This Is the Most Remote and Magical Hotel on Earth

Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn offers a different kind of island getaway.

There are no signs leading to the Fogo Island Inn. That’s how hard it is to miss the place. Designed by architect Todd Saunders, who grew up in nearby Gander, the building takes its inspiration from the fishing shacks that dot the shoreline, sagging on old wooden stilts, but it was also made with the dimensions of a cruising vessel. Three hundred feet long by 30 feet wide. Like a ship that’s just sailed into harbor.

For decades, the flow of traffic in this community off the Newfoundland coast had moved in one direction: away. Fewer than 2,500 people live on an island four times the size of Manhattan. But the inn, the brainchild of Fogo Island native and tech millionaire Zita Cobb, reversed that trend when it was completed in 2013. Strangers now come from around the world to see the island, whose unspoiled landscape makes it a coveted spot for the under-the-radar traveler.

Photographs by Richard Barnes

It’s not an easy journey. It takes three plane rides from my home in Dallas, plus an overnight stay in Gander, an hourlong drive to the ferry, and a 45-minute commute across icy water to reach the island. But from the moment my car pulls up, I’m astounded. The crescent-shaped shoreline banked with snow. That sleek, modern building against the unbroken blue sky. Farther down the coast you can see modest saltbox houses dating back to another era, when a father built a home with his own hands and best guesses.

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What a trip to the island looks like will shift according to the season you visit. Mother Nature makes the rules around here, and she takes wild swings. In the summer, you can hike along trails fabled for their beauty. In the fall, you can pick native berries. In the spring, you’ll spot glaciers floating south from Greenland. I’ve arrived in February, the thick of winter, when the landscape is piled high with snow and the spruce are covered in exoskeletons of ice.

When I get to my room, one of 29 suites tastefully decorated with locally built furniture, I’m immediately drawn to a floor-to-ceiling window that looks out onto the Atlantic. The ocean crashes on the rocks as I kick up my feet on a leather ottoman and dig into the welcome basket left for me: warm, handmade bread served with butter and molasses. I’ve never heard of the combination before, but as the slow, sweet syrup drips down my fingers, all I can wonder is what took me so long to try it.

Fogo Island/dining room
Fogo Island/dining room – Photographs by Richard Barnes

After a day of settling into the cozy interior, it’s time to brave the outdoors. “Have you ever been on a Ski-Doo?” someone at the inn asks me. I’m from Texas, I explain. I’ve never even heard of a Ski-Doo. So I’m bundled up in durable cold-weather gear by nurturing female staff members and sent out on an adventure. A Ski-Doo turns out to be like a motorcycle built for snow. My guide is Ferg, a retired local who grew up in nearby Tilting. A tall, friendly man with a mustache, he has a voice that carries the sound of his Irish ancestors who settled this island.

“Nervous?” he asks as I mount the seat behind him. I shake my head unconvincingly. “You’ll be as safe as you are in God’s pocket.” I squeeze the leather grips on either side of my seat, and we roar off into the unknown forest.