What’s better than curling up with a good book in front of a roaring fire as a snowstorm rages outside? Doing the same thing at Fogo Island Inn. Staying at the inn in the off-season feels like a five-star Swedish resort and a sleepover at your grandmother’s all at the same time. After speaking with a pair of newlyweds from Toronto during my late-fall stay at the inn, I began to understand how this was possibly one of the most romantic spots for a winter getaway. Think about it: the place is more intimate with fewer guests, the desolate wind-swept coastline is romantic in a Wuthering Heights kind of way, and there’s tons of food and wine at your disposal. Have you started packing your long-johns yet?
The award-winning Fogo Island Inn clutches the craggy coast on what I discovered is Newfoundland’s largest offshore island. The ferry from Farewell is 45 minutes long — a little longer if you make a stop in neighbouring Change Islands — but it feels like going to the end of the world, especially in the fall or winter. It’s definitely harder to get there in the off-season, with the weather dictating the ferry schedule, but being delayed is old hat to the inn. There is protocol in place. The ferry I was scheduled to take was delayed overnight and like a well-oiled machine they took me and five guests to Gander where they put us up for the night.
The Guest Rooms Are Little Warm Nests
Tokens from the island delight you at check-in. Upon the bestowal of your room key, you are presented with a bronzed trinket. Each of the rooms has a found thing cast in bronze by Dutch designer Chris Kabel, who spent time combing the island’s beaches. From there you get room orientation (more like an introduction to comfy), where they show you how to work the Japanese toilet, how to call down for more Frette towels, and how to open the windows to let the salty air wash over you. Even in the colder months this is an absolute pleasure for all the senses. You’re immediately belittled by the ocean views.
Sense of place radiates from every object, and all 29 guestrooms are different. There is extreme juxtaposition everywhere, from the stark white modern construction to the colorful quirks of nan’s house. The 300 quilts are made by residents of Fogo Island, as are the rugs and the furniture. There’s no art on the walls, but the whole place is a work of art. Many rooms have wood stoves staff will light for you, and there are giant bathtubs for long candle-lit soaks. Shortly after check-in there was a knock on my door: in came warm homemade bread and tea, the treasure of any Newfoundlander after a long day.
Cosiness Emanates From Every Nook and Cranny
There are seven seasons on Fogo Island: winter, pack ice, spring, trap berth, summer, berry and late fall. While the daylight hours might be shorter in the colder months, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy large fireplaces and reading nooks. When it’s cold outside, Fogo Island Inn smells like wood smoke and salty sea air, with a hint of fresh baked bread. A mix of Newfoundland folk and Indie music play softly throughout the inn, and there’s lots to explore inside.
There’s a theatre, which has a partnership with the National Film Board, showing documentaries and films daily. Complete with a small snack bar full of Newfoundland favourites like Hawkins Cheezies, Purity Peppermint Knobs and Tunnock’s Caramels Logs, the theatre also has Netflix. The library is full of Newfoundland literature and cozy armchairs, and there’s an art gallery.
Speaking of Swedish resort, who cares if you need to wear a toque while you’re in the hot tub? There are two rooftop tubs with epic views as well as two saunas. I spent time having a glass of wine with other guests in front of a roaring fire in the lounge, while local musicians played traditional music to our heart’s content. Cozy is an understatement when it comes to describing the interiors of Fogo Island Inn.
Snowshoeing and Kitchen Parties
If you can rouse yourself from the hypnotic snugness, there are many fall and winter outdoor activities. Surrounding the inn are ancient paths to follow at your whimsy, burrowed by generations of fishing families. Even a hike around the building is impressive. For those wanting more than a stroll, the inn-made map of all the hikes around the island, including one up countless stairs to Brimstone Head, one of the four corners of the world according to the Flat Earth Society. During berry season (between summer and late fall) there are excursions to pick some of the 20 varieties growing on the island.
As they say at the inn, “winter is a time for making,” and the ladies at Winds and Waves Artisans’ Guild know what they’re doing. Visit the shop and pick up a pair of wool socks (the best thing to have on the island) or a traditionally hooked rug. The women sorting old buttons took little notice of me as I wandered around the shop, which feels more like a craftsman’s workshop than anything. You can also learn to quilt, knit and sew at the inn. The best time of year for snowshoeing is March when there is lots of snow and it’s tightly packed after a long winter. Trudge in-land for ice fishing, boil ups, and kitchen parties with local residents whose welcome will warm your heart and your hands.
Each guest is matched with a community host. This delightful amenity is available year-round, and touring around with a local to see the communities like Tilting, or the artists studios from the Fogo Island Arts program gives an insider’s perspective no guidebook can.
A Warming Menu for Body and Mind
The day is always started with bread: there’s bread everywhere, waiting for you in the morning, at lunch, dinner, and I’m sure if you called down and asked for loaf to devour in bed, it would appear in seconds. My favourite touch was the Daybreak Service waiting outside my door every morning. The wooden box contained coffee, a fresh juice called “Fogo tonic” and warm pastries. Later in the stunning dining room I devoured blueberry and fennel pork sausages, chunky roast potatoes, toast and sweet homemade ketchup upon simple tablecloths juxtaposed with the modern hanging light fixtures. It goes without saying everything eaten at the inn is homemade.
“We source from Fogo Island first, Newfoundland second, Atlantic Canada third. In all of our purchasing we [aim] to support small and organic operations first,” says Timothy Charles, the inn’s Chef de Cuisine. Traditional Newfoundland dishes dominate the lunch menu with pea soup or moose stew. Cod chowder with fresh cod, potato and celery and a thick salty broth to warm you right up after a morning of snowshoeing.
The winter months dictate the menu; dishes are warm and satisfying with lots of wood-fired items and preserves. Berry season abundance stocks the inn’s pantry with blueberry and partridgeberry jams all year. Dinner is a formal affair with candlelight cascading over white linens. First might be an amuse of damsel plum stuffed with goat cheese, juniper oil and plum sauce. This is followed by shredded crab with cilantro fennel, tomatoes and greens. The main is an agnolotti with three quail eggs and sunchoke husks.
Place is Important at Fogo Island Inn
This came up again and again with everyone I spoke with at the Fogo Island Inn: preserving place, preserving culture and presenting it to newcomers makes the sense of place even stronger. Fogo Island Inn in the off-season is like nowhere else, with cold winds and warm handmade quilts welcoming you as you peek into life on this desolate island and relax in awe of the windswept coastline. The days may be a little shorter during the winter, but there’s still a sunset.