Not-so-faraway Faroes


Roger St. Pierre finds magic and MICE potential in the Faroe Islands

Looking for a destination that’s out of the ordinary but not too far away and which boasts a state of art infrastructure to ensure your event’s success? The mystical Faroe Islands could be the answer.
‘In the middle of nowhere but easily accessible’ might seem like a contradiction in terms but, thanks to the high quality service offered by Atlantic Airways – the islands’ national carrier – both of them apply readily to this enticing archipelago, set somewhere between the far north of Scotland and Iceland.

The islands are strung together with a network of modern bridges and 19 tunnels. Two pass under the sea – including the 16-km long Vagetunnelin, which links Leynar with Fútaklett – and there are long-term plans for five more major tunnels to be added, including the 20-km long Gjartinnilin. This will connect the capital city of Torshavn on the largest island of Sandoy with Suaroy, the most southerly of the main islands. The existing tunnels ensure that 80% of the population is already connected by road.

The total population is just 48,000 – and there are twice as many sheep as there are people – but this is no rural backwater. There’s no country on earth more modern or better organised.

Stand in the centre of Torshavn and civilisation seems right at hand, all mod cons present and correct, and, at least for the moment, you’ll feel like you are at the centre of the known universe.

Not that they have turned their backs on history and heritage. Viking traditions endure and music, storytelling and poetry are big, both live and on record – helping ensure a year-round programme of major cultural events for visiting groups to attend and enjoy.

Unemployment is low, standard of living and quality of life both high, with no extremes of wealth or poverty, and the Faroese enjoy the healthcare, welfare educational and technological benefits of being a Danish dependency yet have had Home Rule since 1948. They trade with the world, especially in fish and woollen products.

Lust for life seems as big and bold as the eye-wateringly bright reds, blues and yellows of the houses that dot the landscape. There’s plenty of space to breath. Landscapes are sweeping, skies big, mountains imposing, cliffs spectacularly sheer. It’s a place that makes you ache to get up and out into the great outdoors – perfect for team building exercises and motivation.

Tórshavn has at its core a waterfront old town – Tinganes – packed with traditional grass-roofed, black-tarred, wooden buildings but is at the same time a lively metropolis where hi-tech reigns, commerce booms and everything you might need materially is readily available at hand.

Leif Sorensen, the man in the kitchen of the much-lauded Koks Restaurant at the comfortable Hotel Foroyar – learnt his craft at Copenhagen’s Noma, repeatedly cited in restaurant magazine polls as the best restaurant in the world. You might be offered puffin breast stuffed with cake and wild berries but there’s high-quality international fare readily available in Torshavn too.

With a dramatic hilltop location that gives fabulous panoramic views over the town’s busy harbour to the islands beyond – this efficiently run hotel is a great location for groups of up to 120. It’s a 10-minute downhill taxi ride all the way to the town centre, so your delegates are less likely to be distracted from the task at hand.

Torshavn has excellent shopping and lively pubs and clubs too. Somehow this place seems bigger, more metropolitan and more a part of the big wide world beyond than you would expect from a city of just 18,000 people stuck in the middle of a watery nowhere.

Though the islands are 350 miles north west of the Scottish mainland, their location astride the Gulf Stream creates a climate much like the UK, though wetter, with frequent sea mists. Snow is rare, except on the hilltops, and it is unusual to drop below freezing – but make sure your group pack waterproofs. Summer temperatures can be in the 20sC, but never forget that wind chill factors can be savage and here you can experience all four seasons in a single day – and it might happen twice! No wonder there’s an absence of trees beyond Torshavn.

But the rain rarely lasts long, rainbows abound and while winters are dark, but full of twinkling stars and the not to be missed Northern Lights, with very short days, but at other times there are plentiful hours of sunlight – especially in mid-summer when the far northern latitude means a group can still be out playing golf long after midnight.

Salmon fishing, cliff and fell walking, cycling, sailing schooner trips, bird watching, horse riding – all manner of outdoor activities are available. The scenic background for them is simply amazing. Inaccessible basalt cliffs and towering sea-stacks are papered white with fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls, gannets and other seabirds – and, where it’s not bare rock, it’s all so amazingly green.

This is a land of tumbling streams and towering waterfalls, with icy, crystal-clear water – a place where salmon spawn and the hardy local breed of black-faced sheep, with their ginger-coated lambs, munch on lush grass, alongside wild ponies and cackling geese.

Places are, of course, made by the people who inhabit them. The Faroese are industrious, clockwork-efficient and ever friendly. Their Parliament claims to be the world’s oldest – as well as their own flag, money, stamps and language, though they also use Danish and almost everyone has solid command of English too. After all, the islands were occupied by Great Britain throughout the war, to prevent them falling into German hands, a story told at the evocative little ‘British Occupation Museum’ at Miovagur.

It’s said that the first British soldiers to land were greeted with: ‘You are invading us… but welcome!’ – and, to this day, the locals are addicted to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate!

In an old brochure I found, Torshavn bills itself rather extravagantly as not only ‘The Smallest Capital In The World’ but as ‘The Hub Of The Universe’, adding: ‘A town where visitors still are guests and where guests still are greeted as friends. A special place in the world. A special experience in your life’ – but there’s really no need for such hyperbole. These glorious, magical islands speak for themselves – they are a lot more than just an obscure name on a shipping forecast.

Getting thereAtlantic Airways is the national airline of the Faroe Islands and flies to Denmark, Iceland and the UK. It operates a twice-weekly summer service to Vagar airport from Gatwick. Flights run Monday and Thursday until September 17. A limited service is available at Easter.

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