By J.P. Anderson By J.P. Anderson | May 17, 2023 | Culture Lifestyle
In remote Newfoundland, Fogo Island Inn beckons as a marvel of architecture, an inspiring example of cultural preservation—and a transformative A-list escape.
The inn is dramatically positioned steps from the North Atlantic Ocean.
Getting to Fogo Island takes a healthy dose of determination. Accessible only by ferry, helicopter or charter plane from Newfoundland, Canada—itself an island with no direct flights from the U.S.—it’s a rocky, windblown, 92-square-mile dot of land in easternmost North America whose often inhospitable weather might make an outsider wonder whether it’s worth getting to at all. As I learned on a recent visit, though, there’s a breathtaking reason A-listers are seeking out this spot: Fogo Island Inn.
Rooms are decked out with locally made furniture and textiles.
Having arrived at the island’s ferry terminal after two flights, an hourlong drive and a 25-minute ferry ride, we guided our rental car along the meandering central road from the ferry terminal until spotting the inn. It’s hard to miss: A slender, rectangular structure raised on stilts steps from the roaring North Atlantic Ocean, the 43,000-square-foot building appears otherworldly, as if an alien vessel has touched down on the rocky coast. The architecture is no stunt; designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders, the building’s design harkens to the traditional fishing stages that dot the island’s coastal villages. Take a step inside, and the surrounding rough terrain gives way to a cozy scene that’s both minimalist and seriously sophisticated. Crisp white clapboard walls and blond wood floors impart a Scandinavian-chic vibe, while each of the inn’s 29 rooms boasts handmade furniture and colorful textiles (most craft ed by local artisans in partnership with international designers), not to mention floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the untamed ocean waters roiling outside.
The soaring dining room is the jewel of the property.
The rest of the property offers plentiful diversions, from heavenly wood-fired rooftop saunas and hot tubs to an inviting, well-stocked library and an in-house movie theater. The building’s masterpiece, however, is the soaring, spectacular dining room, whose white tablecloths, anemone-like white rope chandeliers and 23-foot vaulted ceilings frame mesmerizing coastal vistas. The room also provides an ideal setting for chef Timothy Charles’ clean, seasonal cuisine, most of it sourced locally (among our meals: stunning charred beets; tender, just-caught snow crab; and succulent shrimp scented with black currant and whey).
The building perches on stilts above the rocky shore.
Hotels worldwide pride themselves on being destinations of cultural heritage, but I’ve never seen the idea as purely realized as at Fogo. Here, islanders don’t simply work at the inn; as Community Hosts, they’re the very fabric of the experience. Sonya Foley, the inn’s exuberant Community Host coordinator, offered a hearty welcome and helped plan our itinerary. Another native, Eugene Collins, gave us a fascinating driving tour of the local villages from an islander’s perspective. And Sonya’s uncle, Norm Foley, opened his home to us and cooked up a rib-sticking lunch of fish cakes, pickled mussels, beets, molasses and homemade biscuits while regaling us with tales of island life. Other adventures beckon during the island’s self-professed seven seasons (visiting in early spring, we happily hiked, toured the wood shop where much of the inn’s furniture is made, and marveled open-mouthed at a lone iceberg floating off the coast), but it was those encounters with locals that brought most meaning to the visit.
The inn’s hyperlocal cuisine features dishes like turbot with cold-water shrimp, fennel salad, shrimp vinaigrette and garden flowers.
That’s exactly Zita Cobb’s intention. Aft er a successful career in fiber optics, Cobb returned to the island to make a difference, establishing Shorefast, a charity whose aim is to bring economic stability to the area via initiatives like Fogo Island Inn—hence the website’s quip: “Many luxury properties have a charitable foundation. Our charitable foundation has a luxury inn.” “We have more than 400 years of knowledge about clinging to this beautiful, rocky place,” says Cobb. “Knowledge about the ocean, the nature around us, boat- and furniture-building, textile-making, the foodways of the North Atlantic… all that has value worth preserving and evolving in a contemporary context.” As much as the astonishing architecture, the warm hospitality and the stunning natural surroundings, it’s that dedication to preserving the heritage of the island—formerly in decline because of industrial overfishing and the collapse of the cod industry, now buzzing anew in large part thanks to the inn—that makes this place feel even more luxurious, and worth every plane, car and ferry trip it takes to get there.
Photography by: FOOD PHOTO BY SIGNE BIRCK; OTHER PHOTOS BY ALEX FRADKIN