Faroe Islands 2019 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Jun 03, 2019

It was snowing hard when my plane landed at the Vágar airport in the Faroe Islands in mid-May. I was hoping to find dark and brooding North Atlantic skies, jagged cliffs and colossal crashing waves—a subpolar oceanic representation of Tolkien’s Mordor—during the extra days I had scheduled for a bit of location scouting before our group arrived. Instead I found snow flying horizontally, with near white-out conditions and virtually no visibility. “Not our normal weather” said the man behind the car rental counter. Snow squall after snow squall hit the islands over those next few days.
 
The following two discouraging days produced thoughts that all photo tour leaders dread—what happens if the weather stays like this? Fortunately, as I met the last of our group at the airport, the weather took a bit of a turn for the “better.” Then, virtually throughout our trip we experienced what must be the most variable weather any of us had ever seen. The cliché, “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change” is an understatement when it comes to the Faroes—you rarely have to wait ten minutes! Subpolar oceanic weather systems race over this tiny archipelago of 18 small islands that sit isolated in the middle of the ocean, about halfway between Norway and Iceland. 
 
We visited six islands connected by an impressive infrastructure of tunnels, bridges, causeways and ferries.  You can drive to just about anywhere in the road-linked islands in little more than 2 hours.  All the islands together, inhabited or not, comprise about 500 square miles.  Some deep roadway tunnels are dug under the ocean between islands, through layers of volcanic rock while others are bored through “mountains” on land.  The longest tunnel is almost 4 miles long.  It is a marvel that a “country” of 50,000 people can finance such an impressive roadway system. On each island we photographed rugged coastal landscapes with steep jagged cliffs, numerous waterfalls, charming and tidy coastal villages (actually, they all look about the same), sea stacks, stone boat houses and snow-dusted peaks. Calling them mountains is a bit of a stretch as the highest peak is less than 3,000 feet (882 meters) above sea level. We photographed the iconic Múlafossur, a “must-see” waterfall that plunges almost 200 feet (60 meters) directly into the Atlantic.
 
On most of the easily accessible inhabited islands there is no discernable wildlife—but they do have sheep. Lots of sheep! They are raised mainly for local meat consumption and there is no terrain that they can’t occupy, from shoreline to the highest peak. Puffins and other seabirds are a culinary specialty in the Faroes and they are (unfortunately) still harvested in large numbers on Mykines Island. The good news is that the restaurants on the island are not slaves to traditional Faroese cuisine. If lamb and puffin are not your thing, tasty meals of local salmon and a variety of imported menu items are always available. Salmon farms are very big business here producing a major export commodity.
 
Unlike neighboring Iceland, the Faroes have not yet been discovered by mass tourism. You can still travel across the landscape with a sense that you are alone. Parts of The Faroes look somewhat like Iceland minus the geothermal and icy glacier features—but with more sheep per square mile! In some locations the grassy slopes that sit atop layered lava and plunging Faroe Islandscliffs feel similar to the coastal ranchlands of the Big Island of Hawaii, albeit without the balmy breezes.
 
Numerous European landscape photographers have recently put the Faroes on the photographers’ map. Once these dramatic images are seen by the wider world it will only be a matter of time until the Faroes are included in the broader tourism circuit.  But for the next few years it will remain a sleepy backwater and a respite from the rest of the churning political world.  To join our interest list and be among the first to receive info for our 2021 Faroes Island trip, give us a call or make your request using the Live Chat feature on our website. 

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