The journey to the end of the earth is daunting.
It takes planning, resilience and stamina. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, the trek to Fogo Island, one of the four corners of the world – according to the Flat Earth society – involves three flights, two road trips and a ferry journey through pack ice.
You have to really want to visit Fogo, a remote fishing community off the New Foundland coast of Canada. But, when you do finally reach this wilderness lover’s wilderness, you will never want to leave. Ever.
Smaller than the Isle of Wight – around 100 sq. miles – and with a population of fewer than 2,500
Fogo was, until recently, a community on its knees. Young islanders were leaving in droves. The industry which had drawn Irish and English settlers 300 years ago was battered almost to submission by the obscene overfishing of cod. Tourists had little to draw them to the hostile conditions of this bleak, granite rock. The future for Fogo was dire.
Step forward former islander and subsequent multi-millionaire Zita Cobb. The daughter of an illiterate fisherman who had struggled to feed his family, Zita left Fogo as soon as she could to study business on the mainland. She took little time in making a healthy fortune in fibre optics.
Now she’s back and determined to make sure the world knows about her corner of the earth. To that end, Zita set about building a luxury hotel on the most barren headland.
Locals thought she was mad. An impossible challenge. But, her ‘build it and they will come’ mentality saw her commission a local architect to create a 29 bedroom inn to blend in with the landscape. It took three years to construct and is of such elegance and beauty that Fogo Island Inn has received a coveted slot as one of the Top100 hotels in the world attracting well-heeled tourists from Australia to the UK and perhaps the other three corners of the Flat Earth – Hydra, Papua New Guinea and the Bermuda Triangle!
With luxury on every level of the four-storey building, tourists are falling over themselves to spend their Canadian dollars here. And there’s plenty of outdoor activities to make the marathon journey worthwhile.
Every season offers a different appeal. Whale-watching, cod fishing, hiking, sipping a G&T in a rooftop hot tub while watching arctic icebergs slip silently by mean rooms are like gold dust in the summer and autumn months.
But, as I discovered, winter/spring has its own appeal. An action-packed itinerary was planned and it didn’t disappoint.
My visit began at a leisurely pace with an orientation of the island with one of the native, community hosts. Roy Dwyer is a man of the sea. An intelligent, eloquent old man. I didn’t ask his age but he must be in his seventh decade and has spent much of his lifetime at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean. He is also a published author and poet and as he drove along the island’s snowy trails pointing out fishing stages where the catch would be salted to last the winter, he regaled me with poems he had composed while waiting for cod to bite.
There’s work too for younger Fogo islanders. And not just within the hotel. Those who understand the idiosyncrasies of the landscape and the unpredictability of the weather are invaluable to tourists.
Snowmobiling across a frozen lake was a heart-stopping moment for me, but I was in the safe hands of PJ. He later reassured me about the thickness of the ice by drilling a deep fishing hole before handing me some twine attached to a twig with a piece of cheese on the end and enticing me to fish for trout.
We then snow-shoed along the treeline towards a log cabin and welcoming cup of tea before venturing outside again in chilly conditions for a ‘boil up’ or barbecue.
Fun but freezing, I was pleased to eventually head back to the understated luxury of the hotel for a superb supper from the award winning chef.
It snowed heavily overnight providing more than enough of the fluffy stuff to allow TA Loeffler – an arctic explorer and mountaineer – to illustrate how to build a quinzhee. A posh igloo which takes quite a lot of brute force and even more ignorance on my part.
In need of a relaxation I headed indoors for a cuddle from Make and Break the inn’s hounds before heading to the hotel’s rooftop hot tub. Gazing at the stars, I reflected on how Zita Cobb’s vision, along with the intertwined industry that supports the hotel, has literally saved the island.
Come soon before the secret is out.