To say our expectations were high is like saying icebergs are kind of cold. We'd seen the early stages of Fogo Island Inn’s dramatic stilted rectangular creation and angular artist studios in a magazine long before architect Todd Saunders’ inspired design was made a reality on this rugged, rocky coast of Canada’s easternmost island.
It also sounded impressive that every detail – from environmentally conscious engineering down to hand-loomed artisanal rugs – connected back to the island too. Boat-builders had been re-deployed as furniture makers, and patchwork bedspreads had been made by hookers (‘Wow. That is novel’, you think; actually, it’s their nickname for quilters).
Hearing that the award-winning chef is committed to foraged, locally grown and North Atlantic seasonal deliciousness sounded too good to be true. Except this is Canada, guys; where being helpful comes as naturally as it does to New Yorkers to slam the horn in a traffic jam or for Brits to tell a waiter how lovely their meal is when they hate it.
There was a puff of pride from this travel writer born in the land of the maple leaf. But also intrigue; I recalled Newfoundland as the butt of schoolchild jokes… And now these Newfies, characters seemingly from a far-off Neverland, were hosting one of the most interesting boutique hotels in the world.
What more mythical a place to go for a just-married jaunt? (Although, bikini-friendly alternatives did come to mind as I packed thick woollen socks and waterproofs). However, a destination that was an adventure in itself was what we craved. A planes, boats and automobiles situation was appealing: a flight from London to St John; a teeny 12-seater plane to Gander; a drive across the island of Newfoundland; finally a ferry to Fogo Island.
When we eventually arrive on Fogo Island, Fabian, one of the inn’s team of locals was there to meet us in a 4x4. Passing thick pine forests, the landscape was reminiscent of Sweden and it felt properly remote. Fabian informed us that even though it was almost summer, only three weeks before they had to cut through thick ice to make the ferry crossing.
We learned all about the island and its Irish heritage from this eighth-generation islander whose accent could have tricked us into thinking he’d only just moved here from the Emerald Isle.
We were on a honeymoon, but this didn't stop the locals being so friendly that they hung out with us for every moment. Romance here is a world away from how you expect it to be interpreted in Asia or the Caribbean, say… And we liked this. (Assuming that Fabian wouldn’t be joining me and my new Mr when we headed up to the rooftop hot tub at sunset…)
Even the name of the inn’s village or community as they call them – Joe Batt’s Arm (‘arm’ meaning peninsula) – is unique. And no matter how many photographs you scrutinise of this 29-room hotel (which looks different in every light), you can’t anticipate the warmth of the atmosphere that greets you as you walk into Fogo Island Inn.
Hygge, the Danes call it; no coincidence that there is a shade of Scandinavia here – Saunders, the architect originally from Newfoundland, has spent his professional life in Norway. The ambience also comes from the fact this is an extraordinary everyone-pitches-in community project. Zita Cobb, its founder, has created a social enterprise with the inn at the heart of it.
We happily learned all about it. Every night the comfortable state-of the-art cinema (with its tray of sweet and savoury snacks to plunder) screens a talk or documentary about Cobb’s special Shorefast Foundation.
The next couple of days went like this… lie in bed gazing through floor-to-ceiling windows at icebergs floating down from the Arctic, with fresh-from-the-oven baked goods and thermos of coffee left for us in a wooden hamper at dawn. Pull ourselves away from our room to indulge in crumbly scones, eggs, maybe some crab or bacon under chandeliers made from fishing-net ropes in the staggeringly special restaurant. Head out for a coastal walk or bike ride; then eat more, maybe a lobster platter, or take a boat ride with local fishermen to a deserted island for a picnic feast.
In the movies you speculate where this seductive scene is leading… here you need to picture us in fluoro-orange all-weather floating jackets. It’s not your honeymoon cliché. And that’s a good thing.
Every night, we’d head to our room and lie down on our hand-made quilt looking out right over the sea, and unusual for newlywed pillow-talk, perhaps, we’d spend the next hour processing the genius of Zita’s revolutionary business project which revived a dying local economy, and we ponder how such a hospitality model could transform communities all over the world.
Zita has instilled a pride in among the 2,000 islanders and has put Fogo on the map. It also demonstrates a groundbreaking new style of luxury travel where even the most spoiled sybarite would agree is an extraordinary type of comfort: there’s a remarkable attention to detail and cossetting service without a whisper of pretension.
It’s proper feel-good stuff. In fact, we coined a new term for where you feel properly content, lungs full of sea air immersed in a special community – we call it the Fogo Feeling. And there’s only one place where you’ll experience it: right here at the edge of the earth.