Reaching the spectacular Fogo Island Inn requires a journey that reads like a children’s adventure book. Commercial planes can carry you as far as Gander, Deer Lake and St. John’s on Canada’s Atlantic island of Newfoundland. From there, ferries – preceded by an icebreaker, depending on the season – leave the port of Farewell and sail several times daily across Hamilton Sound, past North Dog Bay Island and Big Duck Island to Stag Harbour on the island of Fogo, sometimes stopping en route at the Change Islands.
The feeling that you are part of an adventure doesn’t stop when you arrive either. An oasis of contemporary luxury in a stark and unforgiving environment of wild nature, this hotly tipped hotel promises both magic and enchantment. Fogo Island Inn was recently honored on “Travel + Leisure” magazine’s prestigious ‘It List’ for 2014, the style bible for discerning travelers.
Fogo Island is a remote fishing community nestled on Newfoundland’s jagged northeastern coast. Place names on the island hint at its settler past: Seldom-Come-By, Joe Batt’s Arm, Tilting Harbour. First permanently settled in the 18th century – though visited by fishermen since the early 1500s – Fogo retains folk customs that nod to the islanders’ English and Irish ancestry. While its unique cultural heritage has remained much the same, the local weather is so changeable that the 2,400-plus islanders talk of seven seasons rather than the traditional four.
There is a remote, edge-of-the-world quality aboutFogo and time appears to move slowly here. The Inn is found on the island’s Back Western Shore, like a lighthouse overlooking the Labrador Current and the winter pack ice.
The hotel’s sleek and boldly contemporary design is in sharp contrast to the rugged northern landscape of this island outpost. Designed by Newfoundland-born but Norway-based architect Todd Saunders, the timber-clad structure employs traditional Newfoundland “outport” architecture and materials.
It was designed and built with sustainability and a profound respect for nature in mind. Narrow columns support the protruding end of the building, ensuring it impacts only minimally on the rocks, lichens and plants that make up the coastal landscape. Rainwater is collected from the roof and is recycled, while solar panels on the outbuilding provide hot water for under-floor heating and laundry services.
Saunders – who has also created a series of rural, modernist, live-in studios for the island’s growing artist community – says the skill of local carpenters and craftsmen was instrumental in the build quality. The exterior cladding is locally sourced and milled Black Spruce.
Inside, the hotel offers a warm and inviting retreat set against the stark beauty of the island. Its 29 one- of-a-kind guest suites afford breathtaking views of the wild North Atlantic and are named after the mysterious islets, rocks and shoals that can be seen from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The hotel’s welcoming guest rooms and main dining room are all designed to capture the magnificent water, sky, and coastline panoramas
The clean lines and comfortable but utilitarian approach to interior design lend the hotel spaces a Scandinavian feel, reinforced further by the organic, natural fiber beds and blond-wood floors (and further still by the fourth floor roof deck with saunas and outdoor hot tubs). But local accents, such as rocking chairs, brightly patterned quilts, bold wallpaper prints and wood-burning stoves give the suites a sense of place. This is pared-down luxury, Newfoundland-style.
Guest rooms vary in size from 350 to 1,100 square feet. Three are double height spaces with the sleeping area located on a mezzanine. In each of the suites, the bed is placed in front of the windows to maximize the dramatic water and coastal views.
Every textile and piece of furniture in the suites – from the quilts to the rugs to the wallpaper – has been handcrafted in the local community, a style they call “handmade modern” and is a welcome antidote to the uniformity that shapes contemporary hospitality around the world. Even the toiletries are locally sourced.
Indeed, community lies at the very soul of this unique retreat. Fogo Island Inn is the culmination of a major community revitalization project, and the hotel is just one element in a broader social enterprise that sought to sustain the community and its heritage following the demise of its once-thriving cod fishing industry.
The building contains a number of public facilities, including a contemporary art gallery, a library dedicated to local history, a cinema, gym, and meeting and dining areas. The hotel is a community asset and all surpluses from the operation are reinvested in the community to help secure a long lasting resilience for the island. There are no investors seeking a return on their outlay. The inn adopts a no-tipping policy – all employees participate in a bonus- sharing program that is based on the hotel’s performance.
Fogo Island Inn is essentially a public building for Fogo Island. It’s also a groundbreaking model of social entrepreneurship – rooted in the island, not built on top of it – and a crucial element in the community’s daily life and ultimate survival.
The hotel’s warmth and unquestioning hospitality have a distinctly local flavor, too. Care, attention and conversation are lavished on guests as they would be on visiting friends. This is a natural approach to hospitality, not something that can be learned. While strikingly modern on the outside, Fogo Island Inn is a true traditionalist at heart and has gone to great lengths to preserve and revive island traditions, including the craftsmanship so apparent in the building’s exterior and interior design.
Chef Murray McDonald has developed a creative seasonal menu that emphasizes regional dishes and local ingredients such as fish, crustaceans, berries,mushrooms and caribou. He talks of a “forage, gather, cook” approach to cuisine. The hotel is defining a “new” Newfoundland across food, architecture, design, craft and art.
Beyond the traditional dining times, afternoon tea, daybreak trays at sunrise, and hearty picnics taken elsewhere on the island are all included in the full-board rates.
While so many hotels promise a chance to kick back and switch off, easing away the realities of the real world, Fogo Island Inn invites you to become part of a resilient island community at the edge of the world, to understand its unique cultural heritage and personal identity, and to truly interact with nature at its most wild. That, perhaps, is the real adventure.
For more information on Fogo Island Inn and reservations visit www.fogoislandinn.ca or call (709) 658-3444.