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Sandoy joins Mainland with high hopes

The island Sandoy’s long standing relative isolation despite its rather central geographical location among the Faroe Islands is soon to be over. As of December 21st this year (2023)—with the opening of the new Sandoy Tunnel (Sandoyartunnilin), the giant undersea road tunnel between Sandoy and Streymoy—the island will become part of the so-called Mainland. That makes all of the 18 inhabited islands of the Faroes, with very few exceptions including the southernmost island Suðuroy, interconnected by road. 

This is just about 50 years after the expansion of what later became known as the Mainland kicked off in 1973 with the inauguration of the Brúgvin um Streymin—the bridge between Nesvík on Streymoy and Oyrarbakki on Eysturoy, a fixed link between the two largest islands of the Faroes. In that same vicinity, notably, the first two-lane road tunnel of the Faroe Islands was opened in 1976—the Norðskálatunnilin. 

The development of road infrastructure accelerated in the years and decades that followed, with the first two undersea tunnels opened in the early to mid 2000s, joined by the mammoth Eysturoy Tunnel (Eysturoyartunnilin) in 2020, and now the new Sandoy Tunnel. Today, of a total 23 road tunnels built across the tiny country since 1963, the Sandoy Tunnel—spanning a whopping 11.8 kilometers from Gamlarætt on Streymoy to Traðardalur on Sandoy—is the Faroe Islands’ longest.

The mouth of the Sandoy Tunnel, on the Sandoy side, pictured in October 2023. Image credits: Maria Olsen.

So what does this major upgrade in road connectivity mean for Sandoy’s merely 1,200-strong population? It seems hopes are high, at least in part inspired by the experience of Vágoy when that island, in 2002, joined the Mainland and subsequently underwent a good deal of demographic and economic growth.

“I think most of us are both hopeful and excited,” said Hanna á Reynatúgvu, a member of the Municipal Council of Sandur, the largest settlement on Sandoy. “We’re down to 523 inhabitants so, clearly, we hope to see a change in the population trend. With this new tunnel, our island will be fully connected to the Mainland, with Tórshavn just half an hour’s drive from here. That is a huge change and will bring many possibilities and options.”

As a board member of tourism development agency Visit Sandoy, Ms. á Reynatúgvu is involved in encouraging and supporting local and regional tourism efforts.  

Sandoy is considered to have the most fertile soil and best terrain for agricultural purposes in the Faroes. Its small-scale agriculture and farming businesses represent a sizable chunk of the islands’ economic activities, however employ a very limited number of people. Here, tourism could offer something of a supplement, with hiking, for example, proving highly popular among visitors.

“On Sandoy you find the most family friendly hiking option,” Ms. á Reynatúgvu added. “The hills are not too steep while at the same time you have the typical gorgeous natural surroundings found all over the Faroe Islands, and some spectacular views. Also Sandoy offers more peace and quiet than much of the rest of the islands because it’s so sparsely populated without being too small.”

Among the main attractions in the town of Sandur: the local museum Sands Bygdasavn and the art museum Sands Listasavn. At Skálavík, another settlement on Sandoy, there is a hotel and a cafe that is only, however, open during the summer season. The second-largest town is Skopun, home to stonemasonry business Føroya Grótvirki. There are also a few other settlements on the island.

Farms are popular to visit. “Local produce is something that more and more people appreciate,” Ms. á Reynatúgvu said, “and it seems quite a few tourists enjoy to get a close view of what it looks like in real life.”

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