Travel review: Faroe Islands

Surging waves break over the rocky shores at Gjogv on the island of Eysturoy. Photo:  Adam Burton Organisation
Surging waves break over the rocky shores at Gjogv on the island of Eysturoy. Photo: Adam Burton Organisation

Getting close up and personal with a puffin was one of Ruaridh and Flora’s bucket list wishes.

The pair, aged seven and four love birds and puffins have that certain appeal which makes us all fall in love with them.

But to see the lovely things in their natural terrain, is something extra special. And that is what Ruaridh and Flora and I did when we embarked on a four day trip to The Faroe Islands.

This collection of 18 volcanic islands far out in the North Atlantic is perhaps best known for being an ever present mention on the BBC’s shipping forecast.

There are twice weekly flights to and from London’s Stanstead to Vágur aboard the national airline, Atlantic Airways and there are lots of bargains to be had, with the airline keen to build up this route. On board, you get a taste of what’s to come, with a lunch of sushi , wrapped in the finest salmon and washed down with Faroese black beer, getting you in the mood for what’s ahead.

Upon arriving, there is nothing to beat this wonderful place. The scenery is stark and dramatic, the air is as clear as crystal and with a population of just 48,000 and an impressive transport infrastructure, there are plenty of opportunities to explore and in peace too, with just the occasional sighting of sheep disturbing you as you drive. These animals rule the island and you have to be careful as you get to grips with driving on the opposite side of the road to the UK, as they have a tendency to stroll nonchalantly into the road, just as you pass by!.

There is so much to do here, that four days just whets the appetite. We headed straight to Gĵogv. To get there we had to go through one of the country’s many tunnels. This one was special as it was under the sea and the children had a great time imagining what was swimming alongside us! It’s a long drive to Gĵogv, but it is worth it once you arrive. For this charming village appears to have been squeezed in between the dramatic mountains and there is an old-fashioned stone ladder down to the harbour. As you drive down the steep hill to the village, you can’t miss Hotel Gjáargarður as its perched high on the hill and has a turf covered roof, as have many of the houses. The hotel has a mishmash of accommodation from hostel-style accommodation to smart en-suites just off from the main building, which afford wonderful views of the village.

The village has a small cluster of houses, a simple church and a fish processing factory, but its the views you go for, they are stunning and the area has an array of hikes to suit all abilities. There’s a small dipping pool too, which Ruaridh and Flora loved as the locals have left a couple of boats in the water to allow children to play.

From Gĵogv, we headed to the capital Tórshaven via Saksun, a wonderfully remote hillside village, with a museum depicting life on the islands from the Middle Ages, with some lovely turf roofed buildings and a simple church perched on the hill and overlooking a lagoon which gives walkers the chance to stroll along a nice flat beach and out to the sea.

Our base in Tórshaven was the Hotel Føroyar, a trendy spot with lovely views over the capital. Famous guests have included former US president Bill Clinton and Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs. Breakfast is sublime and will keep you going all day, with smoothies to die for and some very tasty smoked salmon to add to the scrambled eggs! You can leave your car at the hotel as there is an interesting 10 minute walk down from the hilltop hotel to the town.

It’s a lovely town, with a picturesque harbour, fantastically quaint Parliament buildings which once housed the grand merchants and which overlook Skansin Fort, which in its hey day protected the capital from marauding pirates. Its easy to walk round and has many designer knitwear shops, proudly showing off the various creations made from Faroese wool.

Its the smallest national capital in the world, but there’s plenty to do and see with an abudance of shops and tourist attractions. We particularly enjoyed the aquarium, which was small, but well set out and contained lots of sealife which live in the Faroese island. Outside the building, you can feed some crabs using fishing lines with squid attached and inside there are plenty of reference and picture books to keep you entertained, once you have toured the tanks.

Just a short drive out from the capital is Kirkjubøur, one of the country’s most important historical sites. Its famous for the huge amount of driftwood and seaweed which washes up on the shores and the impressive Magnus Cathedral, a whopping Gothic structure, so big it has never been completed and today the walls are covered with metal sheeting to protect them from the elements. Close by is a smaller whitewashed church, with the best view ever over the sea and a 11th century farmhouse which was used as the bishop’s residence.

But its nature the Faroe Islands is best known for. Here the weather can change from bright sunshine one minute, to storms with lashing rain the next. Birdlife is in abundance and one of the best spots to visit is the Vestmanna bird cliffs, teeming with thousands upon thousands of seabirds. Boat trips take you nice and close and you can spot everything from razor birds to puffins.

And it was puffins we wanted to see the most. The best place to spot them is on the island of Mykines. You can reach this isolated spot by boat or helicopter, with domestic air travel relatively cheaply priced. The island is something special. We opted for the boat ride and were treated to an early morning show from the puffins who merrily dive bombed, surfed and literally danced on the waters infront of us! Once we arrived, we were greeted by wall to wall birds. There is a great hike around the island which gives you special access to the puffins, who seem to be so used to being photographed, that they are happy to pose!

Nestled in burrows deep into the cliffs, you can almost touch these special creatures, who appear to be just as friendly as they look. Ruaridh and Flora were mesmerised by the brightly coloured birds and no doubt thesights and sounds of the puffins and their wonderful homeland will be etched in their memories forever.

Ruaridh definitely made sure he won’t forget as now a small, but just as cute stuffed puffin, called Huffin, lies next to him as he sleeps and dreams of paradise!

Factfile: The wonderfully picturesque Faroe Islands are simple to explore and there is much to see and do. Flights from London’s Stanstead operate twice weekly, for more information, see www.atlantic.fo

Accommodation: Enjoy the views to the lovely village of Gĵogv from the hilltop hotel Gjáargarður, see www.gjaargardur.fo

Hotel Føroyar, is a good base in the capital Tórshavn. Check out www.hotelforoyar.fo

Tourist Information: Help is at hand at Visit Faroe Islands, www.visitfaroeislands.com or read the excellent Faroe Islands guide by James Proctor, www.bradtguides.com