The stunning Faroe Islands (Courtesy of REMÓT Travel)
Lifestyle

Exploring the Faroe Islands

Touring the Kingdom of Denmark’s secret peaks and valleys

The Suduroy Cliffs
The stunning Faroe Islands (Courtesy of REMÓT Travel)

On a misty Monday in June, our helicopter descends on the electric-green pasture of Koltur, one of the smallest islands in the Faroes. The wild grass parts as we bear down, and a family of short-tailed sheep glance in our direction—they get weather more dramatic than the breeze we’re making.  

And yet our arrival must seem curious. Out on the spongy turf, at the height of high season, I look around and see nobody: not a greeter, nor a passerby, not even a fishing boat on the North Atlantic. Just a few abandoned stone cabins and a sea monster of a rock poking its head out of the surf. The shepherds and thatchers who occupied this island for some 1,400 years have long since abandoned the place. Only one man remains: a farmer named Bjørn. 

 

The air smells like heather and sounds like a whisper. With my guide Rasmus Rosendahl, I hike along a primitive footpath to the ancient settlement where Bjørn keeps the last habitable wood cabin. Together with its flinty grass-roofed neighbors, a stone silo and barn, it makes a sort of living, outdoor museum; Rasmus calls it the “Viking village.” As he sets up an alfresco lunch of cured meats, bread and Champagne, I watch a cloud drift past the peak of cone-shaped Kolturshamar mountain. 

This is only the beginning of the sort of adventure Rasmus offers through his company, Remót Travel. A native of this Nordic archipelago that saw off Irish monks, Vikings and Norwegians before ending up a self-governing satellite of Denmark, Rasmus built his business in the lull of the pandemic, as the tiny tourist board quietly pivoted to an emphasis on quality and sustainability—what they call the “Preservolution.”  

Preservolutionaries don’t go in for ice hotels or other grand gestures involving glassy resorts or splendid cathedrals—the largest church in the Faroes, a timbered Modernist affair called Christianskirkjan, serves a town of 5,000 people in what resembles an updated Viking hall. Halfway to Iceland from Oslo, the Faroese don’t have Roman ruins to show off. Nor will you find a crowd here, beyond pleasure boaters at the marina in Tórshavn, the capital. At Hotel Føroyar, a luxury accommodation built into a hillside, visitors come for day-trips to lake-swim, bird-watch (puffins to be exact), or sail around stunning volcanic cliffs. Or, they simply sail to visit charming restaurants like the Barbara Fish House, which specializes in serving up delicious Blue Mussel plates. The Faroes immerse you in their wondrous character from the initial descent to the fjord-side runway at a delicate pace.  

A Faroe Islands vista
The stunning Faroe Islands (Courtesy of REMÓT Travel)

On his excursions, Rasmus has thought of everything and commissioned a small army to execute his vision—no small feat in a population of about 50,000. As I polish off my second flute of bubbly, a boater putters to the shore and beckons us aboard his small wooden craft. Gliding down the coast into a cloud of birds in flight, I spot my first puffins, hundreds of vermilion beaks poking through the grass. They call after us, voices carrying past the soaring sea cliffs and into a watery cave. Then their deep squawks give way to something smoother, more musical. Jazz? 

“It’s our saxophonist,” says Rasmus, as the man producing melody comes into view in the grotto. “What do you think of the acoustics?” He knows he’s a master of, among other arts, the understatement. 

The Faroese relish visitors. “Having travelers here is something we find interesting,” says Rasmus. Whereas the landscape is a thrill for city-dwellers, “it can get boring for us.”  

Yet they’re careful not to shout about their homeland’s natural virtues. Remót’s most popular private-dining experience takes place in the small outdoor kitchen of a seafood exporter who doesn’t even like to share his name—he goes by Lobster Man. Purveyor of iridescent langoustines to Saudi royals and the dearly departed Copenhagen restaurant Noma, he offers a tasting menu that captures the pure essence of local ingredients, including the islands’ distinctive cured lamb. “We sometimes call it ‘brutal dining,’ because it’s raw and rough and the seafood is same-day fresh,” says Rasmus.  

 

Faroe Islands food dishes.
Faroe Islands fair at Barbara Fish House (Courtesy of Barbara Fish House)

A curious palate is an asset here, as the nation shifts from a standard meat-and-potatoes culture into collective pride for its cuisine. “When I moved here a decade ago, it was impossible to get sea urchins,” says Karin Visth, who is the head sommelier and restaurant manager of the islands’ top three culinary spots. “Now we have four divers.” 

We’re sitting in the woody dining room of Ræst, possibly the most atmospheric of her restaurants, and Karin is responding to my suggestion that the Faroes are currently chasing Copenhagen’s coattails as the holy grail of the New Nordic scene. Young creative Faroese are returning home after studying abroad and helping to transform gastronomy here. Travelers come from as far away as Japan on word of mouth alone. They sample the sheep and wild birds, fresh fish, foraged greens and simple cooking and think: This is “event dining.” 

Yet Faroese chefs keep their instincts in check. “If we served everything as we do at home, some guests would get put off by the intense flavors.” At Ræst, named for the Faroese style of fermentation, they preserve ocean perch, cod, fowl and lamb by hanging them. Karin brings the meat to the table in ceviche-like chunks, sprinkled with herbs. 

She could talk fermentation for hours. Educated as a sommelier, she compares Ræst’s unique methods to a winemaker’s terroir. Flavors will vary if a sheep has used certain muscles to scale a steep mountain, if the meat is hung in the sea air during certain times of the year, or if it is in a wooden fermenting house.  

 

Faroe Islands restaurant.
A look inside the Barbara Fish House (Courtesy of Barbara Fish House)

Next door, sister restaurant Roks serves up meaty mahogany and razor clams. “Nobody knows razor clams even exist in the Faroes, but we harvest them.” They’re so savory on their own, chef Poul Andrias Ziska applies the lightest hand: melted butter and a sprinkling of salt. A third restaurant, Koks, with two Michelin stars, is set to reopen and promises foodies a Faroese experience committed to local products.  

There ought to be a Faroese word for the enjoyment of uncomplicated pleasures. In a place like this, “terroir” should count for more than wine. Karin agrees. “When I first arrived here, I was asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ But there was no question why I should not be here,” she says. “Now they all want to come.”  

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