As our plane landed at St. John’s Airport in Newfoundland, where we were ultimately headed to Fogo Island, we could hear the sound of joyful clapping and exhilarated Yahoo’s throughout the plane. That was a surprise to me because other than taking overseas flights to Athens, Greece (where it’s common to clap and make the sign of the cross for just about every blessing and gratitude you feel you have) I hadn’t heard anyone clap the crew for a safe landing in decades.
What we quickly found out was that for some passengers during our middle of July flight, it had taken three days to get back home to St. John’s from Toronto. “Welcome to St. John’s” said our flight attendant, “and for those who are coming home, you knew what you were getting into when you moved here!”
Essentially a rainstorm with some decent winds passed over the area a couple of days before rendering flight landings a bit precarious. The fact that our flight arrived without issue was an auspicious start to a fabulous 5 day getaway in Newfoundland.
The Journey to Farewell and Beyond
After staying the night in St. John’s, we set out along Route 1 for the 4.5 hour drive toward the port of Farewell so that we could catch the 45-minute ferry to tiny island of Fogo. With less than 3,000 residents all with deep fishing roots, the island’s next landmass to the northeast is Greenland. We were north and, after taking a plane, a car and a ferry, we really did start to feel that we were going to the edge of the world!
“Do you worry at all that it takes a bit of effort for travelers to get to Fogo Island?” I asked Kathleen Crotty earlier that morning in St. John’s when we met for breakfast. Kathy is the former Director of Public Relations for the Shorefast Foundation, which provided the lion’s share of the funding to build the Fogo Island Inn, where we were staying. “People who want to come will make the effort and the time,” she said with a knowing smile.
Upon arriving at the port of Fogo Island, I immediately felt a sense this was a unique place. Was it the topography? Maybe. The simultaneous rocky and craggy shores did remind me of the west coast of Ireland. In fact, you could see visiting signs in English and Gaelic as you were heading toward the eastern town of Tilting, the so-called Irish side of Fogo.
Was it the people? Perhaps. Newfoundlanders are known for their friendliness and hospitality, but you easily add to that a willing openness toward strangers. For example, during the ferry ride over, we managed to make our way to the bridge to talk with the crew for a few minutes and, seemingly, we found out about their entire lives including their love for the sea and its islands as well as their concerns about what’s changing.
Or was it that few people in our instant gratification world even bother to venture to Fogo? Hmmm, we might be getting closer to the answer.
When we arrived at Fogo Island Inn, all sense of the long journey quickly vanished into complete tranquillity. I am by no means an architect, but the thought that was put into the eco-conscious design of each space both within and surrounding the Inn was much more than efficiency and stunning vistas. Instead, I felt as though the island itself had reflected back to the hotel architects on how to show its best and quite varied sides.
Let’s begin with the physical structure of the Inn. During its construction, I had heard from Kathleen the painstaking detail toward ensuring that each raw material, including nails, were sourced locally and/or sustainably. Today, it’s so easy to cut corners, but the Fogo Island Inn chose not to, in order to prove that one can run a successful, luxury hotel that boasts environmental consciousness, community stewardship and high quality service.
These three pillars of hospitality permeate throughout the entire Inn with its bright and comfortable spaces including a rooftop sauna and hot tub, handmade furniture, bedding and quilts, local artist galleries, culinary offerings that include foraged wild greens and locally grown vegetables (Fogo Island Inn earned the number 3 position on Canada’s Ten Best New Restaurants in 2013), and its genuine service.
Service is a Standout
Everyone knows that a high price tag doesn’t always mean the best service. Certainly, travel is no exception. But, what struck us was the genuinely warm nature of each and every person on the island and at the Inn. The sentiment was not about What can I help you with? Rather, it was How can I make it happen for you?
A striking example at the Fogo Island Inn is its Community Host Program. Each client spends a 1/2 day with a member of the community in accordance with their interests (i.e. history, hiking trails, art). Since mid-July marks the start of the cod jigging season (folks, short of the cod jumping onto the boat themselves, there is no easier way to snag a fish), I asked if it was possible to learn (and help make) some local recipes for cod fish.
Though not a typical request, within hours, they matched us up with a local legend, Norm Foley. Norm lives in Tilting in a salt box home that he grew up in with his large family. He inherited the home after his Mom passed away. In addition to making me a very welcome guest in his home, he decided to share some of his secret recipes for preparing cod cakes and cod stew. As we talked about his family, his travels, his garden, and other aspects of his life, he revealed to me that he had in fact been an actor in an acclaimed independent film, called Fogo in 2012 which earned him the right to be invited to that year’s Mexican Film Festival. How cool is that!
Essentially, a trip to Fogo Island is just what sustainable travel should be. Making deep connections with people who appreciate their land and culture and who believe they might have a little something to say about what having a full life means!
For families, children 12 years and under stay for free at Fogo Island Inn. Check out Fogo Island Inn and let them know you found out about them through Greenloons.