Posts Tagged: Gulf Islands

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.

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.

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:

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:

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.



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!


Apr 13

Gulf Island hopping with BC Ferries

I’m a huge fan of slow travel. Not accidentally slow, like a replacement bus service or a delayed plane, no, the kind of slow that lets you get a sense of distance from A to B, the kind of slow which allows you to spot birds and spy wildlife along the way, maybe even time to see the sky bruise and sunsets blaze. Definitely the kind of slow where there’s plenty of time to watch out of the window and wonder. So, yeah – I was all set to enjoy travelling by ferry around the Gulf Islands, which lie some 20 miles off the coast of Vancouver’s Tsawwassen harbour.

This is an awfully cool way to arrive anywhere.

This is an awfully cool way to arrive anywhere.

I hopped aboard a range of different BC ferries on my travels between Vancouver and the Galiano, Pender and Salt Spring Islands – from huge multi-deck modern gleaming commuter ferries serving up sushi in the canteen to tiny single deckers without so much as a snackbar.

Getting there:
Take the Pacific Coach line bus from Vancouver’s Central bus station. This is the easiest option by far if you’re heading to Victoria as the bus drives onto the ferry and drops you off downtown. No need to stress about luggage, you can leave it all on board – plus the bus has free wifi. However, I was taking the Galiano boat, so needed to change. Fortunately my driver Larry was an absolute peach. He escorted me to the luggage area, tagged my bag so that it would be put on the right ferry (it was!) and showed me where I could get some food and a coffee.

Nerdy, but I adored this and have far too many photos of it.

Nerdy, but I adored this and have far too many photos of it.

I was impressed by the ferry market building – the floor is a highly polished ocean and islands map of the area – a gorgeous detail that I bet gets mostly missed. You could happily spend an hour browsing the stores, snacking on anything from burgers to sushi, or drinking organic Salt Spring Island coffee beside the fireplace here. It’s a far cry from any ferry terminal I’ve been to in Europe.

There. Don't you feel relaxed just looking at that?

There. Don’t you feel relaxed just looking at that?

But back to the ferries. It’s a restful experience, rain or shine, you pass through glorious scenery that I would happily have paid to drift around simply as a pleasure cruise. Mossy-looking mountains, impossibly green forests, startlingly golden beaches, and here and there a house built up on the shore that just begged you to imagine living there, watching and waiting for the pods of Orca whales come sailing through, each April to October.

Clouds finally lifting...

Clouds finally lifting…

It was drizzling as I went to Galiano Island. The sky was grey, the sea a gloomy kind of gun metal and no one apart from me was on the deck. I watched a gull showboating on the breeze, squinted in the distance and tried to work out which island was to be mine for the next few days. I walked around the ferry, past the solarium, with its sun-trap seating and imagined what it would be like in the summertime, the ferry bustling with day trippers and holiday makers. Feeling the sun on your face and the tang of the saltspray on your lips. Heaven. But it was March and it was drizzly, so I wrapped my scarf around my face and enjoyed the solitude, waiting for the clouds to clear.

 I travelled as a guest of BC Ferries and Pacific Coach Lines – but my views are 100% my own.

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