Everything about the 29 room Fogo Island Inn, a contemporary celebration of light and the sea, pays homage to the island. Built almost entirely from wood and standing upon stilts, which protect the rocky ecosystem below, it conjures images of the island’s ubiquitous fishing stages. Internally, while white may be the shade du jour; vibrant flourishes abound, whether they be the wallpaper, armchairs or quilts you long to spirit away. The neighbouring Winds and Waves Artisans’ Guild is responsible for most of the Inn’s soft furnishings, while nearly all the furniture, save for a few’ antique treasures, is made on the island. The custom-designed wallpaper, which is different in every room, is a detail borrowed from Fogo Island’s original saltbox houses where wallpaper was pasted upon wallpaper for added insulation. And then there are the dining room’s rope chandeliers, created by Dutch designer Frank Tjepkema. Reminding you of Newfoundland’s wildflowers and fishing nets, they ensure your attention remains on the room itself, with its floor to ceiling windows and nature-inspired crockery, upon which appear the culinary wonders of chef Murray McDonald.
Food here is art in its own right, with creative combinations of fresh and foraged ingredients accompanied by live music, be it a guitar or the iconic Fogo Island accordion. There is a nuanced complexity to dishes, a subtle wildness. Fragrant goat is matched with crisp vegetables, plump scallops melt like butter and ‘the bounty of the sea’ – a plate of rich seafood – is garnished to look like the setting sun. My meal began with a visit from Make and Break, the Inn’s two Newfoundland dogs (bred in days gone by to pull children and supplies through the snow’), and concluded with coffee as I watched the surrounding fog begin to lift, headland after headland becoming clearer as the water glowed blue. A similar view can be savoured from the rooms over a morning breakfast basket. Watching rolling waves from beneath a Fogo Island quilt while devouring freshly-baked bread is a luxury easy to embrace.
But this is far from the Inn’s only delight. You’ll find a rooftop sauna and hot tub, which are best enjoyed as the last rays break through the evening mist and a golden light washes over Joe Batt’s Arm, as well as a cinema and sitting nooks. There’s also a roaring fire where you can enjoy a cocktail (like the deliciously potent Fisherman’s Friend) garnished with a 10,000-year-old slice of iceberg I’d arrived in June, the very end of iceberg season, when these massive formations, that had broken away from the glaciers of Greenland, reached the shores of Newfoundland to meet their poetic demise
The Fogo Island Inn design is the work of architect Todd Saunders. “When we hired [Todd] he was coming off the success of the Aurland Lookout in Norway and other European projects,” explains Cobb. “I knew that, as a Newfoundlander, Todd would feel the same sense of responsibility that we felt to get this project right. Todd himself has said that he knew his ancestors were watching him.” Saunders also created the four artist studios dotted around the island. Built for Fogo Island Arts, a Shorefast Foundation project established in 2008, these self-sustaining studios are used as artists’ workspaces during residencies that last for periods of three weeks to six months. The Tower Studio, a geometric black and white structure that seems to rise from the earth, glows against the lichen-covered rocks, while the Squish Studio, which translates to ‘out of shape’, overlooks the sea, a mass of blue icebergs and swirling grey water the afternoon I visited. You could be creative here, surrounded by a landscape that appears weathered but not rough, as if it has been caressed by the elements and softened around the edges. This feeling is amplified when the clouds descend and the line between sea and sky begins to disappear.
In this place of artists, retreats and beauty, everything links back to community. Art here is seen as a way of questioning our place in the rapidly changing world, while the Inn remains a community-owned asset, a means of bolstering the Fogo Island economy. “Of course community involvement is axiomatic,” says Cobb. “We approached the design of the Inn as an opportunity to put our ways of knowing into it, and we brought the community together to do this.” From the moment you arrive you’re encouraged to immerse yourself in the island, thanks largely to an island orientation programme where a local host shares their story as you travel through the 11 surrounding townships.
And after an island orientation you do feel connected. You understand that Foley’s Shed in Tilting is where you’’’ always find someone playing a guitar, realise that distance is given in terms of ‘time spoilt’ and learn that Brimstone Head is considered to be one of the four corners of the earth – or so the Flat Earth Society would have you believe. You discover that, come winter, the pack ice freezes kilometres out and on dear nights you can pluck stars from the sky. This is where history has been unforgiving, the natural world is ever-present and the desire to survive in the most respectful, creative way possible has produced magic. Fogo Island Inn is a rare treasure, a place you’re honoured to experience and sure to remember.