The Faroes, an archipelago of 18 islands in the North Atlantic, constitute an autonomous region of Denmark.
While the islands' rugged coastlines and extensive bird life are a draw for some, the Faroes also offer the prospect of major offshore reserves of oil and gas.
These potential resources have given extra weight to the argument for full independence from Denmark.
The Faroes' landscape is barren and often spectacular
But a planned referendum on the issue was shelved in 2001 after Denmark said it would halt aid within four years if voters favoured the independence proposals.
A local parliament - the Loegting - looks after the islands' affairs, although Copenhagen is responsible for defence and foreign relations.
The Faroes were first settled by Irish monks in the 6th century AD. The first Norse settlers were farmers.
The islands became part of the Kingdom of Norway in the 11th century and came under Danish control in the 14th century when Norway joined the Kingdom of Denmark. Under the 1948 Home Rule Act the islands became self-governing.
The islanders' traditional hunt for pilot whales has attracted international attention. Supporters of the hunt say whale meat is an important source of food over the winter. Animal rights activists have called for the cull to be banned.
Fishing is the main economic activity on the islands, and Danish subsidies remain an important source of income. Copenhagen has said it will review the subsidy agreement should the Faroes profit from offshore energy reserves.
- Territory: Faroe Islands
- Status: Self-governing part of Denmark
- Population: 47,700 (Danish government, 2003)
- Capital: Torshavn
- Area: 1,399 sq km (540 sq miles)
- Major languages: Faroese, Danish
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 81 years (women)
- Monetary unit: 1 Danish krone = 100 ore
- Main exports: Fish, fish products, marine vessels
- GNI per capita: n/a
- Internet domain: .fo
- International dialling code: +298
Queen: Margrethe II of Denmark
Prime minister (Lagmand) Kaj Leo Johannesen
Kaj Leo Johannesen of the Union Party became prime minister in September 2008, a week after the collapse of former prime minister Joannes Eidesgaard's coalition.
Mr Johannesen's coalition government consists of nine members representing the Union Party, the People's Party and the Social Democratic Party. Each party has three members in the government. The three parties also jointly hold 20 of the 33 seats in parliament.
The prime minister has pledged to seek closer ties with Europe and to preserve the fishing sector, which is a major source of income for the country.
His centre-right, pro-Denmark Union Party and its coalition partner, the centre-right and pro-independence People's Party both received an increased share of the vote in elections in October 2011.
Mr Johannesen's predecessor, Joannes Eidesgaard, had stepped down after quarrels with his foreign minister and disagreements within the coalition.
The Faroes have traditionally been governed by coalitions.
The Danish government controls defence policy, foreign affairs, monetary matters, the church and the police. The islands send two representatives to the Danish parliament, the Folketing.
There are two national dailies in the Faroe Islands. The main national radio and TV services are publicly-funded.