Sustainable tourism: why the Faroe Islands closed for maintenance

When the north Atlantic islands shut for a weekend to all but ‘voluntourists’ doing conservation projects, it was a win-win for locals and visitors

The road tunnel to Gásadalur was built 15 years ago. Until then, residents of this tiny village on Vágar, one of the Faroe Islands, relied on intermittent boat access below the cliffs or, more commonly, braved the 100% slope of a narrow track that climbs 500 metres over the mountain south of the village. The postman had to make the climb three times a week, making him one of the fittest men in the Faroes.

It wasn’t just the postman who made that trek, coffins were carried over the mountain to the cemetery at Bøur 5km away, as were sick people who needed the doctor. Only 11 people live in Gasadalur today, and without the tunnel it would probably have become one of Faroes’ abandoned villages. Today, I’m doing the climb with several local men, plus three mathematicians from Washington DC, a pharmacist from Glasgow, a civil servant from London, two Finnish students and two biochemists from Bratislava. They’re all volunteers who have come to the islands as a part of a tourism initiative that declared the country “closed for maintenance” for one weekend last month.

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