SHE RETURN HOME TO SAVE HER HOMETOWN FOGO ISLAND THROUGH BUILDING A 5 STAR BOUTIQUE HOTEL

 

As you loll atop a nap-inducing mattress covered by a locally hand-stitched quilt; as you lounge within one of Fogo Island Inn’s 29 rooms, all with an ocean view; as you gaze out the windows that ru        n floor to ceiling and wall to wall in this striking, snow-white edifice that seemingly glides above a granite outcrop…a vast realm of water arrests your oncoming slumber.

There before you, the North Atlantic, immense and eternal, bleeds into the horizon, its deep blue monochrome interrupted only by the occasional iceberg or islet (or, if you use the binoculars provided, a breaching humpback whale). You sit up: Closer and below, waves crash onto rocks that are 420 million years old.

As infinity pools at five-star resorts go, the one at Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn is pretty tough to beat.

Zita Cobb, an 8th-generation Fogo Islander, has sunk more than $40 million of her own money into a 5-star inn on the island that is designed to revitalize its economy. All the profits go into a fund in which Cobb oversees micro-lending projects for businesses on the island.

 

“Islands are special places,” says Zita Cobb, the woman who begat the Fogo Island Inn, which opened in May 2013, “because they’re places where dreams outlive time.”

Cobb, 55, is a dreamer, but she’s also a doer. A homegrown Fogo Islander who retired in her early 40s after earning tens of millions of dollars in the fiber-optics business, she returned to the place of her genesis and created from scratch one of the most stunningly beautiful and inspired inns you will ever happen upon. Not that anyone since the Norsemen or Captain James Cook has ever “happened upon” Fogo Island.

Almost every one of Cobb’s 71 staffers at the Fogo Island Inn is a Fogo Islander. And almost all of them, like Cobb, had no prior experience in the hospitality industry. At least none they could put on a resume. “Newfoundlanders are innately, genetically hospitable people,” says Cobb, “and I think it’s because we’re islanders. So we said, ‘Let’s build an inn.’”

 

So they did, a 40,000-square-foot, four-story edifice inspired by the local architecture of Fogo Island’s plethora of fishing stages, small buildings that rest on stilts (“shores,” they are called). The inn, like most stages, is perched on a promontory above the water. Rooms range from $875 to $2,875 per night, which keeps the globe-trotting hostel-hoppers away. As does the inn’s location.

Fogo Island is not easily reached. It sits a 45-minute ferry ride off the northern coast of Newfoundland, which is itself an island. The landing from which the ferry launches is aptly named Farewell. There is no inhabited spit of land in North America that sits both farther north and east, and while, at 49 degrees north, it is latitudinally south of London, it feels arctic and primeval, a place out of time. A Brrr-igadoon, if you will.

Every guest of fogo island Inn receives a half-day drive with a community host and, for a fee, the inn will match guests with other locals for everything from hikes to shed parties.

 

“In early June, I looked out my window and counted 72 icebergs,” says Paddy Barry, the inn’s genial ambassador. Barry’s observation informs you not only of Fogo Island’s proximity to Iceberg Alley but that its inhabitants swallow time at their own pace.

Feral is the word Cobb most often uses to describe a childhood in which she grew up with six brothers in a three-bedroom house. Until the 1960s, Fogo Islanders, many of whose families have lived here since the time of the American Revolution, existed without electricity. Or running water. Or cash. “Fogo Islanders are not a capital-accumulating society,” says Cobb, an eighth-generation Fogo Islander. “I grew up in the 19th century.”

The island’s 2,700 residents share a land mass four times the size of Manhattan with 500 or so caribou. There is not a single traffic light, though there is an indoor hockey rink (this is still Canada, after all).

No red lights, but now, thanks to Cobb, Fogo Island boasts a world-class inn. Wondrous as the Fogo Island Inn is, and as lovingly as the staff treats its guests—one employee drove 12 miles out of his way to deliver a complimentary lunch to me after I had checked out—its true function is as an engine of economic resurgence. And as a model, if not the paragon, of a global economic revolution, what Cobb refers to as a “not-just-for-profit” business. The Fogo Island Inn is the largest, whitest rebuttal to man’s vanity seen in this part of the world since the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

“Nature and culture are the garments of human life,” says Cobb, “and business and technology exist to serve human life. Somewhere along the way, we got it backward.”

Zita Cobb would dearly love for you to stay at the Fogo Island Inn. But more than that, she wants the Fogo Island Inn to stay with you. In the meantime, she will just have to greet every sunrise knowing that her homecoming is spurring the island’s resurrection.

The food: I chatted with chef Tim Charles about the kitchen’s philosophy and desire to get away from Instagram-compatible food. Local duck and “cod pot caught Fogo Island cod” (or sometimes line-caught cod, both from Cobb’s brother Tony at Fogo Island Fish) are must eats. I adored the pre-breakfast Day Break Tray delivered to my door and breakfast parfait with superlative granola and local berry compote. Non-guests can try to call for dinner or cocktail reservations.

The entertainment: The inn has a 37-seat cinema and screens documentaries, such as Strange & Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island, daily and on demand. Snuggle in with a regional book at the Dr. Leslie Harris Heritage Library, spend time in Fogo Island Gallery, or relax in the lounge or the wood-fired, rooftop sauna. I caught Newfoundland singer/songwriters Sherman Downey and Matthew Byrne in the Gathering Hall.

The outings: Since Cobb’s mission is to bolster the struggling fishing industry here with tourism, the inn takes great pride in connecting locals and visitors. Every guest gets a half-day drive with a community host. You can pick berries, browse art galleries, go on a fishing culture photo mission, search for the local caribou herd — whatever you like to be “oriented to this salty Narnia.” For a fee, the inn will match you with other locals for everything from hikes to shed parties.

 

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