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Faroe Islands

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Gjogv, Eysturoy

ABOVE: A panoramic view of Gjógv, on the island of Eysturoy. INSET BELOW: An oystercatcher bird.

In the early 1900s, the deputy superintendent of the Indian Museum of Calcutta had this to say about the people he met during a visit to the North Atlantic's Faroe Islands:

"They may be described as a finely built and handsome race, though the women seem to be very delicate and to age young. Both sexes have an air of refinement and dignity often seen among true peasants, and the men are unusually handsome. They are not tall, indeed their mean stature is below that of many European races, but they are well-proportioned with broad shoulders and magnificently developed legs.

"Anyone who has traveled in a boat rowed by Faroemen can testify that they are naturally a gay and a humourous people. Every rock of peculiar form is a subject of some jest, at which all are convulsed with laughter. Every sheep on the slopes above the water affords by its antics as it runs away from the noise an excuse for further jokes.

"The Faroeman, however, is reserved and proud and very shy when in company which he suspects of scornful wonder at himself. Therefore, he treats the ordinary British tourist with a somewhat glum silence, especially when the foreigner insists on poking about his cottage without permission, and he is intensely afraid of being laughed at. Even the fact that an Englishman has brought a tent with him to the islands is against him in the opinion of the islanders, for why cannot he be content with their fare and their lodging, which is clean and good if very simple?"

The Faroes and Iceland
Nelson Annandale
Oxford, 1905

Times have changed. For one thing, British tourists no longer poke around Faroese cottages without permission--a side effect of the Empire's dissolution, no doubt. For another, this small country's natives have grown in physical stature over the years, while their "magnificently developed legs" have withered to normal proportions in an era of cars, buses, and motor ferries. And neither rocks nor sheep are as funny as they once were; today's Faroese are more likely to guffaw at a DVD from the local video store.

But enough of that. Just what are the Faroe Islands, and why should you visit them?

A country with a faith in cod

photoThe 18 islands of the Faroes are in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Iceland. The islands, which are clustered together, look like mountains rising out of the sea. (In fact, that's exactly what they are--and rather large mountains at that, since the surrounding ocean drops quickly to a depth of nearly 2,500 feet.)

The Faroes became a self-governing community in 1948 after nearly six centuries of Danish rule. Although the islands receive heavy Danish subsidies and are nominally part of the Kingdom of Denmark, they have their own parliament, currency, stamps, and customs service.

The economy is based largely on cod fishing, with oil drilling providing a glimmer of hope for a population that has declined through emigration in recent years.

Whaling is another source of meat, if not money; for more on the that controversial (and threatened) Faroese village tradition, see  page 6.)

Next page: Sightseeing in the Faroes

In this article:
Faroe Islands - Introduction
Practical information
Hotels, dining, shopping
Transportation links
Tourism and general links

Top photo copyright © Christian Noval.
Inset photo copyright © Andrew Howe..

Last update: January 29, 2008

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