First, you have to figure out where they are - but once you get to the Faroe Islands, you'll find magic and music, especially if you go for the phenomenal G! Festival that's held there every July
Tragically enough, I, like many others, was a little bemused as to the exact location of the Faroe Islands. I knew, as many do, that it was vaguely north of Scotland somewhere, and that their football team had once featured a legendary bobble-hat-wearing goalkeeper, but aside from that my mind was as blank as the grey skies that greeted us on our arrival at Torshavn airport, an unassuming and functional outpost giving access to the country’s islands.
Very quickly, however, on the shuttle bus between the capital and our destination of Göta, it became clear that this is an archipelago with much to offer. The best word to describe the environment, inevitably, is ‘rugged’; like its close neighbour Iceland, it’s a volcanic, windswept country, where vegetation seems to hang off the sides of the hills and crumpled mountains with a dogged grit that seems impossible. The stunning natural landscape features fjords, hills, and everywhere a reminder of the North Atlantic sea that buffets all sides of each island.
It’s also an environment in which music is not just available but highly-prized; in a relatively small community of natives, the ability to tell stories through song has a magic about it that is as much part of the Faroese soul as is the magic of fish soup. It is to this end that the phenomenal G! Festival was set up in Göta – a town, or a village, so small that it has no hotels. Every year, however, several thousand people descend on this undulating melange of fields, sheep and cliffs to celebrate music, brotherhood and musicianship, whether camping out in tents or – like myself – bunking down with one of the locals who open out their houses to visitors in a typically gruff and friendly way. There is a beauty to the matter-of-fact acceptance of strangers into these people’s homes that speaks volumes for a land where crime is virtually unheard-of and doors are unlocked everywhere. Word quickly gets around of any transgression and it’s just not in the national character to be anything other than honest.
The festival itself takes place on a beach in the southern part of Göta, with a stage built on grey sand in the heart of a fjord of immaculate and eternal beauty. It is quite simply breathtaking, and a host of acts appear from the UK, USA and Denmark, along with indigenous bands such as the fantastic Budam, a kind of Faroese Lord Sutch with a polka obsession, or Teitur Larsson, an indie-folk singer for whom baring his soul is simply a compulsion. His beautiful, vulnerable tunes float onto the Atlantic, and somewhere a seagull croaks in duet.
And as singers go, the Faroe Islands seem to produce some quite superbly expressive ones; Eivör Pálsdóttir, at her most soaring, rivals Icelandic compatriot genius, Björk, for range and invention, whilst Högni Lisberg has indie chops to make Coldplay shift uncomfortably in their seats. The parade of musicians is in constant flow for two days solid, and the best band in the world, Icelanders Dr Spock, make a welcome appearance on a smaller stage on a local tennis court.
It’s fantastic, and has more than a few surreal moments. Natasha Bedingfield unexpectedly pops up to warble her pop hits, looking bemused by her surroundings but utterly delighted with the genuinely roaring response from the crowd. And at midnight on day two, hot dog in hand, we find ourselves watching a musical play led by actors dressed in cloaks and skulls. It’s all in Faroese, which is a close relative of Icelandic and, like that language, therefore very close to the original tongue of the Vikings. Whilst our linguistic skills unfortunately stretch merely to a mumbly takk fyrir (thank you), somehow the thematic material, movements of the players and dialogue makes sense to us and we get a real sense of foreboding, death and rebirth.
It stays with us on the walk back to our digs (staying with a local police chief, no less.) It’s a 20-minute stroll and gives us time to try and digest our experience a little. As we turn a corner, roughly halfway home, suddenly the sights, sounds and smells of a music festival fade away entirely, the rest of the lights of the town disappear, and we’re left alone on a cliff path that’s unutterably silent but for the lapping of the sea on the rocks 30 feet below. It’s 2am, but not dark – not properly, anyway; there’s merely been a thinning out of the constant light of the summer, like the sun is stained with exhaustion. Suddenly the world seems a very, very lonely place. Quickly, the magnificence of the landscape seems to say: here I am, as I ever was, and as I ever will be. A shiver and very nearly a tear fall; I stand transfixed in an ineffably powerful blend of awe and feelings of insignificance.
A moment passes and three young lads come round the corner with cans of cider in their hands and a ghetto blaster hammering out Blink 182. They nod at me as we pass on our respective paths. For them the festival is just beginning, as the dance stage begins to rev up in the background. I continue on my own path, and my heavy heart lightens into a smile that doesn’t leave me for days.
Where to stay
Most people stay onsite or with locals but it is possible to grab a hotel within about 20km if you’re determined to do it that way. Good luck getting a taxi! Car hire is available from Torshavn airport, though.
Hotel Torshavn: take your pick which dramatic view you'd like at one of the best hotels in the capital - and therefore the country too. Out front the harbour, and out back the town hall square await your eyes. Everything the capital has to offer is in easy walking distance. (Torsogata 4)
Hotel Föroyar: a very good four-star hotel that features a traditional grass roof and a great view over Torshavn. It might be a little out of town but the bracing walk will do you all sorts of good and the air is some of the cleanest on the planet, too. (Oyggjarvegur 45)
Where to eat
The best restaurant in the Faroes is Gourmet in Torshavn (Gr Kambans gøta 13) but Hotel Föroyar (see above) also has an excellent one. If you’re not eating on site (the food is excellent) the nearby villages of Leirvík and Fuglafjörður should yield some joy. A very good and special way to dine is to visit the farm in Kirkjubö. They serve food made of lamb from the farm and tell you the ancient long history of the place and their family. You need a big party of people and obviously booking in advance is essential.