A Faroe-tale stay in one of the world’s smallest capitals
TEXT: LOUISE OLDER STEFFENSEN | PHOTOS © HOTEL HAFNIA
More than 300 kilometres from the nearest land, in-between Iceland and Norway, the 18 rocky Faroe Islands defiantly jut out of the North Sea. Despite their desolate North Atlantic location, they have supported a hardy, creative and welcoming population for the past millennium. With its 20,000 inhabitants, Tórshavn is home to almost half the Faroese population and a millennium of rich, distinctive history. At the heart of the tiny capital, Hotel Hafnia ensures that you have ideal conditions from which to explore both Tórshavn and the rest of the beautiful, dramatic Faroe Islands.
In 2007, a National Geographic survey of more than 500 sustainable tourism experts placed the Faroe Islands first out of 111 island destinations for being “authentic, unspoilt and likely to remain so”. Keen to share their gorgeous home with the world, normal Faroese citizens have worked hard to quite literally put the nation on the map and, in 2016, they began an amazing campaign: Strapping cameras unto far-wandering sheep, they created Sheep View in an effort to entice Google Street View to record the splendour of their country (it worked).
The government too has made sustainable tourism a priority, improving services, connections and facilities, but only in ways which do not damage normal life on the islands. The Faroe Islands remains an authentic and unspoilt country, but it is highly modern too – and a much more comfortable, cheap and reachable destination than it was 20 years ago. Today, you can get there easily by air or by sea – the cruise ship Norröna is a popular way to experience both the Faroe Islands and their more tourist-laden northern neighbour, Iceland.
A place fit for the Gods
Pætur Trónd Thomsen, general manager of Hotel Hafnia, recently returned to Tórshavn after years in Denmark and the UK. “It’s a great little city,” he says. “It’s got everything you expect of a capital – great shops and restaurants, but at the same time, everything is within walking distance. We’re surrounded by breath-taking nature on every side and we’ve got amazing historical sites like Tinganes on our doorstep.” Dating back to 825, Tinganes is the ancient location of the Faroese government (ting in ancient Norse), making it one of the eldest parliamentary locations in the world. Originally a neutral meeting place between disputing Viking clans, it gradually developed into a town and marketplace, and onwards into Tórshavn (‘Thor’s Harbour’).
Situated metres from Tórshavn’s cathedral and a hammer’s throw from Tinganes and the harbour, Hotel Hafnia has been the home away from home for many of the Faroe Islands’ visitors since 1951. In 2015, the hotel underwent an extensive renovation and expansion to keep up with steadily rising tourist numbers. “We’ve now got 78 rooms of varying shapes and sizes,” Thomsen says. “We’ve sought to retain the building’s charms and quirks, and we’ve added little Faroese touches in the decoration. I think we’ve been quite successful; it looks and feels really lovely and inviting. And we’re expanding even further – we’ll have a second hotel with 130 rooms available by 2020.”
This year, the hotel added three little cottages to its line-up. The wooden cottages are built in classic Faroese fashion and measure one-and-a-half floors each. With their black exteriors and thatched roofs, they blend right in with the surrounding century-old houses, but come complete with modern amenities including a kitchenette and high-speed Wi-Fi. All guests staying at the hotel or in the cottages have access to the massive new Burn Fitness gym, which also includes a spa and sauna, and each room comes with complimentary breakfast at Restaurant Hafnia.
A taste of the Faroe Islands
Restaurant Hafnia’s New Nordic-inspired breakfast and lunch buffets are homemade and delicious, serving up all the usual suspects garnished with Faroese additions such as berry shots and pickled herring (not necessarily to be enjoyed simultaneously). “Our piece de resistance, however, is our summer Tuesday seafood buffet, which shows off the best of Faroese cuisine with freshly caught fish and shellfish,” Thomsen reveals. “It’s what the Faroe Islands are famous for after all.” This is served in Panorama, the hotel’s top floor, which has been redressed in floor-to-ceiling windows to exploit the 360-degree views of Tórshavn that diners and visitors can feast upon.
As if the people at Hotel Hafnia did not have enough on their plates, they also manage the more informal Katrina Christiansen restaurant, which combines Faroese food with the Spanish tapas tradition in a cosy and beautifully preserved 18th-century wooden house that was once the home of author William Heinesen. Back at the hotel, Panorama also doubles as a four-star, fully-equipped modern conference centre, with function rooms seating up to 100 people. Next to the lobby, Café Kaspar also serves more casual dishes 24-7, including pre-prepared packed lunches. “We know most tourists want to explore more than just the fabulous hotel facilities,” Thomsen concludes. “We just want to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for them to go out and explore our beautiful islands.”