Many aren’t aware that the Kingdom of Denmark includes the far-flung territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Though these remote corners of the globe may not appear on most travellers’ radars, they offer up some truly wild adventures as well as the opportunity to experience some of the world’s most unspoiled wildernesses.
Rising up through the rough waters of the North Atlantic, the Faroe Islands are a group of 18 rocky islands situated about midway between Norway and Iceland. While the primary driving force bringing tourists to this self-governing Danish territory is undoubtedly its raw, untamed nature, there’s far more than just beautiful landscapes and natural formations waiting to be explored. The Faroese are a people boasting a rich history and vibrant culture, including world-class gastronomy, fascinating museums and a lively local music scene.
Though remote, getting to the Faroes nowadays is fairly simple with daily flights from Copenhagen, as well as seagoing voyages for the more intrepid adventurer provided by Smyril Line’s ferry, M/S Norröna. Once on the islands, exploring the local way of life is a must, particularly in the ‘big’ capital city, Tórshavn. Home to about 40 per cent of the entire Faroese population, the islands’ smaller villages present some of the most charming and photogenic scenes of island life, with sheep, colourful wooden houses (above) and jagged cliffs around almost every corner.
In the capital Tórshavn, major highlights include the harbourfront where local fisherman can be seen selling their freshly caught spoils, and Tinganes, the old town, characterised by rows of turf-roofed red wooden houses that once acted as a Viking meeting spot. Further afield in the small village of Kirkjubøur, you’ll also find Koks (above), the first Faroese dining establishment to receive a Michelin star. Diners here can explore the very best of local cuisine, with unusual flavour combinations including fermented lamb, sea urchin and locally foraged greens and herbs.
It’s definitely a good idea to rent a car to explore the islands’ epic landscapes. The infrastructure is excellent with all islands, even the remotest, connected through a series of bridges and tunnels. While driving around the Faroes expect to encounter some of the most jaw-dropping natural scenes on earth. Noteworthy attractions just begging to be Instagrammed include the island of Vágar’s famous Sørvágsvatn (above), the largest lake in the Faroes and one that sits almost magically atop a seaside cliff, as well as Gásadalur (main photo), the magnificent waterfall gushing into the ocean, another of Vágar’s renowned attractions.
Another must-visit destination is the westernmost, virtually uninhabited island of Mykines. As of 2012, there are only 14 individuals known to permanently inhabit the island. Mykines boasts large populations of puffins (above) and other seabirds, and an impressive lighthouse. Be sure to pack your best hiking gear.
The largest island on the planet, Greenland provides those daring enough to reach her icy fjords with some of the most unique travel experiences possible. Being so remote, so rugged and so far north, Greenland is the definition of one-of-a-kind adventure.
As with the Faroes, Greenland’s biggest drawcard is its untouched nature, including large amounts of icebergs, massive glaciers and dramatic fjordscapes. In fact, as much as 80 per cent of the island is covered in the largest permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica. This sheer icy mass provides a habitat for a host of wildlife encountered virtually nowhere else on earth. Some of the animals you may glimpse on your excursion through Greenland include polar bears, whales, seals, walrus, musk ox, reindeer and a plethora of marine birds.
Besides the wealth of fauna, there’s no doubt that the surrounding landscapes and the region’s various natural phenomena will leave you breathless in wonder. From otherworldly iceberg-filled fjords, to gushing glacial runoff and of course the item that tops most people’s bucket lists, the aurora borealis (above), the number of unforgettable sights and experiences in Greenland is staggering.
One of the best places to get up close and personal with all this ice would have to be the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ilulissat (above) in Western Greenland. Ilulissat is the name for both the icefjord and adjacent town, which is the third largest in Greenland (after Sisimiut and the largest, the capital Nuuk). The fjord is crammed with icy formations fed by the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier (also known as the Jakobshavn Glacier), which is infamously purported to be the glacier that birthed the iceberg that sank the Titanic.
Added highlights that should be experienced by any visitor to Greenland range from picking wild arctic blueberries and crowberries in season (late summer) and sampling some of the unusual traditional local fare to learning about the local Inuit culture, language and history, and even dogsledding.
Greenland has been inhabited for thousands of years, mostly by hunter-gatherer communities of Inuits, but also in medieval times by Vikings who arrived from the Norse-speaking lands to the east. Due to these settlements around mostly southern Greenland, there are some amazing Viking ruins just waiting to be discovered.
Marvellous Viking ruins can be found in the quiet sheep-farming village of Igaliko, and there are also the well-preserved church and accompanying structures at Hvalsey (above), close to the southern Greenland town of Qaqartoq. South Greenland is also famous for its successful sheep farming, which has resulted in lamb becoming a staple of the Greenlandic diet, and definitely something that should be sampled while travelling around.
Because there are no roads that join the various towns throughout Greenland, the only modes of transport available to travellers are boats, planes and helicopters, all of which add to the wholly unique adventurous nature of this part of the world.
– TEXT BY SAUL LIPCHIK
PHOTOS: KOKS FACEBOOK, FLICKR USER DAVIDEGORLA (PUFFINS IN MYKINES), SAUL LIPCHIK (HVALSEY), 123RF.COM, INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.