Fogo Island

Publication: Beyond by Lexus Magazine

EDGE OF THE WORLD

 

Every spring, many Fogo Island locals go out to sea—not to fish (though they do that too) but to get a better view of the area's icebergs, and even gather the smaller pieces, known as "bergy bits." On June days like this one, the Atlantic Ocean's cobalt blue waters are speckled with hundreds of jagged icebergs that have broken off from Greenland's glaciers, and Roy, a local guide, is armed with the tools of the local ice-collecting trade: an axe and what looks like a sturdy butterfly net.

 

“We’ll take the bergy bits back to the hotel for your drinks tonight,” Roy announces as he lifts a chunk of ice from the turbulent ocean.

 

The hotel in question is the five-star Fogo Island Inn, a sleek modernist structure that sits on 50-foot stilts at the edge of the craggy shore. Seen from the water, it looks like a massive iceberg itself; up close, it's an architectural wonder that evokes the island's centuries-old maritime tradition--wharfs, dock pilings and especially the traditional crab and lobster traps, built robustly to withstand the ocean's forces; they, too, rest on stilts upon rocks.

As locals like to point out, Fogo Island is “far away from far away.” Getting to this windswept island off Newfoundland's northeast coast inevitably involves a flight or two, plus a ferry that breaks up a car ride. Because you've come far to get here, and despite the broad, crisp, modern lines of the hotel's visually compelling exterior, Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders has made sure to deliver what you'll seek in such a wild place: inviting warmth. I find sitting around the crackling fireplace, singing along to traditional fishermen's songs and sipping cocktails made with fresh ingredients and 10,000-year-old ice.

It's a decidedly striking contrast, this intermingling of new and old, but Fogo Islanders have become quite good at finding new ways with old things—and not just in the ice that cools their drinks. At Fogo Island Inn, local carpinters and boat builders have crafted every piece of creative modern furniture, and locals from Fogo Island and nearby Change Islands have crafted many textiles, from the orange pillows that back the settees to the thick patchwork quilts that wrap the Frette-fitted beds in 29 guest rooms.

 

“We like to think of the inn as made of us, made of this place,” says Zita Cobb, the co-founder of Shorefast Foundation, a charitable organization she helped launch in 2003 to help revive the island’s economy by conserving its cultural past. In the last five years, the foundation—its name references the line used to attach cod traps to the shore, and serves as a metaphor for being bound to place and community—has helped locals open bakeries, bed-and-breakfasts and greenhouses. It has also opened this premium boutique hotel where the community now welcomes luxury-minded guests from around the world.

Spend some time on the island and you'll notice that the community has deep creative connections beyond the inn, thanks in part to the Shorefast arts program, which invites artists, writers, musicians and designers for monthlong residencies. To support the program, Saunders has, in addition to the hotel, designed an array of geometric, minimalist studios around Fogo Island, which, like the hotel, draw from the island's heritage to blaze new architectural paths. 

The island’s history goes back a few hundred years when rugged souls sailed to this area from Portugal. (The island's name is Portuguese for "Fire Island.") After that, settlers from England and Ireland arrived, and you can still hear traces of this heritage in the local accent. With its treeless, craggy shoreline and its houses and stilted fishing shacks dotting the landscape, Fogo Island offers scenery that is at once bleak and beautiful. Over the years, islanders have left in droves, but these days they're returning—Cobb herself is a former Silicon Valley executive who found herself drawn back to her traditional home

 

.That sense of place is deeply ingrained at the inn. You see it on the elevator, where an illustrated map of the island point to the surrounding rocks and shoals named by fishermen to help them steer their boats. You see it in the lounge, where guests relax in chairs and sofas designed by European and Canadian artists but crafted locally. And you taste it in the dining room, where Executive Chef Murray McDonald puts his own spin on traditional dishes—like salt-cod cakes and smoked seaweed dumplings—using cooking techniques he picked up while working in New Zealand, Bermuda and Mexico. 

"Executive" is not the right word to describe Fogo Island Inn—it's quite the opposite, being so welcoming. But its remoteness essentially allows premium-minded travelers to find a true getaway, one steeped in history and authenticity and, above all, a respite from the pressures that come with achievement. Put differently, it's a reward for those who live a well-led life.

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© 2020 Celeste Moure.