Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Eat, Drink, Sleep on the Faroe Islands

Trip date: July 2019

Aaron and I were staying in the capital city of Tórshavn on Streymoy during our visit to the Faroe Islands. It's a cute harbor town that dates from the late 1500s with a population of about 20,000.

We each booked a single room at the Hotel Tórshavn (they have 43 rooms of various sizes) which is a moderate hotel right in the middle of town.

The rooms are basic but roomy, breakfast was included, and there was free parking in the connected lot. Large windows filled the small room with light and artwork from local artist Rannvah Mortensen decorates the walls of most the guestrooms. The hotel was a great choice for us and the staff was absolutely fantastic!

The bar was the perfect place for Aaron and I to meet up before going out at night and I could count on the bartenders to make me an icy cold martini, with just the right amount of vermouth, each time I was there.

On our very first night on the islands we had reservations at the 2-starred Michelin restaurant KOKS. From the very start we knew we were in for a pretty unique dinner. Aaron had arranged for a taxi which took us out to the shore of Lake Leynavatn about 20 minutes outside of Tórshavn.

I was really confused when he dropped us off as there was nothing but a small shed on the muddy lake bank. A vintage Land Rover was parked along the beach. We were invited inside the hjallur (an old fish drying shed) and offered beer and snacks. There were 4 other diners and we were all ushered into the back of the Rover after our "happy hour".
We arrived at our destination, with the team of KOKS greeting us as we entered the turf-roofed farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere. A fire was going in the yard and sheep could be heard bleating from the hills.
There are 9 chefs at the restaurant, each from a different country in order to lend a worldwide approach to the local seafood and vegetables that are foraged from the islands. Traditionally the Faroese eat only fish, sheep, and whale so by bringing in chefs from around the world, they are able to introduce preparations for local delicacies like mussels, langoustine, and sea urchin.

The farmhouse is incredibly cozy inside, with blond wood paneled walls, sheepskin throws on chairs and benches, and windows looking out onto the green hills. We were seated at our table, which was then adorned with a huge plate of fresh shellfish; a peek at the raw ingredients that would soon be dinner.

The multi-course meal started with a progression of mainly shellfish, which unfortunately Aaron doesn't eat. I loved my dishes of scallops, clam, sea urchin, mussels, and langoustines; each presented in the shells they naturally live in. But Aaron was served some basic, although pretty, mostly vegetable substitutions. It didn't seem to be of the same calibre. It was the only disappointment of the evening.

Mid menu highlights finfish, the halibut with caviar being a natural favorite for us two caviar lovers, followed by ræst. Ræst is another traditional Faroese style of preserving food. Lamb or fish is hung to dry in small sheds that are built with slatted walls, allowing the salt air to flow through and dry/ferment the meat.
Our server presented us the dried leg of lamb, similar to a leg of prosciutto, before we were served it two ways. The first, called Skerpikøt,  literally means sharp meat. A thin piece was carved off and served with a creamy sauce containing lingonberry.
We were also served the fermented lamb roasted with sweet onions in a delicious broth. And to round out our lamb courses was a small dish of garnatálg, or lamb tallow, served with crispy little biscuits to be spread on. And by the way, all of this was very tasty!!
As I mentioned, pilot whale has been and continues to be a staple of Faroese cuisine. Whaling is also a communal event, with all participants sharing in the meat. You can read more about legal, sustainable whaling in the Faroe Islands here while you look at the whale heart dish we had.

We took a little break after dinner and had a tour of the tiny kitchen as well as the outside grill area. A separate small building acts as the pantry and there is a communal table outside for family meal. The setting could not be prettier.
Back inside we finished our dessert of sweet wafers with jam and whipped cream in the super hygge "lounge". Our server let us know that the Land Rover was ready to take us back to the drop off where our taxi would be waiting. We'd spent about 5-hours at the restaurant and it was just about 11:30pm.

KOKS offers a 17-course tasting menu for about $260, wine pairings are another $200 so this isn't your run of the mill Wednesday night dinner. But it is a wonderful destination experience, really unlike any other I've experienced, and one I'd highly recommend!

The other completely unique dining experience I had was to attend a heimablídni, which means home hospitality. Our hosts Anna and Óli have a beautiful house and sheep farm near Tórshavn; we were 2 of 14 who attended their dinner party.

Our evening started with our taxi dropping us off at their modern turf-roofed home with sweeping views of the ocean and the nearby islands of Koltur and Hestur. Óli met us in the driveway, bearing a tray of house-made lamb sausage and a lemonade sort of drink.

After our snack we piled into cars (Aaron and I got a ride from some others) and followed Óli to the family's sheep farm. He introduced us to his young Faroese sheepdog and explained that he was still training her and he had others who were more senior.

His land stretches as far as you can see into the hills. When he sent the dog out to bring the sheep in we couldn't even see her some of the time, she had to run so far! It was a really fun demonstration in a stunning location.

We headed back to the house where Anna was hard at work on our meal. The table looked absolutely lovely! Other guests had arrived and we all had a drink outside before sitting down to dinner.
Over five courses we got to hear about the other guests (for example, three had flown in from the Shetland Islands for the dinner and another was a reporter) and learn about Anna and Óli's life on the islands and the farm.
And of course we had some excellent food! Anna is a fantastic chef and they use ingredients mainly from their farm or from local fisherman. Local beer was also served.
The dinner costs about $165 and you must sign up in advance. I thought it was a great value as you really get a chance to learn about local customs, traditions, and their history.
Plus cute animals, delish food, fun people, and amazing views! When we were leaving I said to Óli, "You know what I really liked about tonight?" and he replied "You liked everything!" And he was exactly right. I LOVED this experience!
Without a doubt we had the two top meal experiences on the Faroe Islands. But we did also eat at some regular restaurants in Tórshavn. Etika Sushi sounded promising and we were both looking forward to having some regional fish that we might not get at home.
Unfortunately it was the same fish you would get anywhere, and the sushi was put together very sloppily. The menu was also overly confusing to the point where we both accidently ordered too much. It was fine but I wouldn't go out of my way.

We also had dinner one evening at Barbara Fishhouse which is tucked in the Reyn area of the city. This is the oldest neighborhood with homes dating from the 14th century. It's adorable!

The food at Barbara is served tapas style, lots of delicious shareable dishes. The menu is heavy on shellfish though, which was fine for me but not so great for Aaron.

Wandering the cute city on multiple occasions, it was easy to stop for a glass of wine and sit outside to enjoy the view of the harbor.

And besides the neighborhood of Reyn, it is very easy to walk through Tinganes. This area from the Viking Ages was the parliament or government meeting space for the islands. The first meeting was held here in 825 and is believed to be one of the oldest in the world.
Most of the buildings have been rebuilt due to fire, but there are still some carvings and parts of buildings that are original.

We never found a proper cocktail bar in town, but I had Marlin & Joel behind the bar at the Hotel Tórshavn mixing me great martinis so I was happy! And on our last night at the hotel there was live music on in the bar, and most of the town's residents seemed to be in attendance!
Local musician Signar í Homrum opened for Laurens Joensen (Faroese living in Amsterdam) and famous local musician Martin Joensen (no relation). It was very fun and I stayed longer than I had planned to.

Aaron and I had a crazy early flight the next morning so I checked us out the night before. The front desk person was so nice and offered to have coffee and croissants put out for our 5:45am departure. Really, the service at the hotel was always awesome!

It was beautiful as we left Tórshavn but the fog was incredibly thick on the way to the airport which meant we were at just about a crawl for the first 20 minutes of our 45 minute drive. And then, being that it was the crack of dawn, the gas station was closed!

At the airport the rental office wasn't open! It's not like they don't know the only 2 flights a day. So I dropped the keys off with the airport Information Desk guy and hoped for the best.
The Faroe Islands are truly and amazing place to visit! And delicious!

**Thank you to the Hotel Tórshavn who provided me with complimentary night stays! However all opinions are my own**

All photos from the Faroe Islands here.

Other posts from this trip:

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Faroe Islands Day Trip

Trip date: July 2019

I had read a lot about driving on the Faroe Islands; what's so difficult about driving there you might ask? Well let's chat about one-lane roads, some are through unlit mountain tunnels, also sub-sea tunnels, crazy thick fog, and nomadic sheep who don't know how to use crosswalks! We encountered all of these things on our adventures.

Our car rental was one of the most expensive I've encountered. And we just had a basic Kia from Avis. We weren't able to find a rental with unlimited miles without the cost being ridiculous. The car had a toll road pass, so we wouldn't have to stop at a gas station to pay the fee, but we still had to pay for the usage. All told we spent over $600 for a manual transmission for 4 days (no automatics were available).

Besides driving to the locations of our various hikes, we spent one full day driving around the islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy and exploring some really beautiful areas. 

We left Tórshvn at 10am and headed to Kirkjubøur, the southernmost village on Streymoy. Besides being completely Instagrammable with its cute black-tarred-wood homes with bright orange trim, the village is considered the most historically important of the islands.

One of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, Kirkjubøargarður, is a farmhouse dating back to 1100. It is still inhabited by the 17th generation of the Patursson family (since 1550) and is still a sheep farm today! It is also a museum although it wasn't open when I was poking around.

The ruins of Magnus Cathedral are just a few steps away. Originally built in 1300 it's pretty much just a shell, the roof having collapsed most likely late in the 1500s.  It's still quite a medieval sight to behold though.

Saint Olav's Church, the small white building just to the south of the cathedral, was built in 1200 and is the oldest church in the Faroe Islands. A runestone dated from the Viking Ages is in a case near the back of the church.

Not a bad collection of stuff for a village of 75 people!
From here we drove an hour north on the island, through incredibly beautiful scenery, to the village of Saksun, population 10. Saksun has a church and a seventeenth-century farm called Dúvugarður, some of whose buildings are now a museum.

The views of the cliffs, waterfalls, and the inlet with its black sand beach are breathtaking. Sadly tourists have been hiking to the private house owned by Jóhan Jógvansson (you can barely see it in the mid right side of the photo above) and there have been some commotions! Drama on the Faroe Islands!

Aaron and I did an easy hike, staying on the marked trail, down to the beach. We stayed far away from the residence but did enjoy walking on the sand at low tide and even saw some sheep cross the bay.

It was time for lunch, and another island! As there is only one main highway, we had to backtrack south for a bit before going over the bridge and onto Eysturoy Island.

We arrived in the village of Gjogv which is at the northernmost tip, population 50. We had reservations at the Gjaargardur Guesthouse for lunch and both had a nice plate filled with delicious little bites. The restaurant wasn't busy but if it is there isn't anyplace else in town unless the food truck is open so best to call in advance.
Another stunning setting, the village is right on the sea cliffs, looking out onto the Atlantic. We walked out for the dramatic views of the island of Kalsoy off in the distance.
We were back on the road after this, on switchback highways that looked to go on forever, past a handful of brightly painted villages, lakes, waterfalls, and of course sheep.

Back onto Streymoy island, this time heading to the very northernmost village of Tjørnuvik. Of all the roads we drove on, the one leading into this tiny town was the most stressful as it was very narrow with a cliff on one side and a mountain on the other.

But it was worth the effort as Tjørnuvik is gorgeous! Sitting between a lush hillside covered with waterfalls and the Atlantic ocean, the town has just 70 residents and one church. Looking out from the beach you can see the rock formations called The Giant and the Witch.

As we wandered the tiny village we came across a man making and selling waffles with rhubarb jam and whipped cream! Turns out the house he was set up in front of is also available on Airbnb! That would be a very cool experience to spend the night here.
Hans Esbern Heinesen is a retired local who has lived in the village his whole life. He has become quite famous in these parts for his homemade treats.
We got back to Tórshvn at 6pm; it had been a long day of driving but totally worth it. If you find yourself on the Faroe Islands I'd highly suggest taking a day or two to drive to some of these incredibly remote villages!

Just remember to have a full tank of gas (it is very far between petrol stations), be careful on one-track roads, use the turnouts on your right to let oncoming traffic pass, make sure your lights are on when going through tunnels (I'd just leave them on all the time), and be prepared for sheep to jump onto the road out of nowhere! And of course, be respectful of the residents and their private property.

All Faroe Islands photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

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