FOGO ISLAND, NL — Lots has been written about the contemporary inn that bears this island’s name and its legendary founder Zita Cobb. In fact, the reason most people come to this remote outpost off Newfoundland’s northeast coast is to stay at the incredible Fogo Island Inn, which sits perched atop a rocky shore like a mighty ship looking out on the foamy Atlantic.
The warm greeting guests get when they arrive is only surpassed by the warmth of the people who live full time on this tiny archipelago.
Take Sean Penton, for example. The man Fogo Island Inn sends to pick us up at Gander International Airport greets my husband Dick and I with a warm smile — the first of many hospitable islanders we meet during our stay at the world-class inn.
Sean informs us that because of the ferry schedule, we had some time to kill in Gander, so, he offers to guide us around the small city that became world famous during 9/11 and immortalized since in the play Come From Away, which tells the story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in tiny Gander on that tragic day.
Sean makes sure we have a nice lunch and then drives us to the small but informative North Atlantic Aviation Museum, which has a section dedicated to Gander’s involvement in 9/11, when 6,700 stranded passengers were offered food and shelter by the locals. The museum even has a steel beam from New York’s ill-fated World Trade Centre on permanent display.
We’re greeted by the warmest of welcomes when we finally arrive at the gorgeous 29-room inn, which opened in 2013 to great fanfare because of its innovative design and Cobb’s financial commitment to the place where she was born.
Above: Fogo Island Inn, where gourmet meals top the menu, blends in with its surroundings.
Surprisingly, the inn’s uncomplicated modern exterior blends in quite beautifully with the raw natural landscape on this island outpost that has suffered greatly since the federal government’s 1992 moratorium on cod fishing, an industry that sustained the island for so many years. Now, thanks to Cobb’s Fogo Island Inn, a new industry, tourism, is taking hold here.
When we enter the Fogo Island Inn, we’re instantly wrapped in the cozy warmth of the lobby, which is decked out with homey touches like fluffy cushions and comfortable benches adorned with handmade embroidered pads — a great place to read a book in front of the roaring fireplace.
After picking up our keys (which, incidentally, we never used) Sean reappears and accompanies us to our spacious room where he introduces us to all its lovely amenities. Once left on our own, all we could do was gasp in awe at the fabulous view of ocean waves crashing over the 400-million-year-old rocks below. Breathtaking!
Everything in our room was made by locals. Handmade quilts adorn every king size bed and the furniture is built right on the inn’s grounds. Even the wooden hangers are handmade. We also had a pot-bellied stove, ready for those chilly nights when the north Atlantic wind starts howling.
A handmade rocking chair and a cozy easy chair were positioned in front of our panoramic window and with the aid of binoculars supplied by the inn, we marvelled at the vast seascape surrounding us. Leaving such an awe-inspiring view was not easy, but the Inn and island offered too many other adventures for us to enjoy.
Above: The Maritime majesty one sees on Fogo Island is something to behold.
Each morning a tray of tea, coffee, scones or muffins were left outside our door and we fuelled up on the homemade goodies before heading out to experience what Fogo Island had to offer. In the evening, we returned to gourmet meals in the inn’s spectacular chandelier-filled dining room, ruled by Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue, who formerly worked at Ontario’s famed Langdon Hall in Cambridge. The fabulous meals, which were artistically plated, were only surpassed by the breathtaking sunsets which played out in the room’s gigantic floor-to-ceiling windows during our stay.
We book a tour of the island with a local gent named Roy Dwyer, a former teacher who happens to be the island’s resident historian, poet and author. He has published four books with “more to come.”
Roy recites some of his poems as we make our way from place-to-place — first Deep Bay, Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm and Tilting, the largest of the island’s villages where we come across the picture-perfect scene of a man sitting on his porch with his sleeping dog curled up next to him. Turns out the man is Robert Mellin, an associate professor at McGill University and author of Winter in Tilting.
While on our tour, we also check out a few of the artist structures that Cobb has built to attract artists from all over the world. The seascapes and Maritime architecture make this an inspiring place for painters to put oil on canvas.
Above: Offshore, great sea creatures frolic in the Atlantic surf.
The inn has a fleet of cars that are free for guests and we make good use of them. We retrace our tour with Roy and that allows my photographer husband to capture the majesty of Fogo Island in his lens.
During the tour, we visit some quaint places, like Foley’s Shed in Tilting — lots of Irish paraphernalia here — and Mona’s Jam & Quilt Shop, where Sean’s wife Dona is minding the till. It seems everywhere we go on Fogo Island we meet someone’s relative.
Thanks to some good weather, we’re able to book a boat tour and take an excursion to Little Fogo Island where we watch the razor bills and puffins glide with the aid of the relentless North Atlantic wind. This is a paradise to view sealife like whales and every so often a giant iceberg slowly floats past.
Little Fogo is a barren, unforgiving place and we find it hard to believe settlers called this home for more than 100 years. Now uninhabited, Little Fogo is a place of curiosity for tourists and summer vacationers.
St. Anne’s Church, built in 1867, is one of the few reminders of this island’s early history.
Back at Fogo Island Inn, dinner is being served in The Shed, an outbuilding where18 lucky diners — you must make a reservation — are treated to a crab boil, using snow crab we saw being plucked fresh from the sea earlier in the day.
Above: Fishing remains the backbone of this treasured Newfoundland outpost.
Big bowls of giant crab legs are placed on the table and Roy and his wife offer to show us how to properly crack open the legs. Delicious!
After another delicious dinner on our final night, we walk down to the water’s edge where some fellow guests had built a roaring bonfire.
Soon we are enjoying s’mores with them, the warmth of the fire protecting us from the cold night air.
Fogo Island and its inn will leave you with a warm feeling forever.
JUST THE FACTS
Getting there: Fly to St. John’s and then transfer to a regional carrier to Gander. A ferry service runs between Gander and Fogo Island yearly. There is also helicopter service to the island.
Rates start at about $1,500 per night and it’s an all-inclusive price, except for alcohol. The Inn has a no tipping policy.
The inn’s amenities include a library, cinema, gym, sauna, hot tubs, gallery and bar.
The islanders benefit the most from Fogo Island Inn’s existence — 15 per cent of all proceeds from the Inn go into Cobb’s Shorefast Foundation, the proceeds of which are shared with residents.
To find out more about Fogo Island Inn, go to http://www.fogoislandinn.ca