Descriptions like “Hawaii meets New Zealand” give you an idea of what to expect from the Faroe Islands, a self-governing territory of Denmark situated roughly between Norway and Iceland in the wilds of the North Atlantic (read: way remote).
But until you actually lay eyes on the otherworldly landscapes that define these 18 wind- and weather-swept islands home to roughly 50,000 people—and many, many more puffins and sheep—it’s hard to grasp just how special the Faroes really are.
And while recent global developments have led this vulnerable archipelago to flat out implore visitors not to visit the islands until further notice, a new tourism project launched by Visit Faroe Islands is hoping to give people a bit more than the virtual tour option many destinations are falling back on during these travel-stalled times.
The Remote Tourism project, lets viewers do more than just connect to the Faroes’ visual beauty from around the world on their tablets, mobile phones or PCs. Initially launched as a twice-daily, hour-long tour set to end on April 25, this project has already been so successful and popular that Visit Faroe Islands will instead run weekly Wednesday tours through the end of May.
The project puts a live camera on a Faroese local whose movements you can actually control with a “joypad” on your screen as a way of exploring the landscapes as you literally walk a real person through them in real time.
Skeptical about how much fun that would actually be, I gave it a go recently, and was instantly hooked by the feedback from the Faroese person I was effectively remote-controlling during my one-minute stint “at the wheel” (visitors to the site queue up virtually with the click of a button and are given a countdown to know when their turn is imminent).
With a click on your device, you can move your local Faroese guide forward, backward, right and left through the landscapes. You can even make them jump, which is hard to resist, especially when you’re given instant deadpan feedback for doing it, as I was.
“Of course your first command would be a jump, that would be mine, too,” says my new Faroese friend within a second or two of me issuing the command from my WFH post in Florida. “It’s quite surreal that I’m being controlled by someone in another country right now,” he added, and it was surreal to me, too, to watch him look right to show me a tractor I’d spied or gaze left, as I’d requested, toward the windblown ocean.Later during the tour, when someone asked him to jump again (it’s a crowd pleaser) in front of a field of staring sheep, he sportingly did, but not without quipping, “It’s strange to be standing in front of sheep and feel like the dumb one.” And from thousands of miles away, I laughed in real time at the idea of it, too.
In addition to enjoying incredible landscapes (when it’s not raining, of course—the Faroes see roughly 320 days of rain a year, I learn during the tour, and locals like to say they don’t have bad weather, just lots of weather), you can count on learning some interesting Faroe Islands facts from your local guide during the wanderings.
During my tune-ins, for example, I learned that the prime minister’s personal phone number is online for anyone to look up, should they want to ask him a question (can you even imagine?). And that no point in the Faroe Islands is more than 5 kilometers away from the ocean. On the tourism board’s Facebook page during the remote tours, you can also ask questions about what you’re seeing and get answers back shortly thereafter.
Over the weekend, when I tuned in again, the guide was on horseback and visitors to the site could command the horse to run along a tussocky trail. I’d signed on late and the queue was full, so I missed my turn in the saddle, so to speak (the app has become very popular since it launched), but I enjoyed plenty of views of all that wild surrounding ocean under a fleetingly sunny Faroese sky.
The ocean looked bluer than the very blue sky (people on the Facebook page were simultaneously commenting how their vacations to the islands had been completely rained out), and for a second—with the sound of the clicking horse hooves coming through in real time and its mane billowing in the wind in front of me—I nearly forgot I was in my comfy pants at home in North America and not riding a noble steed on a remote archipelago in the North Atlantic.
The Faroe Islands remain one of those places that has to be seen IRL to be believed. I have been once and have dreamt, ever since, of returning. And while this project is just a placeholder for the real thing, right now, at least, it’s hard to imagine a more entertaining and escapist one.