Fogo Island Inn
I was first introduced to Fogo Island, and the Fogo Island Inn – a hotel I’d seen in photos but never knew exactly where to find it – by Electrify Getaways, a newly-launched travel company that doesn’t just want to put you closer to locals, they’re actually working with creatives and leaders within each community to do so by providing otherwise unreachable people and community-driven experiences. And in a world where all too many groups make that promise, Electrify Getaways is setting themselves apart by going to destinations, and staying in places just like Fogo Island – places that offer an experience better than you could have even imagined, but that’s mostly because you didn’t even know that it was one that existed. And they’re going to other places too. Places like Rajasthan in India – the area around Jaipur that tourists often overlook, foolishly heading instead to Agra, Delhi and Mumbai instead. And to the Masai Mara and Lamu Island in Kenya, which is said to be one of the oldest living towns in East Africa and arguably the most fascinating Swahili town in existence. Lamu Island is a getaway filled with culture, forgotten by time. Much like Fogo Island.
And that’s partially because Fogo Island sits off the coast of Newfoundland island and arriving there involves three flights from New York or Los Angeles, making it feel just about as remote as you can get. And that’s exactly why Canada’s Flat Earth Society believes that Brimstone Head, a massive rock jutting out of the island’s northwestern coast, is one of the four corners of the flat earth, designating it that in the 1970s. (There’s even a Museum of the Flat Earth located on the island.)
Fogo Island Inn
I found all of that absolutely fascinating, solidifying the fact that I had to go and visit this strange part of the world for myself.
And it didn’t disappoint. So, what’s it like to head to what’s believed to be one of the four corners of the flat earth you might be asking yourself? Well, Electrify Getaways promised unique immersive experiences with locals in incredible destinations, and they delivered.
Despite being one of the coldest regions on the planet, Fogo Islanders are some of the warmest locals you’ll ever meet.
Like me, you’re probably not at all familiar with Fogo Island, and that’s okay. Let me break it down. Fogo Island is a tiny island that sits almost as far east as you can get within Canada (if you were to travel north from the island, you’d reach Greenland). The island’s population doesn’t quite reach 2,500, and locals are spread across 11 communities that make up the island. Locals speak with an almost uncanny Irish dialect that’s completely endearing, but it also completely throws you off at the same time. It will undoubtedly have you wondering whether you’re even still in Canada. (The subtle “ehs” thrown in here and there will remind you that you are.)
The landscape here is subarctic, and despite being 32 degrees Fahrenheit in May when I visited, the temperatures don’t seem to stop the locals from much. Being so remote from the mainland has taught the people here how to survive. Fish (and when a Fogo Islander says “fish,” they always mean cod – North Atlantic cod, to be exact) is a staple for most meals, and moose and foraged berries (there are 26 different kinds of edible berries on the island) can be found in almost every Fogo Islander’s freezer.
Locals say there are seven seasons here (spring, trap berth, summer, berry, late fall, winter and pack ice), and each day on the island brings a new surprise. I might have only been there for a handful of days, but I experienced weather on all ends of the spectrum – sun, rain, fog, clouds, wind, no wind – all of it. Layering up is an essential tip for surviving a day here.
All layered up and ready to explore, one of my favorite experiences on the island was a simple one – I was invited into a local home to make blueberry jam. Having traveled all around the world, jumped out of planes, trekked through jungles in Thailand, eaten crazy foods, and yet this simple gesture, and experience, somehow became one of my new favorite travel memories to date. Because the experience was so much more than just making blueberry jam – we talked about life on the island, drank coffee and tasted the most delicious molasses raisin cake – I was overwhelmed by how much I felt at home. Had I asked to spend the night, move in and be adopted by their family, they would have said yes without blinking an eye.
But the real star of the island is the 29 room Fogo Island Inn.
With views overlooking “Iceberg Alley,” which is named so because of the icebergs that make their way here from Greenland (you can even track which icebergs will be visiting during your stay on IcebergFinder.com – there were five hanging around during my visit), the Inn sits on the edge of a part of the island that you wouldn’t even imagine building on, which is also partially how the iconic stilts came to be (they’re also an homage to the fishing premises on the island).
Fogo Island Inn
The Inn’s 29 rooms were all designed with floor to ceiling sea-facing windows, which happens to make for ideal end of the earth gazing. The only plastic in any room is the telephone, and the furniture, including the iconic Bertha Chairs that they have perfectly arranged for said flat earth gazing, was all locally built at the Fogo Island Shop just up the road. Guests are encouraged to visit – and should.
Every detail within the rooms has been seamlessly thought through – guests can have white noise filter through the room at night just in case the quiet is more than they’re used to (it was), bathrooms have heated floors, towel racks and toilet seats for those cold Newfoundland days (a very appreciated touch), and fresh baked pastries and coffee wait outside every guest’s door in the morning to be enjoyed at leisure (they were the single-most thing I looked forward to everyday).
Fogo Island Inn
The hotel is the labor of love of Zita Cobb, but also a labor of love of the Fogo Island community. I was told that the hotel cost $40 million CAD to build, but when asking around, it became clear that that number wasn’t a part of the story they wanted to tell about the Inn. The Inn wasn’t built to show off wealth and status, it was built to bring life back into the community. And even when I asked about the owner, the common response was that the community owns the Inn. It’s still a for-profit business, but profits go into an entity known as Shorefast (which they creatively outline on this economic nutrition graphic), and profits then go back into the community. The Inn thrives because of the island, and the island thrives because of the Inn. It’s a beautiful cycle.
Foraging and snow crab in a shed – the food at the Inn tells the story of the island in a beautiful way.
Most great travel experiences these days starts with food. Food tells the story of a place through the ingredients and processes that they use. It shows how communities respect the land, as well as a part of a community’s history that might otherwise be forgotten in our modern age. The food, and the stories here, are no different.
As I usually do when I arrive in a new place, I asked every local about the local dishes I couldn’t leave without trying. Without skipping a beat, locals gave two answers: fish and brewis (pronounced “brews”) and cod tongues and scrunchions.
With fish and brewis and cod tongues and scrunchions on my mind, I headed behind the Inn to their newly built shed (I was told everyone had a shed here on the island – and that shed parties were a real thing – I knew I liked Fogo Island).
The shed at the Inn will eventually be a place where guests can be a part of this local tradition, with the Inn’s chefs leading intimate cooking demos, hosting small gatherings and just another general way to bring more of this area to life through food and stories (the chefs have some great ones). Finally getting a taste of cod tongue and scrunchions (cubed and fried pork fat), it was clear why every local recommended this dish. Cooked over a wood-fired stove (there’s no electricity in the shed), I was shown how to make this dish, just in case I ever needed a taste of Fogo Island at home. A spread of local dried and preserved ingredients – like dried lobster and rare blue chanterelle mushrooms – was also laid out and thoughtfully explained (some foraged from right around the Inn), and our shed party concluded with a feast of local snow crab and Canadian bubbles.
My taste of fish and brewis came the next day – I may have not so subtly hinted that I was dying to try it at our shed party – when Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue made sure it was available for my final breakfast. A seemingly simple dish of salt cod and hard bread, both soaked in water overnight, served with potatoes, cooked onions, more scrunchions and plenty of butter, it’s easy to understand how this dish came about (it was popular with fisherman since both salt cod and hard bread could last across long sea journeys), and why it’s still so popular – it’s delicious.
While much of Fogo Island was unfamiliar to me, especially coming from Los Angeles, I somehow felt as if I was home. Between the locals who shared stories about their lives on the island and tasting my way through the island’s surprising abundance of ingredients, even though I had traveled all the way to the end of the flat earth, I found myself in a place that I already knew: home.
Electrify Getaways itinerary will take guests to Fogo Island November 1st – 4th, 2018.
More Info: www.forbes.com