts.
Walls are adorned with photos of native and visiting greats who have played here, from Eivør Pálsdóttir to Lena Anderssen.
The grotto that played host to a Summartonar concert (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)Gigs kick off at 8pm and finish in time for the last boat at 10.30pm, and the micro venue even hosted one leg of Summartónar, a summer festival that spreads its programme across the islands.
My happy accident set the tone for a voyage of musical discovery many visitors to this wild part of the world could easily miss.
After all, travellers are faced with hundreds of islands, islets and skerries to roam – many are so sparse, you’d be lucky to find another human while out exploring, let alone a sound system.
Even on the 18 larger rocks, isolation is profound, and driving with my guide – Jógvan Mørkøre of Faroe Trekking – across the second most populated island, Eysturoy, makes this infinitely clear.
Empty roads led us beyond bright red fish huts and fjord-side jetties, beneath imposing mountains and onto barren, peaty moorland while Dánjal, the Faroese equivalent of New York gypsy punks Gogol Bordello, surreally soundtracked this epic narrative via the car stereo.
Gjogv’s natural harbour (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)Eventually arriving at Gjogv, a hamlet set on a cliff edge leading down to a natural harbour, the conversation turned to the religious sermons and live performances that took place at this incredible landmark, and the bench back up top where Frederik and Mary, Danish Crown Prince and Princess, once sat to enjoy magnificent views out to the ocean.
The anecdote is a reminder of Denmark’s colonial rule – still in place today – although the Faroese are proud of their cultural independence and autonomous history.
In the centre of Torshavn, a rocky outcrop marks the 9th century foundation of one of the world’s oldest parliaments, amusingly named The Thing (or Tinganes) presumably because, much like modern Westminster, those involved didn’t really know what they doing at the time.
A short walk around the harbour brings a lighthouse and fort into view. The artillery gun was taken from a British warship, HMS Furious, which arrived with troops to preserve Faroese freedom as Nazi oppressors approached.
Liksteinur looking to Tindholmur (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)My lodgings, the recently opened boutique Havgrim Seaside Hotel, has handsome rooms with spectacular views of the sea and said monument, not to mention a breakfast to die for.
Rhubarb is one of the few things hardy enough to grow well here, so expect plenty, while turmeric and orange shooters provided an invigoratingly nutritious start to each day.
Further examples of self-sufficiency are found at Gasadalur, a settlement with a population of less than 20.
Until the 21st century, it was completely cut off from neighbouring villages, so mail was delivered each day via a steep mountain pass, and in return, the dead were sent back along the same route for burial.
Liksteinur, or ‘Corpse Stone’, is the only place the precious cargo could be set down for a rest along the way.
Gasadalur waterfall (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)A tunnel now provides a road connection, but the traditional hike is a must.
I journeyed with Jóhannus Hansen of Reika Adventures, who had to make this trip whenever he wanted to see his grandma.
En route, I caught a glimpse of Tindhólmur, an uninhabited rock that looked a lot like a dragon with its prominent peaks; and Mykines, where the best bird watching in the region takes place.
Most breathtaking of all, though, is the fantastical Gasadalur waterfall, cascading from land’s end to ocean.
As if those views didn’t inspire enough Norse mythology, the schooner Norðlýsið took me to the heart of my own legend, sailing incredibly choppy waters to Hestur (avoid the bow unless you have a very strong stomach).
Here, we traced the rugged coastline to a sea grotto, accessible only by water, puffins and arctic tern overhead.
Our schooner from the grotto (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)We then climbed aboard a small speedboat and ventured into a darkened cave for what may be the world’s most difficult-to-reach concert.
Running on Sundays and Tuesdays, this part of the Summartónar festival involved artistic director Kristian Blak collaborating live with a different artist on each voyage – we got Finnish guitarist Tuomas Paukku, whose gentile strings perfectly harmonised with the domineering French horn.
Having a Danish voice choir aboard with Faroese members was a happy coincidence; the Dopplers burst into impromptu song as tides suddenly changed, forcing us to abandon our intended route home in favour of mooring at the port of Gamlarætt.
Just up the coast, at Velbastaður, is another unique aspect of tourism in the Faroe Islands – Heimablídni.
It’s a supper club in a traditional farmhouse, with 150 mothersheep and mesmerising view out back, particularly at sunset.
Husband and wife owners Anna and Oli Rubeksen invite diners from across the globe for a hearty meal: the food was exquisite, company excellent and overall experience destined for the memory box.
Catching the sunset while enjoying Heimablídni (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)Those looking for something similar but with a tuneful slant should consider booking for Hoymabit, a traditional Faroese concert that takes place inside someone’s house, where tasters are served to song in a private living room.
It’s a big sell with visitors, but alongside major events such as August’s G! Festival (where international headline acts play in front of Atlantic swell at Gøta), locals get involved too – although homegrown musos are more likely to be found hanging out at Sirkus.
Located in central Torshavn, craft beer moths will be drawn to the impressive drafts and bottles at separate downstairs drinking den Borg Brugghus, but DJs and bands are regular fixtures on the upper floors, which resemble the UK’s best dive bars.
The food here isn’t bad, either, and comes far cheaper than most meals in a place where nearly everything has to be imported.
The finest catch imaginable is found less than two minutes from Sirkus, at Barbara Fish House, where centuries-old stonework and low timber-beamed ceilings accentuate the candlelit atmosphere, complimenting the spectacular cuisine.
Dinner at Barbara Fish House (Picture: Martin G Hewitt)Another good spot for ale, an outpost of Copenhagen’s world famous Mikkeller, is hiding through an adjoining door.
For bites, the only logical option is the five course taster menu with matched wines, and while contents depend on available ingredients, the dishes are always served tapas-style, paying homage to an old trading agreement with seafood-hungry Spain.
Like so much about this incredible archipelago, that relationship isn’t exactly common knowledge, and my admittedly vague understanding stems from a first hand encounter rather than background research.
If nothing else, it confirms that, for now at least, those keen to unearth what the Faroe Islands are really about must make the journey for themselves.
Where to stay on the Faroe Islands and how to get there:
Hotel Vágar, in the picturesque village of Sørvágur, is conveniently located for the airport and has double rooms from DKK790 (approximately £95 per night), based on two people sharing, including breakfast.
Hotel Havgrím, in Tórshavn, has double rooms from DKK2,000 / approximately £242 per night (two sharing), including breakfast.
Flights from Copenhagen to Vágar are priced from £165pp return, or Edinburgh to Vágar from £180pp return with Atlantic Airways.
Experience a grotto concert from DKK450, approximately £55.
Hoymabit – the concert inside a local’s home – is priced from DKK398, approximately £47 while Heimablídni – where you can dine in a local’s home – start at 595 DKK per person.
For more information on the destination, accommodation and dining, see Visit Faroe Islands.
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