Once upon a time, on a faraway island, the descendants of the first Vikings hunted whales and raised sheep while retelling encounters with selkies and other shapeshifting creatures.
The year: 2019. The place: The Faroe Islands.
This archipelago, formed by 18 major rocky islands off Scotland and halfway between Norway and Iceland, is the North Atlantic’s best-kept secret.
The most Instagrammable place is Múlafossur Waterfall. You should stop here as soon as you land and even before checking in your hotel.
Located in the town of Gásaladur on Vágar Island (just 7 miles from the airport), this 100 feet waterfall will take your breath away.
It is accessible via the Eysturtindur tunnel, completed in 2006 to the joy of the few dozen inhabitants of the villages of Gásadalur and Árnafjall and the tens of thousands of visitors who come every year.
We stopped a couple of times to admire this place’s rugged beauty on our 28-mile scenic drive from Vágar to Hotel Føroyar, located in Tórshavn.
I was glad we flew in our hiking gear and shoes as we were ready to explore the many trails leading to the most picturesque cliffs, fjords, waterfalls and lakes.
One of the most extraordinary things about the Faroe Islands is that you feel like you’re the first soul who’s arrived here in a long time and have the entire place to yourself.
Even upon descending in the quaint villages that occasionally interrupt the beautiful wilderness, there’s such a fog-covered dormant vibe.
One of the most characteristic sights is the grass or sod roofs. Settlers introduced them to provide thermal insulation during the 300-day rainy season.
Although other cost-effective materials replaced the tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries, recent times witnessed aesthetic revivals, and new buildings started to go the ancient ancestors’ way.
On Day 3, we took the ferry to Kalsoy in the archipelago’s northeast. Home of the iconic Kallur Lighthouse and the famous Seal Woman statue, it’s also the location of the 25th James Bond 007 film “No Time to Die.”
I believe that the famous movie franchise was about to do for the Faroe Islands what it did for Thailand’s Khao Phing Kan Island back in 1974 with “The Man With the Golden Gun,” when COVID stood in the way.
Although the hike was not challenging, I failed to see the lighthouse due to my extreme fear of heights. Nonetheless, the surrounding area is a feast for the eyes and sanctuary to about 40,000 pairs of puffins, making it a paradise for bird lovers and watchers.
Kalsoy means “man island” and parallels another isle to the east (Kunoy, “woman island”). It seems ironic that it’s the former and not the latter where the iconic Kópakonan (Seal Woman) statue lives.
The Seal Woman was a selkie. In Celtic and Nord mythology, “seal folk” can change from seal to human by temporarily shedding their skins. They usually did it on the Thirteenth night to party with the humans.
A young man from Mikladalur waited on the beach until a pretty sea girl shed her skin to steal it, kidnapped her and forced her to bear his children. One day, while he was out at sea, she recovered her skin, fled and reunited with her seal family at last.
After the fishermen realized it and went out to hunt down and kill the seals, she appeared as a terrifying troll pledging revenge. Legend says that every time a man from the village drowns at sea or falls from the cliffs, it’s the Seal Woman’s doing.
If experiencing the islands from the cliffs is spectacular, doing so from the water will leave you speechless.
The boat tour, which departs from the marina in Sørvágur on Vágar Island, will put you almost at arm’s length to the iconic Drangarnir Sea Stacks (weather permitting).
I’m confident you won’t reach out and try to touch them, though, as you’ll be firmly holding the boat’s handrails for dear life.
Even in the summer and with good conditions, the ride is choppy. But if you can stomach it, the rewards are worthy.
You’ll admire the rocky coastline in all its splendor, the many sheep defying gravity as they pasture at almost 90 degrees, puffins and pellets’ perfect choreographies, and the majestic sea stacks.
Our captain must’ve been as skilled as his Viking forefathers, for we were treated with a sail through the natural tunnel formed by the stacks. After about 45 minutes of awe-inspiring content-capturing, the rough waters started to wear us off.
So as we returned to the marina, most passengers had put the cameras away and stared at the unreal landscape holding the boat and hugging their loved ones.
I thought about the ones swallowed by the ocean, victims of the curse of the Seal Woman.