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The Faroe Islands - John Gregory-Smith

Whilst browsing through Instagram two years ago and looking at pictures of things I want to eat, places I’d love to visit, houses I can’t afford and guys I want to date, I saw an image of small village on a cliff with a waterfall spilling over the edge and down into the sea. It was mesmerising. The picture was of Gusadalur in the Faroe Islands. After a little digging and seeing more of this magical looking land, I was hooked. I knew I had to get there and this year, a new restaurant opening was the excuse I needed to get out there for work.

Gusadalur Village in the Faroe Islands John Gregory-Smith

Located in the North Atlantic, between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands are a rugged archipelago, mighty mountains erupting from the sea, with towering cliffs and great waterfalls cascading over them. A microclimate shrouds the islands in a permanent haze; warm, cold, wet and dry, all at once, ever changing and never consistent. There are eighteen islands, most connected by bridges or underwater tunnels and the more far flung are only accessible by boat. There are no trees on the Faroe Islands; the air is too salty and windy for that. Instead, a lush grass grows everywhere, yellow in the winter and verdant green in the summer. Sheep roam around in vast numbers and mellow horses plod along through the fields.

My first glimpse of Gusadalur is on a hike with my guide Johannes and favourite photographer Nassima Rothacker. We walk up a steep hill, fulmar birds soaring in the air above us and the misty peaks of Puffin Island just visible across the unforgiving sea. The path leads us along the cliffs and up onto the mountain. Like a child, I run to the top, full of energy and shaking with excitement. I sit right on the edge, looking down into the village and for once in my life I’m speechless. This tiny settlement, a hamlet really, is shrouded in mist that rolls in from the valley to one side. A river runs below, tearing through the countryside and tumbling over the cliffs and into the sea. It is spelling binding.

Over the next few days, the Faroe Islands continue to enchant me. We hike to distant villages, past great lakes and marvel at spectacular vistas. One morning, we drive to the village of Saksun during a blizzard. A solitary church stands on the side of vast valley and opposite, huddled together is a small cluster of grass-roofed huts. Several waterfalls spill down the mountains into a huge lake in the centre. The snow covers everything in a crisp white blanket. I’ve never seen anything quite so remarkable.

John Gregory-Smith in the Faroe Islands at Saksun Village

It isn’t just the sense of place that gets me here, it’s everything that goes with it. The Faroese are some of the most chilled out, content, happy, open minded people I have ever met; soft and kind, with a cheeky glint in their eyes. They all speak immaculate English and seem far more worldly than there little islands would leave you to believe. I make most of my life decisions based on my stomach and food is a huge pull for me everywhere I go. Here, it is extraordinary and from heavenly home cooking to two Michelin starred food, the Faroe Islands have it all. Traditionally, the cuisine consisted of birds, fish, sheep and potatoes, with a few herbs thrown in for good measure. The environment is not conducive to growing fruit and vegetables that need plenty of sunlight and fresh water. The cold means that meat and fish has to be preserved for the winter and fermented lamb is a speciality of the islands. It’s pungent and, for me, unpalatable in flavour. Still, extraordinary to try. The seafood is, however, incredible. Pilot whale and puffin are still eaten here, and on the last Saturday of every year in August, the locals abseil the cliffs to collect gannets from their perches to cook for a feast. Leftfield? Yes. But that’s what I have come to love here. Expect the unexpected.

Visit visitfaroeislands.com for further information

John Gregory-Smith Faroe Islands

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John Gregory-Smith at The Ice Hotel Sweden