April, 2013


30
Apr 13

I admit it: I have become a total nature-worshipper since I got to Vancouver…

Yup. I'm swooning over flowers.

Yup. I’m swooning over flowers.

And so it would seem that I have become the kind of nature-worshiping hippy who drools with glee at the sight of FLOWERS and TREES. The rot set in during autumn when I found myself beaming broadly whenever I walked outside to see the leaves doing their annual colour-burst parade. But the start of spring, with the cherry blossoms in full bloom like so many pink and white pom poms on the trees, has done for me. Oh Canada, I blame you entirely for being way too pretty. You have completely turned my head. 

Everything seems about to burst into flower

Everything seems about to burst into flower

It’s good, I suppose, to see that all that torrential rain for months and months and MONTHS had some purpose: to create the riot of jaw-clanging natural beauty that I see everywhere in Vancouver right now. I took these photos on a ten minute walk around my neighbourhood. Everywhere buds on plants and trees are aching to pop; I know that I’ll see new flowers from day to day and I’ve found myself eyeing green shoots and thinking, ‘Ooh – what colour will that be tomorrow?”.

Flowers all the way down to the sea

Flowers all the way down to the sea

Most wonderful of all is the feeling of walking in a confetti-swirling storm of cherry blossom shaken from the trees whenever it’s windy. I come home and shake flowers from my hair. I walk down the streets, strolling on a carpet of crushed blooms. It’s intoxicating. And in the exact opposite to sweet-smelling blossom, I saw my first skunk as I came home late last night. How odd that skunks by night and blossoms by day should be my clues that we’re closer to summer than winter.

In every corner of the city there are flowers

In every corner of the city there are flowers


30
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 5: Hastings House, Salt Spring Island

I knew I was going to love Hastings House before I even got there – how could I not? A boutique Relais and Chateaux hotel, in a Sussex-style farmhouse overlooking the sea, on an island I’d dreamed of visiting for years. On paper it looked good, in reality it was even better. I was living in Brighton before I came to Canada and I used to love to go to the glorious old pubs out in the lush Sussex countryside for lunch. I almost clapped my hands with glee when I saw the Manor House dining room; crackling fire, leaded glass windows – it was like being back home in England – but with the promise of Canadian cuisine to come – the best of both worlds.

Wind-spun art and faux- Sussex farmhouse

Wind-spun art and faux- Sussex farmhouse

Hastings House was built in 1940, a reproduction Tudor-style manor house, it became a hotel in the 1980s with some of the old estate buildings repurposed as luxury country house-style accommodations. I stayed in the west wing of the farmhouse; a two-storey cottage which made me feel I’d stepped back into my grandma’s home, everything was pleasingly old-fashioned with just the right soft touches of luxury. From the stone fireplace with its stack of logs to the invitingly cosy sofa and feather-soft bed, here was a hotel that I could happily have moved into.

I pottered around the grounds, admiring the vegetable and herb gardens – all of which are used in the kitchen – and snapping photos of the wind-spinning sculptures dotted around the gardens. I wound up seeing these mesmerising pieces all around the island; Salt Spring is quite the artists colony and there’s a trail that you can follow, taking in the various studios around the island. That first day I took it easy; curled up on the sofa and read a PG Wodehouse novel by the fire. It was lashing with rain outside and there’s no happier feeling than listening to the rain thrum on the roof, feeling toasty-warm, as you toss another log on the fire.

Perfect Ganges Harbour view

Perfect Ganges Harbour view

As I strolled across to the Manor House that evening for dinner, I was already beaming contentedly, but the prospect of my meal tipped me over into idiot-grin territory. I’d read nothing but raves about the food here and after my meal I can see why. The most plump and perfect buttery prawns, pan-fried in Armagnac piled high on fresh-from-the garden greens. A succulent duck with the most ludicrously creamy, just-right dauphinoise potato. A swirl of watercress soup that almost had me licking the plate. A table-bangingly rich chocolate and raspberry confection to finish. There’s a reason why people wax lyrical about this place; it’s exceptionally good. Pair that with deft service, a crackling fire and wonderful room and you’ve a recipe for perfect happiness.

Wonderful desert at the Manor House restaurant by the fire

Table-bangingly good food

 

I strolled the few steps back to my farmhouse, the rain had stopped by now; the stars were coming out and I could hear the sounds of the sea from the harbour below. Tomorrow I’d explore Salt Spring Island, I’d wake to a warm pre-breakfast muffin and fresh juice delivered to my porch at 7am, but tonight I’d stoke the fire up again and listen to the wood pop and crackle as I drank herb tea feeling oddly at home, as though I were in Sussex, yet thousands of miles away from Brighton.

I stayed as a guest of Hastings House. Thank you! But – as ever – these are 100% my own words and opinions.


29
Apr 13

Wine for Waves

I’m a huge fan of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise programme. I wrote about them for En Route – you can read here why it’s so crucial that we choose our seafood wisely. We’re at a tipping point with many species and if we want to continue feasting on good things from the ocean we have to make smart choices and not fish and eat species into extinction. Restaurants across Canada have signed up to pledge to serve Ocean Wise sustainable seafood on their menus, when you visit Canada, definitely make the effort to support them, after all, we only have this world on loan from the next generation,
it’s really not ours to strip bare.

Cool touch

Cool touch

As well as being the social conscience of the seafood world, those splendid Ocean Wise types from the Aquarium like to have a party, so I headed down to the Four Seasons to join them to toast the Naramata Bench wineries’ first spring releases. I’ve tried hard to immerse myself in BC-only wines and now spring is on its way, I’m excited to have the chance to finally head up to the Okanagan and see where these ambrosial wines come from.

Shh! It's under the seal...

Shh! It’s under the seal…

I’m amused by the sassy names of some of the wineries in the Okanagan; Therapy, Monster, Misconduct – no stiff French formalities here. I tried a decent spread of reds and whites and my favourites from the night were from Red Rooster, Laughing Stock and La Frenz. My pick of the night? A white with a secret, ‘Blind Trust‘, Laughing Stock’s Cynthia Enns explained it to me, “We like doing blends, the idea behind Blind Trust was you have to trust the winemaker so we didn’t tell anyone what the blend was. We wanted to keep it secret but people were crazy to find out, so we hid it on the bottle, so if you have to know you can, but otherwise you can guess what it might be.”

Passionate about sustainable seafood? Just a bit.

Passionate about sustainable seafood? Just a bit.

Of course, all that wine needed something delicious to pair with it; enter Yew’s chef Ned Bell and team with a showstopper of a sustainable seafood display, “We’ve got albacore tuna, our Chef’s Table Society ingredient of the year and in my opinion, the only tuna you should eat,” says Bell, brandishing a crab claw at me, “fresh dungeness crab, prawns, all from our local waters and Effingham oysters from vancouver Island.”

100% sustainable and delicious. Look at that 'Effing oyster!

100% sustainable and delicious. Look at that ‘Effing oyster!

Finally because it’s all about staying Ocean Wise, what’s Ned’s sustainable fish tip for this month? “Right now halibut – it’s in season and everyone is loving it. At Yew, we’re got a wicked halibut burger, halibut ceviche, roasted halibut – it’s a versatile, meaty fish, it’s a sponge, it just loves to soak up flavour.”

Find out more about who’s smart and signed up to Ocean Wise. 

 I attended as a guest of the Aquarium as always – my words are 100% my own, and in this case mostly about how great ‘Effing Oysters‘ are. 


22
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 4: Flavours of Salt Spring Island

Welcome to "The Rock'

Welcome to “The Rock’

The largest of all the Gulf Islands, the more I got to see of Salt Spring, the better I liked it. Not so small that you’d feel isolated, yet spacious and wild enough to let you feel that you’d got away from it all – and best of all – packed to the gills with exceptional small-batch businesses making lovely things. Each Saturday from Easter weekend through till the last week in October, you’ll find them – and many others – at the weekly market.

Mt Maxwell Coffee

For happy is the hippy who roasteth in his yurt

Happy is the hippy who roasts in his yurt

When life points you towards a hippy in a yurt, roasting coffee beans, only a fool does not visit…. I had an excellent coffee at the lovely Auntie Pesto restaurant down on the boardwalk in Ganges village. Turns out it was blended specially for them by John over at the Mt Maxwell Coffee Roasters. I drove up to see him, tucked away on his farm up on Mount Maxwell. Trying hard to not run over the chickens scurrying around, I parked up and ventured inside the yurt for a tasting. I’ve written before about my frustration finding coffee that’s to my taste in Canada (not over-roasted and burnt) and this is perfect – a mellow, medium roast that has me cheering every morning when I make it.

Must have: The Black Crow espresso blend.

Moonstruck Cheese

If you made that amazing cheese, you'd be that happy too

If you made that amazing cheese, you’d be that happy too

You can hear the Jersey cows moo-ing when you arrive at the Moonstruck Cheese farm. I must confess a love of Jerseys; their milk is so rich and fat it always makes the best butter and ice cream, which is why Julia Grace uses nothing but her own herd’s milk to make her award-winning organic cheeses. “Jersey milk is complicated,” she explained to me, “It’s so fat you need to gently blend it, it’s really a milk designed for small producers but it gives cheese with a sweetness and wonderful mouth feel.” Julia makes hard cheeses, French-style succulent soft cheeses and creamy blues too.

Must have: The Tomme D’Or somewhere between a Parmesan and a Cheddar and absolutely delicious.

Saltspring Soapworks

Because the family who makes soap together, stays together

Because the family who makes soap together, stays together

When it comes to beauty products for me the more natural the better and if it’s organic and hand-made then I’m in heaven. So no wonder I flipped for these guys. The SaltSpring Soap Works began  as a kitchen table hobby back in 1979 has grown into a family business creating everything from body gelato and lip balms to bath bombs and ultra-moisturising body souffle. I love that it’s a family concern; founder Linda still creates her skin-loving products, alongside her son Gary, who makes soap every day, daughter-in-law Amber and also her grandson Owen who’s begun experimenting with making bath bombs.

Must have: the Rose d’Amour soap. Creamy with a gentle petal-soft fragrance.

Garry Oaks winery

All wine should be this bling-y

All wine should be this bling-y

OK, so you can’t buy wine at the market, but you have to pop along to their tasting room and buy some at the source instead. You can see the vines lined up on the hillside as you drive towards the winery on the slopes of Mt Maxwell. After quitting the corporate world 15 years ago to live their dream of making wine on the island, Elaine and Marcel founded Garry Oaks on a 100-year old farm. Growing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Zweigelt and Leon Millot varieties, Elaine creates award-winning blends and varietals. I adored their 2010 Pinot Noir, which was unusual as I’ve not been too excited by BC reds so far, “It’s very Burgundian,” explained Elaine, “Elegant and complex, it’s not a big wine, it’s more European.”

Must have: The Pinot Noir – it’s a wonderful French-style red.

I whizzed about visiting everyone in a car from Salt Spring Island Car Rental. LOVE that they are an independent not a chain. So – leave your car at home, chill and enjoy the view from the BC ferry and support ‘em.


17
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 3: Pender Island

Nope - still not the caribbean - welcome to the Gulf Islands...

Nope – still not the caribbean – welcome to the Gulf Islands…

It’s as we cross the slender bridge which joins north and south Pender Island together, that I realise I really should have hired a car. I’d cheerily walked off the BC Ferry at Otter Bay and hopped onboard my shuttle ride to Poets Cove Resort, but twenty minutes drive and we still weren’t there. In my head, everything had been an easy hike away; in reality Pender was a lot bigger than that, steep hills and narrow roads put my usual ‘borrow a bike’ plan off the slate and an already wonky ankle definitely put any long-distance hikes out, so as we drove along I tried to formulate a cunning Plan B

On the road and the view is wonderful

On the road and the view is wonderful

Poets Cove is pretty much all that’s on the south island. It’s a family-friendly holiday spot with its own bar, coffee shop and restaurant. Windy pathways lead down to the pretty sandy beach and from my room, I could see the boats bob on the shallow waves down at the marina. I’d arranged to borrow a resort car for the morning before I was scheduled to travel to Salt Spring Island, but that left me with a day and half to do… nothing. I’ve no practice at just staying put, so to find myself with a suddenly blank schedule sent me into a tailspin. Until I realised – this is what people do on holiday… so, Plan B: experience a holiday resort as though I am ‘on holiday’.

I read a book, I watched the sea, I pottered around a little and even had a nap. My major activity was visiting the ‘steam cave’ in the spa; a fun way to re-design the typical steam room, it really felt like a cave and I spent a happy hour flitting between the cave and the hot tub on the deck overlooking the sea. And yes, I felt really relaxed, but I was definitely ready to go when it came time to explore. Turns out that I’m no good at ‘being on holiday’ after all.

I would have demanded we move here if I'd seen this when I was 8

I would have demanded we move here if I’d seen this when I was 8

Pender Island landmarks seemed to have been named by a committee of Disney employees; Magic Lake, the Enchanted Forest and I even found a junction where Shark Road met Pirate Road.  Less densely forested than Galiano, Pender seemed to tend more to rolling farmland which let you peek away from the road to see the cliffs and sea beyond. I drove over to the north island, to Hope Bay and took a stroll along the boardwalk there. It was closed for the winter season when I visited, but it was easy to see how lovely it would be in full swing of summer, to visit the little parade of shops and stop for lunch at the Cafe. I read later that a group of 27 islanders banded together to buy the land after a fire destroyed the original historic buildings there as they were worried the site would be over-developed. They achieved their goal and maintained the spirit of the original and now it’s owned by a local island family.

I'm glad they managed to preserve this site...

I’m glad they managed to preserve this site…

Alas the cafe there was closed, so I drove on to the Bakery Cafe where I could happily have tried one of everything. Double-chocolate mint cookie sandwiches, vast slabs of peanut butter fudge-y tarts- I wished I’d stopped here on the way to Poets Cove and picked up a few treats.

Excellent car-lift share scheme

Excellent car-lift share scheme

On my whistlestop tour around the island, I discovered that it was a rather beautiful place – and smart too – as I was driving around, I discovered one of its nifty ideas -  the ‘car stop’ system. Dotted around the island are designated areas where you can stand and wait for a lift. There are a few simple rules and the system apparently works well. On Salt Spring I had a car and picked up a few teenage hitchers myself. So maybe all isn’t lost if you don’t have a car after all…

Find out more: http://www.penderislandchamber.com/


14
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 2: Galiano Island – things to do

 

Seals taking it easy.

Seals taking it easy.

Grand Central
I didn’t expect to stumble upon hipster central on Galiano Island, but clearly island living attracts a certain kind of cool. This diner/emporium would not be out of place in San Francisco or Brighton but no – here it is – on Galiano Island. I drank my very first orange creamsicle here, a fantastic concoction of orange soda and vanilla ice cream, loved my toasted sandwich and sneaked a spoonful of my friend’s borsch soup, which was perfect too. Free wifi, cool music and good food. If you go to Galiano – go here.

Uber hip

Grand Central Cafe

Hike the trails, climb the mountain
I can’t recall ever seeing trees like this before. Thin branches, covered in a velvety-green moss, stretching away from the trunk, curling up to the sky like fancy ribbon on a shop-wrapped parcel. Hike the deep forest trails in Bluff Park, thick with cinnamon-coloured Arbutus trees. Walk to the top of Mount Galiano and look out over the Gulf Islands. Picnic at the top and get a bird’s eye view.

Curly branches in the Bluffs

Curly branches in the Bluffs

See the Kunamokst Mural
190 artists from coastal regions from Mexico to British Columbia collaborated on a ‘mystery’ mosaic project – each artist was given a panel to create and asked to follow a colour guide and shape outline. No one knew what the end product would be: a mother orca whale and her calf. It was officially unveiling during the 2010 Winter Olympics, as part of the Cultural Olympiad at Spirit Square. Now you can see it up close on display at the Galiano Inn.

The Kunamokst Mural

The Kunamokst Mural

Shop local at the Galiano Soapworks
Indulge in a spot of retail beauty therapy at the Soapworks where all the products are made on the island, using many of the products grown on their farm. Organic, natural and raw ingredients like lavender, wildcraft chamomile, mint, comfrey, sea buckthorn leaves and nettles (apparently great for youthful skin) are used in the products. I picked up some Curly Kale cream (my commitment to BC’s favourite brassica knows no bounds) but could have happily filled a basket with everything from fragrant beeswax candles to artisan soaps and body care. As well as the shop, there’s also a working farm and animal sanctuary here.

I'll have one of everything, please.

I’ll have one of everything, please.

Visit Galiano Island’s answer to Stonehenge
Near Bodega Ridge on the north side of the island is Stoneworld; a collection of massive monoliths, standing stones and a large Inukshuk placed in fields where sheep placidly graze. I spent a happy half hour or so wandering around, admiring the work. I was told that one of the stone circles is ‘attuned’ to the Summer Solstice, so if you’re missing your Glastonbury fix – this could be a great alternative.

Welcome to Stoneworld

Welcome to Stoneworld

Find out more: http://www.galianoisland.com/


14
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 1: Galiano Island

My suitcase wheels crunched over the pebbles as I walked the short distance from the BC ferry dock to the Galiano Island Inn and spa, my first stop on a six-night island-hopping adventure around British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, a chain of islands inbetween the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. Just a 55-minute ferry journey from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen terminal, yet Galiano feels a world away from Vancouver city life.

Welcome....

Welcome….

It’s a small island; sparsely populated (just over 1,200 residents) short and thin (27.5km long and only 6km across at its widest) with a pleasingly quirky feeling and an abundance of natural beauty. While I was there I saw bald eagles circling overhead, spotted seals snoozing in the midday sunshine curled up like kittens in a basket and tiny quicksilver hummingbirds darting between the trees. If I’d waited a few weeks to visit, I could have gone whale watching – from the comfort of my patio – as between April and October resident pods of Orca whales make their way through Active Pass, the narrow strip of water which separates Mayne Island from Galiano island, right in front of the Galiano Inn and Spa.

This is what I meant by 'quirky'. This is apparently a hummingbird. Not a winged teddy-bear.

This is what I meant by ‘quirky’. This is apparently a hummingbird. Not a winged teddy-bear.

My suite at the Inn was bigger than my apartment at home; full kitchen, cosy lounge, the works. I’m always infuriated by hotels who have that ‘towels and wasting water’ card in their bathrooms if they have individual plastic bottles for their toiletries – it feels like the worst kind of tokenism. ‘Hey!” I always mutter when I see that. ‘If you really cared about the environment, you’d use pump dispensers, not zillions of plastic bottles and save the earth that way. Doofus.” Hurrah, then for the Inn as they did just that – filled with gorgeous-smelling locally-made products created just for them from nearby Salt Spring Island. Best of all, my waterfront terrace boasted a whirlpool bath, fireplace and a BBQ  – all of which I put to excellent use on my second night, curled up in a blanket, eating char-grilled prawns and drinking ice-cold wine by a crackling fire. I’m a sucker for any chance to laze in hot water in the outdoors; soaking in that tub, the jets bubbling away as I watched the sunset blush the sky a perfect apricot-pink, is a memory I’ll long cherish.

 

Not the Caribbean, the Gulf Islands... Perfect view from my terrace.

Not the Caribbean, the Gulf Islands… Perfect view from my terrace.

I spent my first day soaking up all the other good things the Inn had to offer; I walked on a cherry blossom-covered path to a warm wooden hut beside a pond to get a massage. I’d had a painful, stiff neck and shoulder for days and my therapist delivered a soothing, muscle-melting treatment that left me gurgling with delight. The rest of the spa is upstairs above the reception in the main building. I had a choco-therapy pedicure there, my feet scrubbed, then moisturised with chocolate-infused products while I sipped on mint-chocolate herb tea, flicking through a copy of Chocolat and scoffing a chocolate truffle.

Cross the blossom-path to the spa pavilion.

Cross the blossom-path to the spa pavilion.

Dinner that night was at the Inn’s restaurant, I started with a perfect espresso Martini, then dived into a rocket-covered, goat cheese-flecked, honey-crusted flatbread, just-right scallops and a juicy local salmon steak with sweet potato mash and a tangy lime-spiked yoghurt dressing. I sat and watched the stars come out and planned a trip back in summer when the pizza oven terrace in the garden re-opens and I could maybe sip cocktails in the summer warmth and see those Orcas cruise past. Tomorrow I’d explore the island in one of the cute smart cars that the Inn has to lend to guests, but tonight I’d just enjoy the relaxed pace of island living…

I stayed as a guest of the Galiano Inn and Spa. My views – as always – are 100% my own.

No need to bring a car - borrow theirs!

No need to bring a car – borrow theirs!

 


8
Apr 13

Feeling at home in Fairmont’s Charlevoix Chateau

Out of all the things I imagined that I’d miss about home, one thing I didn’t anticipate missing was old buildings. Vancouver is such a modern city, it celebrated its 125th birthday in 2011. Gleaming high rises are everywhere and but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in Quebec’s Charlevoix region and beamed at its stone exterior and gleaming wooden interior that I had a sudden flash of realisation; I like old buildings, they feel comforting and like ‘home’.

I could not love this more.

I could not love this more.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu certainly ticked all my Heritage Building boxes, just an hour or so drive along the stunning St Lawrence river, it was a world away from the funky modern delights of La Ferme. The original hotel was built in 1899, but burned down in 1928. I can’t imagine what dazzling riches the workers who rebuilt the hotel were offered but it was redesigned as a French Chateau and inaugurated in June 1929. Good work, chaps! I loved the huge fireplaces, the lavish lounge which looked out over the river and the spacious comfortable bedroom which came with the only hotel toiletries I ever ‘steal’ – I’m such a fan of the Fairmont’s rose-scented range.

How I wish I'd had time to laze around under the sunshine here...

How I wish I’d had time to laze around under the sunshine here…

Although the hotel has a pleasingly old-fashioned vibe, thanks to a multi-million dollar refurbishment, the facilities are bang up to date; well equipped children’s area, gorgeous outdoor hot pools and and all winter fun activities are catered for, you can hire everything from skates to tubes to go sliding. There is an Amerispa on site too which offers some interesting ice-cider treatments – I love the use of local ingredients – even in the spa.

After reading about the magnificent food that made the Charlevoix region so famous, I was excited about dinner; a tasting menu of the region created by Chef Patrick Turcot. The restaurant works with ultra-local producers, sourcing food within a 50KM radius. I ate  foie gras from a small farm, served with a brandy snap, honied fruit and a dollop of whipped cream, it came served with a glass of Le Pedneault, a local ice cider. At first taste it was syrupy sweet, but it became pleasingly dry with each forkful of foie and was easily a decadent day of calories in a few bites. I’ve found the flavours of the east coast of Canada to be so much richer and sweeter than those of the west coast. After a few days enjoying the riches of their terroir, I’m always just about ready to crawl back to Vancouver’s seafood and kale – no wonder they stock up on winter sports equipment! This is hearty food to fortify the body and soul through bitter winters – but so delicious!

Yes please.

Yes please.

I spoke with Chef in the morning, before I left, he was full of excitement that his plans to create their very own breakfast sausages with local organic suppliers was finally coming to fruition. He’d be making 20kg of sausage over the next few days and looked like a man who couldn’t wait to start. In the wake of the horsemeat scandals in Europe, it’s genuinely refreshing to spend time with a chef who can tell you the name of each and every one of his suppliers and can point to them on a local map. You could taste the care and dedication in every bite.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Charlevoix and Le Manoir Richelieu. As always, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more at Tourism Quebec.

Chef Patrick Turcot

Chef Patrick Turcot


7
Apr 13

All the fun of La Ferme

Looking around, it was hard to believe I wasn’t in in a funky hotel in a major metropolis. Airy spaces, glass and natural materials, clean lines and bold colours screamed ultra-modern design, but cheeky touches like the fabulously decorated life-size cow in the lounge or the farming tools sculpture in reception gave you a clue that Hôtel La Ferme is far from well – anything really – deep in the heart of the Charlevoix region of Quebec in Baie-saint-Paul.

Where urban cool meets painted cow...

Where urban cool meets painted country cow…

The brainchild of Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Hôtel La Ferme is the last piece in the puzzle that he’s been building in this beautiful part of the world that’s remained mostly unknown beyond Canada. Ten years ago, he bought Le Massif, a ski mountain, planning to transform it into a world-class four-season destination. The plan to link the area to Quebec City with a luxury private train stopping off at the mountain and then the hotel, offering top-notch accommodation (145 rooms ranging from the nicest dorm rooms I’ve ever seen to stylish doubles) and dining has finally come to fruition and – judging from my experience there – will put the area firmly on the radar of those looking for something new and deliciously cool.

Cool, clean lines - pastoral scenes

Cool, clean lines – pastoral scenes

Arriving by train, it’s worth noting that check-in isn’t available till the afternoon, so plan to have lunch and explore the small village of nearby Baie-saint-Paul or perhaps book a treatment in the spa. Farm touches are everywhere, tipping a nod to the 100-year old farm which used to stand here, from cow-coverlets in the spa and farm pictures in the room to the whole farm-to-table ethos of local dining in Les Labours restaurant and the Cafe du Marche where you can snack on soups, sandwiches and pastries as well as stock up on local terroir products to take home.

Quite wonderful to see the train from the spa pool

Jump in… warm up

Perfect for the ski crowd in winter and the relaxation-seekers in summer, Hôtel La Ferme also has a full-service spa. I’m a big fan of nordic style spa-ing, gently heating your body and then cooling down, but it always seems so much better when you can do it outdoors and lying back in the steamy huge outdoor hot pool at the Spa du Verger, with snow all around was heavenly. I’m getting better at the cold bit and managed not to screech as I plunged head-under in the icicle-covered cold tub. An indoor steam room and sauna add to the experience, along with a restful lounge area where you can sip herbal tea and look out over the garden.

Brilliant witty touches in the farm-friendly treatment rooms

Witty touches in the farm-friendly treatment rooms

I tried a candle massage – a deeply relaxing therapy that used the warm melted wax of a  candle as massage oil. You get to keep the candle afterwards – although they don’t provide an expert-fingered therapist to take away too. I wish I could say I remembered a lot about this treatment, but once I’d settled down from cooing compliments over the cow-cover and milk stool in the room, and relaxed into the sensation of warm wax drizzling over my back, embarrassingly enough, what I remember most is snoring through it – which, I guess is probably one of the highest accolades you could give to a relaxing massage, so let’s skate over that…

The best seats in the house...

The best seats in the house…

I woke from a post-massage snooze hungry and ready to tuck into dinner at Les Labours. I sat at the bar, the best view in the house, to watch the chefs do their thing. I had a four-hour, slow-braised shoulder of lamb, which came with the best lentils I’ve ever tasted. I should have asked how they do them, I never seem to get puy lentils right at home and these were so great, they’d be worth flying to Quebec to eat again.

I took time to explore before leaving in the morning, I watched a family ice skating in what would be the garden in the summertime and chatted with one of the staff about the impressive eco credentials of the hotel – sustainable development, geothermal energy, reusing rainwater and reducing food miles by using local suppliers. “It’s all about respecting the environment” she smiled and it makes sense – if you live somewhere as beautiful as the Charlevoix region, of course you want to protect it.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Charlevoix and Hôtel la Ferme. As always – my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: Tourism Quebec


4
Apr 13

In which I’m mostly flat…

Most of the time living here in Vancouver I feel like I’m on a great adventure. Every day brings a fresh discovery; I eat something I’ve never tried before, see birds I’ve never seen, meet new people – I love it. However, the problem with being so very far from home is that when things go wrong, you feel every single millimeter of the distance. I’m not OK at the moment. I’ve been flat on my back for the past week, can’t walk properly and it looks like I’ll be that way for a while more.

This has been my view for the past few days. I am BORED.

This has been my view for the past few days. I am BORED.

Being unwell when you’re by yourself is never much fun. Turns out being unwell when you’re by yourself AND thousands of miles from everyone you love really sucks. If I were just by myself, I could probably stick it out thanks to grocery delivery companies, Netflix and Skype, but I’m not alone; I have my dog and he needs to be walked. Right now, I feel like Blanche duBois in Streetcar, having to ‘depend on the kindness of strangers’. I know I’d be fine in Brighton, I’ve known my friends there so long that we’re family to each other, but I’ve only been here seven months and when it’s ‘new’ friends, you have to wonder just how far you can push asking for favours. I feel lucky that my neighbour Wendy is a sweetheart and so I don’t feel bad calling to ask for help and I’m even luckier in my friend Van who’s popped by after long days at work to take him out too.

The other thing with not being well is that your circle of health-support that you’ve spent years building isn’t there any more; Tom my acupuncture guy at the Anahata, the amazing William at the Treatment Rooms, even my doctor who’s known me for years… all at least 10 hours flight away in Brighton! I feel pretty blessed that months ago when I was creaking with pain, I checked local paper The Georgia Straight to find a massage therapist and discovered aces Nicole Van Damme who pointed me in the direction of top chiropractor Dr Jamie Hennessy. He’s been absolutely amazing – if you follow me on Twitter you’d know I’ve been banging on about how great he is for ages. You can spend months, years trying to find a great practitioner so the relief when I limped into his office with agonising sciatica – and then walked out half an hour later, was overwhelming.

Seriously. He wears this hat, like, all the time.

Seriously. He wears this hat, like, all the time.

This new bit of grimness stems from falling in Quebec all those weeks ago. I’ve damaged a muscle and need to lie around, my leg elevated over my head, icing it every couple of hours for the next few days. I need to get the swelling and inflammation down or I could be in trouble. Jamie’s been brilliant, emailing me back – out of hours – offering advice and reassurance. When I go and see him at Back To Health (here’s the number – I totally recommend him T: 604-742-0011), I appreciate that he takes the time to explain exactly what the issue is, why it’s a problem and what the plan to fix it is. He’s straight with me and although I might occasionally yelp at some of the adjustments that he does, (and wonder why he seems to heh-heh-heh cackle as he does the most evil of them) I always feel better afterwards.

Actually, I feel a bit better just writing this down too. OK, so I don’t have the circle that I had before, but if I think about it, I’m making a new one. And if moving here was a leap of faith then I suppose I need to apply that to living here too – trusting that things will work out and that strangers – and new friends – are kind. I guess that’s part of the expat experience, making that transition where you stop depending quite so much on ‘home’ and and start depending on those strangers who’ve become friends.

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