Island in the Middle of Nowhere
Do you want to visit an island so remote that most people don’t know it exists? Mykines is the westernmost of the Faroe Islands, just dots in the North Atlantic Ocean northwest of Scotland and midway between Iceland and Norway. Vikings settled the Faroe Islands more than a thousand years ago and their descendants live here today in the island’s small village. Only 11 people live here year-round. Like all of the Faroe Islands, Mykines slants sharply upward and ends in steep cliffs on one side, a pattern created by blasts from giant volcanoes 60 million years ago. This dramatic landscape has proved to be an ideal home for several species of birds, and an exhilarating place to observe them.
It’s believed, at least locally, that Mykines is the mysterious “paradise of birds” that St. Brendan, the seafaring Irish monk, wrote about in the middle of the sixth century.
Thousands of migratory birds fly around or perch on the steep cliffsides, which are composed of layers of volcanic basalt. Colonies of puffins live on the ledges and the swaths of green atop the cliffs. Have your camera ready, so when the puffins pose with fish in their brightly colored beaks, you can snap a picture. As you watch the birds, the cacophony of notes from guillemots, storm petrels, and fulmars surrounds you.
To see the striking white gannets, you’ll head to the tiny piece of land reachable only by crossing a footbridge spanning a 35m-deep (115-ft.) gorge. You’ll pass by a lighthouse to reach the headland, where you can see the gannets and their young perched atop two sea stacks (rock outcroppings close to the coastline), the only nesting spot for the species in the Faroe Islands. There are no organized birding tours to speak of on the island. For more information, contact the tourist board (information below).
While Mykines is tiny, there are a few hikes. Visit the “stone” forest in Korkadalur, actually a long line of basalt columns, or walk to the top of Knukur, for a view of the nearby islands. Fishing is the main way families are supported in the Faroe Islands, and there are boats waiting to take you deep-sea fishing. You can also sail around the Faroe Islands either in a private boat, in the restored schooner, Norðlýsið, which sails from Tórshavn, or the restored sailing ship Dragin ( 298/456939; www.dragin.fo/?id=37237), which sets out from Klaksví. For a scenic tour on the waters, or a day of fishing, contact Norðlýsið (www.nordlysid.com).
The locals speak a derivative of the ancient Norse language, but English is also spoken by some. Ferries come to Mykines and there is helicopter service a few days a week.
The gulfstream encircles the Faroe Islands, tempering the climate. The maritime weather here causes quick changes, from misty fog to light showers to blazing sunshine within the hour, so bring raingear.
Faroe Islands ( 298/30-6900; www.faroeislands.com). Visit Faroe Islands (www.visit-faroeislands.com).
Tours: Faroe Saga Travel ( 866/423-7242; www.faroesagatravel.com). Five Stars of Scandinavia ( 800/722-4126; www.5stars-of-scandinavia.com).
When to Go: Summer.
$ Kristianshus Mykines ( 298-31-29-85).