Located just off Newfoundland’s coast, Fogo Island is an inspiration for both artists and nature lovers
By Nathalie De Grandmont
Barely a few minutes after leaving the ferry that brought us to Fogo Island, we came across a sign that reads little seldom. A name proclaiming “not much and not often” suggests a town with no delusions of grandeur—and it perfectly prepares one for the atmosphere that awaits on the small island.
Fogo is Newfoundland’s largest offshore island, located a few kilometres off the larger island’s northeast coast.
There are no big hotels, no shopping centres, and no fast-food chains—in fact, you won’t find a fast anything. As soon as you start driving along Fogo’s wild coasts, it seems as if the mad rush of time doesn’t make it all the way there, that it runs out of steam somewhere between the island and the mainland. We were told that only the moose appear at lightning speed—the island is home to so many of them that driving at night isn’t advised. But that’s okay—there’s a lot to see in the daytime.
One of the Four Corners of the Earth
The island’s roads offer surprising panoramas all year round. In winter, when the coast is buried under snowdrifts, the landscape takes on a ghostly air. In spring, small berries and wildflowers begin to cover the marshes; flowers cover the land even more in summer, to the delight of hikers who take the opportunity to pick them as they pass. These landscapes thrill artists and photographers.
As we approached the small municipality of Fogo, Brimstone Head appeared before us, a rocky outcrop that marks the edge of the Earth—at least, the now-defunct Flat Earth Society of Canada identified it as one of the four corners of the Earth. It’s a notion that seems to give the site a mysterious power. Since 1984, Brimstone Head Park has been home to the Brimstone Head Folk Festival, a weekend-long August celebration of local artists and traditional music. Hundreds of people go to listen to lectures and folklore.
Once the festival is over, Fogo regains the serenity that suits the place so well. Cozy local restaurants, small fishing harbours, churches reflected on the waters, lobster pots and fishing rigs amid wildflowers—perfect for the contemplative soul. The nature and atmosphere of the island seem to encourage creativity; you’ll find many studios and shops located along the roads, and you’ll also find beautiful quilts, one of the area’s specialties. Chat with local artisans and you’ll discover how proud they are of this mythical, even mystical place—and how inspired they feel by it. Indeed, when Fogo Island Inn (fogoislandinn.ca) opened in 2013, the dramatic-looking building was intended principally to accommodate artists’ studios; they’re still there, within an almost surreal setting.
Among the most original hotels in Canada, the inn offers all-inclusive luxury stays but belongs to a non-profit organization that redistributes the profits and collaborates with the local community. From the quilts and furniture that decorate the rooms and a cuisine based on local produce to the range of activities offered— including a day at sea with a fisher and meetings with artists—the hotel works hand-in-hand with the islanders. In addition, all 29 rooms have huge floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can watch for whales from your bed.
Fogo is great for hiking almost all year round. The hills around the village of Tilting evoke the greenery of Ireland, a feature that must have pleased the first Irish settlers there, who arrived around 1750. Declared a National Historic Site in 2003, the village has retained the strong imprint of those settlers—the Irish cemetery is the oldest in North America—and the people of Tilting are very proud of their heritage.
The coastline is covered in trails, including one that leads to the top of Brimstone Head, which is a must for its view. Perfect for picnics, the site is particularly photogenic at sunset. Binoculars in hand, you can settle in to watch for whales and even for icebergs, with the huge masses of ice lining the coast between May and July—appropriate for an island located in so-called Iceberg Alley. A number of local tour companies offer sea excursions, but with a little luck, you can also berg-watch from land.
After admiring the sunset, you can visit one of the local restaurants, such as Bangbelly Café. There are lots of opportunities to taste the cod, crab, and turbot that local fisheries harvest from nearby waters. In summer, you can add an artisanal ice cream from Growlers Ice Cream Shop for a real treat.
But the icing on the sundae is the community: the relaxed atmosphere and the islanders themselves, who are always ready to strike up a conversation.
You quickly realize that they have a striking sense of humour and self-deprecation. They like to joke that they live on an island off an island at the end of the world, but as more people discover Fogo, their secluded haven could become a lot less secluded.
In non-pandemic times, Air Canada and Porter Airlines serve both St. John’s and Gander, NL. There are also flight options via Sunwing and WestJet, depending on your point of departure. By car, you can take a ferry from North Sydney, NS, to Port aux Basques, NL, and then drive to Farewell, from where you can take another ferry to Fogo Island.