Original title : Fogo
Back in 2006, Zita Cobb’s gamble of building a hotel on an island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland seemed completely unrealistic. However, time has proven her right. By focussing on her community and its culture, the arts, and architecture, she has created a new type of hotel that defies all stereotypes.
The whole world has succumbed to the charms of the Fogo Island Inn, a 29-room hotel located on the edge of the earth. Rising out of the rocks, swept by ocean spray and the wind coming off the Atlantic, it stands like a ship, ready to welcome passengers looking for a unique experience. Some come to follow the rhythm of the island’s seven seasons, others to admire the icebergs floating offshore or contemplate the starry sky. All return home rejuvenated, just like the island itself.
“The idea of this hotel is the product of a lifetime,” explains Zita Cobb, who likes to say that she has lived in three centuries over the course of her life. “Up to the age of 10, I lived on the island as if it were the 19th century, with no running water or electricity. My parents could neither read nor write. It wasn’t always easy, but we did have a sense of belonging to the island.” Industrial fishing and the 20th century caught up with the inhabitants of Fogo, and Zita Cobb left to study business and make her fortune in the fibre optics industry—though she never forgot where she came from. Upon her return, she thought about how to revitalize the island. Its dwindling population meant that 400 years of local knowledge and culture were gradually disappearing.
Using her own money, Zita took inspiration from the shared economy and resilience of the Fogo Islanders who already operated a cooperative fishing company and, with the help of two of her brothers, founded the charitable organization Shorefast and constructed the hotel. “We wanted a project that would reference the past while using a contemporary platform,” she says. And that is how she thought of design and art. “Art helps develop critical judgment, it encourages people to question the importance of things while remaining closely tied to the concept of hospitality.”
Architecture and art attract some visitors to Fogo Island while others are drawn by the desire to experience the edge of the world.
The venture was ambitious given that Newfoundland was far from being recognized as a vacation destination, much less a design hub. “My brothers and I knew that there would be no second chance—we had to hit it out of the park.” The choice of architect was key. “I wanted a Newfoundland architect who was already familiar with the region’s geography and history.” After a lot of research, and a chance flight, she found the answer. Gander-born Todd Saunders was the natural choice.
The internationally known architect was given the simple mandate of using contemporary architecture to evoke the island’s 400-year history. The result is spectacular. Inspired by the houses of fishermen, the main building cleverly combines design and tradition. To create the smallest footprint possible, the complex construction hides marvels of engineering in the walls.
Both the kitchen and hotel staff are from the region.
Local products are featured everywhere, including on the menu.
Tower Studio is reserved for artists in residence.
Featured throughout the inn are multiple treasures from the island—quilts, armchairs, benches—everything made locally, with very few exceptions. In addition, the island is dotted with studios, also designed by Todd Saunders, reserved for artists in residence. While architecture had a role to play, the presence of artists was also essential to the project. “Thanks to the Fogo Island Arts program, artists from around the world come for several months to live in the villages and work in the studios. It is a type of exchange where they experience both traditional and contemporary environments.” Although one might think that their presence is merely accessory, these creators, often from urban settings, establish ties with the community. In the presence of rocky landscapes, a mighty ocean, the fragility of life comes into focus and the power of relationships takes on new importance.
Small-scale cod fishing is starting up again in the waters off Fogo.
Architecture and art attract some visitors to Fogo Island while others are drawn by the desire to experience the edge of the world. They can hike trails, take boat trips, attend workshops, or simply meet the people of the island. “The visitors who come here often need a place to think and get away from sterile environments.” Zita Cobb has observed the emergence of a new type of traveller, drawn to places that focus on sustainable development and give back to local communities. “Nowadays, it is not enough to protect the planet, we must improve it.” A visit to Fogo Island is a must for those who embrace this new way of travelling and seek authenticity. As a bonus, they will enjoy access to the knowledge, and priceless experience of the inhabitants of this singular island, who have successfully preserved their culture.
Squish Studio overlooks the ocean.