Fogo Island

Story by Diana Ballon, photos by Rick Eckley

Over several cold, wet and windy October days on a small island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, I discovered more warmth than I could have thought possible. Without doubt, this wasn’t due to the weather. While some heat was generated from a rooftop hot tub and wood-fired saunas at the world-famous Fogo Island Inn, my most lasting memories came from the people I met there.

My experience on the island was divided between a stay at the inn and a stay at a restored salt box house in the town of Fogo — thus both “inn and out.”

The Inn

Design: The building, designed by Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders, is perched on stilts, just as the underpinnings of many fishing stages are built on stilts or “shores” on this rocky coast. The effect is dramatic. Inside, all 29 suites have floor-to-ceiling windows that bring the ocean and rugged landscape to you, while a roaring fire from a wood-burning stove keeps coziness in. Handcrafted furniture throughout the inn is a product of partnerships between international designers and local artisans and makers. Even the quilts, knitted cushions, crocheted mats and other artifacts in the inn are created by locals using local materials.

The food: The kitchen, under executive chef Jonathan Gushue brings locally foraged, farmed and fished ingredients into every part of the cuisine. Upon arrival, we are welcomed with warm bread and molasses delivered to our room. The hospitality continues with the “daybreak service,” a wooden box placed at our door with coffee and fresh baked goods or other treats each morning before breakfast.

These are the small touches.

Lunch and dinner are several course affairs, with everything from perfectly seared scallops and roasted parsnips to partridgeberry jams on homemade bread, fresh berry juices, salt cod and lamb belly from sheep that have grazed on grass washed by salt water from the sea.

A local experience: One of the greatest charms of the inn is the community hosts who are a passport to the local happenings on the island. These hosts are available to each overnight guest for a half-day experience, which can involve anything from hiking, to visiting a quilt shop, to seeing the island’s four artists’ studios, attending a boil up (in which you light a fire on a beach or at a trailhead to boil up some tea and perhaps cook some fish), to picking partridge (or “lingon”) berries to learning about the island’s rich fishing history.

Social enterprise: Of course, all this comes with a price tag. Rooms for two cost upwards of $1,850 per night with meals.  But as we learn from innkeeper and founder Zita Cobb, in the D3 Video Presentation screened here at its in-house cinema, the inn is a not-just-for-profit social enterprise. Profits from the inn are funnelled back into the community through Shorefast, a foundation that is a model of how a foundation can help to build economic resilience in a small remote community. The Foundation operates a vibrant artist-in-residence program and other initiatives that bring interest, culture and people to the island.

Outside the Inn

The island has become almost synonymous with the inn, but a tourism industry is beginning to spring up outside its confines. Although there are still only about 2,300 residents on the island, the population swells in warmer months. People come not just to stay at the inn, but to visit the island for a day, or to stay at any of the more than a dozen other accommodations on the island—everything from bed and breakfasts to rental homes, a small hotel and Airbnb properties.

We stayed at Grandma Lilly’s, one of three restored saltbox houses on the island, and one of 10 in Newfoundland and Labrador [theoldsaltboxco.com].  Ours was renovated with modern appliances, such as washer and dryer, a large picture window and claw foot tub.

While on the island, activities really depend on which season you visit. As an island off the coast of an island, it is subject to sun, wind and snow. And regardless of temperatures, your feet are the best way to explore – whether snowshoeing in the winter, or hiking on the dozens of kilometres of trails around the island the rest of the year.

Fogo has “seven” seasons, because of different weather patterns that cross over the island. Springtime is whale and iceberg season, the time when icebergs travel from Greenland through what is referred to as “Iceberg Alley.” Then spring gives way to trap berth season, which was traditionally when cod fishing began. After it is summer and time to hit a beach like Sandy Cove, where a fresh water brook makes for a perfectly protected swim area for kids.

Early fall then brings berry season—when bright red, tart partridgeberries and other edible berries literally carpet the tundra-like terrain, and can be made into jams and homemade scones. In late fall, caribou begin to graze and you can seek warmth in front of a fire. Of course fall is followed by winter, with more nights in front of the fire, and days spent snowshoeing, skating and snowmobiling. By March, it’s pack ice season, when the sea ice begins to splinter into small pieces and you can spot seals resting on the floes.

If you go:

Getting here

Each day, about five or six ferries travel between Fogo Island and the town of Farewell, which is about a 75-minute drive from the Gander airport. But check the schedule before your departure, in case ferry times change. And if driving, you will need to line up an hour ahead to ensure you get on the ferry. Direct ferries are 45 minutes; ferries that stop in the Change Islands take 1 hour and 15 minutes.

If you have time between flight and ferry times, visit the Boethuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd’s Cove, which is only about 10 minutes off your route, with an excellent hiking path and interesting panoramas about a now-extinct Indigenous community.

Hiking

Call or e-mail Al for his Walking Tour of Tilting and Oliver’s Cove, 709 266-7644, adwyer25@yahoo.com.

Popular hikes are Brimstone Head, Lion’s Den, Joe Batt’s Arm Trail and Turpin’s Trail. For a full listing see: townoffogoisland.ca

Where to eat

Newly opened Bangbelly Café & Eatery is a great place for a delicious cup of coffee, a sandwich and soup, and a meeting place to hang out in. bangbelly.com

Scoff Restaurant is open seasonally, currently with theme nights on Fridays and cinnamon rolls available on Sundays from 10 to 2 p.m. scoffrestaurant.com

Tom at the Tilting Harbour B & B may be able to offer a scrumptious dinner with advance notice. The Cod Jigger Diner next to a gas station serves memorable fish and chips. tiltingharbourbnb.ca

For more information, see:

newfoundlandlabrador.com/about-this-place/practical-information