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CIRCLING BRITISH COLUMBIA'S WEST COAST SPLENDOUR
By Margaret Deefholts
Wondering where you'd like to spend your summer vacation this year? Try B.C.'s scenic coastal attractions. Enjoy a leisurely family trip, cuddle up in romantic hideaways with your sweetheart, or explore the highways and by-ways in the company of a good friend.
If you have a week, the B.C. Ferries' CirclePac excursion is a fun sail 'n drive trip. Catch a ferry from Tsawwassen (Delta) to Swartz Bay (Victoria) or to Duke Point (Nanaimo). Drive Vancouver Island's east coast up to Comox, ride the ferry over to Powell River, then take the coastal route to Saltery Bay and sail to Earl's Cove. Wheel along the Sunshine Coast as you head to Gibsons where the Langdale ferry will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver.
Glide by islands with holiday homes tucked between evergreen forests, watch triangular-sailed boats flit past, click photos of snow-capped peaks glimmering against the sky, and depending on the season, enjoy the thrill of seeing killer whales making their way through the channels.
A few highlights en route:
- Victoria: B.C.'s capital city is charming. Stroll the waterfront, browse the shops on Government Street. Plan a picnic in Beacon Hill Park. Explore the mysterious Orient on a guided tour through Chinatown. Above all don't miss this year's special exhibition at The Royal B.C. Museum: on loan from the British Museum is a collection of 300 rare artefacts spanning 1.5 million years of human history. And, of course, no visit to Victoria is complete without a trip to the world-famous Butchart Gardens in all their summer glory.
- Cowichan Valley: Drive north along the scenic Malahat along Highway 1. The Cowichan Valley is now a major wine producing area on Vancouver Island so be sure to sign up for a wine-sampling tour. Enjoy fresh farm produce at restaurants that pride themselves on using locally grown organic fruit, vegetables and herbs.
- Duncan: Sign up for a tour at the Quw'utsun Cultural Centre. Wilson Jr., a Cowichan Band elder, and accomplished story-teller spins intriguing legends, tales and folklore.
- Enjoy a nostalgia trip through history at the B.C. Forest Museum on Highway 1. Kids of all ages get a kick out of riding the train as it clatters merrily along a narrow gauge line through wooded glades, over wooden trestles and past Somenos Lake. If you're lucky you'll catch a glimpse of their resident brown owl snoozing in the trees. Peek into vintage logging bunkhouses and linger in front of archival photographs in the Museum.
- Chemainus is renowned for its murals - a vast outdoor art gallery with its heritage proudly emblazoned on the walls of its streets, restaurants and commercial buildings. Take in a live performance of the musical Oklahoma! at the elegant Chemainus Theatre.
- Nanaimo: Stroll the Waterfront Walkway and pop into the newly renovated Museum where the first Nanaimo Bathtub Race bathtub is on display. The town's old neighbourhood on Fitzwilliam Street is picture postcard pretty: pedestrian cobbled streets flanked by art stores, curios, crafts, books, and perfumed boutiques. Don't leave town without munching on a Nanaimo Bar.
- Parksville & Qualicum: Immerse yourself in a sensuous environment of scented oils, thermal wraps and soothing rubs with a spa experience at The Grotto (Tigh Na Mara Resort) and then indulge in a epicurean meal at their Treetops Tapas Restaurant. Expensive but worth every cent.
- Laze under an umbrella on the wide sands at Rathtrevor and Qualicum beaches, where the water in summer is sometimes a balmy 20oC. Bike or hike the Parkway Trailway, try spelunking at Horne Lake Caves (kids will love this) or simply…go fishin'.
- Mid Island: If the outdoors is your thing, take in the rugged scenery of Englishmen's River and Little Qualicum Falls, or do a leisurely stroll through MacMillan Bloedel's Cathedral Grove. Click your camera at the goats on the roof at Coombs Old Country Market, and buy trinkets or curios at the adjoining funky arts and craft shops
- Don't miss: The World Parrot Refuge in Coombs with over 700 parrots, cockatoos and mackaws. It's more than just a huge aviary - it's a place where orphaned or previously abandoned birds joyously socialize with each other (at the top of their voices!) and adore meeting visitors. A moving and unforgettable experience.
- Comox: A small town with quiet charm. Explore the town's heritage on a self-guided walking tour. Best kept secret? The captivating Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park with its rustic lodge, nine acres of flowering shrubs, west coast cedars - and resident deer that love posing for pictures.
- En route. The scenery along the forty-minute B.C. Ferries crossing from Saltery Bay to Earl's Cove, is sheer West Coast panorama: a backdrop of magnificent snow-peaked mountains, with inlets threading between islands that lie fold upon fold, dark green in the foreground and purple or pale blue silhouettes in the distance. The route winds past fish farms and the occasional rustic cabin half hidden in stands of evergreens.
- The Sunshine Coast is an enchantment of dappled forest glades, hiking trails, hidden coves and small communities that fringe the coastline. It is also home to an extraordinary range of handicrafts ranging from blown glass, crystal ornaments, wood carvings, enamel ware, pottery, oil and water colour paintings, woven rugs and shawls…and much more! Follow the Purple Banner signs that indicate that an artist's studio is open to visitors. A mere sampling: Fibreworks Studio & Gallery (housed in a yurt!) near Madeira Park, Blue Dot Art Studio (south of Sechelt), Cutting Edge Stained Glass (Roberts Creek), Fire & Ash Studio (stoneware/porcelain)
Gibsons Landing: The town catapulted into fame with the TV Series The Beachcomers, and Molly's Reach restaurant is still an iconic landmark in Lower Gibsons. Several boutiques and art galleries line Marine Drive (Lower Gibsons) including the curiously named Waltzing Whippet, as well as elegant galleries such as the Spirit of Place and Gift of the Eagle. The town has a cornucopia of trendy little restaurants, among them Smitty's Oyster House where on a summer evening, residents and visitors alike vie to sit elbow-to-elbow at their 27-ft spruce dockside table, while tucking into fresh oysters, mussels, clams and prawns.
Cindy Buis of Artworks Tours loves nothing better than to introduce visitors to the best of Gibsons Landing in a walking tours; she spins anecdotal tales about historical characters and landmarks and drops by art galleries, studios and museums.
IF YOU GO:
B.C. Ferries have launched their swanky new Super Cs vessels: The Coastal Renaissance The Coastal Inspiration, and The Coastal Celebration. Their CirclePac ticket is priced at an affordable level of just under $200 which includes a car, two passengers and two kids under 11 years and is valid for 30 days. www.bcferries.com/travel_planning/circlepac/
Where to Stay: Favourite picks
In Victoria: Sheer luxury and a stunning view of the harbour is yours at Laurel Point Inn, 680 Montreal Street. An easy walk to downtown Victoria. Their award winning chef presides over The Aura restaurant. www.laurelpoint.com/
The Magnolia Hotel & Spa is an elegant boutique hotel in the heart of the city. www.magnoliahotel.com/
Abigails combines old world appeal and comfort in their boutique B&B. www.abigailshotel.com
The Marco Polo, a small but charming boutique B&B is sequestered in the tranquil Rocklands area of Victoria. Their gourmet breakfast menu is fit for royalty.
Also recommended is Spinnakers Gastro-BrewPub and Guest Houses www.spinnakers.com/
Merridale Ciderworks at Cobble Hill - self guided tours and La Pommeraie Bistro www.merridalecider.com
Silverside Farm & Winery, Cobble Hill: Try their blueberry, raspberry and blackberry wines. Call ahead 250-743-9149
Glenterra Vineyards, Cobble Hill www.glenterravineyarads.com
Cherry Point Vineyards and Bistro, Cobble Hill www.cherrypointvineyards.com
Where to Stay:
The Best Western Chemainus Festival Inn offers comfortable suites with kitchen facilities within easy driving distance of the town centre. A hearty Continental breakfast is included in their room rates. www.festivalinn.ca/
About Chemainus: www.muraltown.com/
There are several restaurants (dine in or take out) in Chemainus with prices to suit every wallet.
The Nanaimo Historic Bastion Museum: www.nanaimomuseum.com/bastionpage.htm
The charming old city quarter shopping area: www.oldcityquarter.com/
The newly renovated Nanaimo Museum is the pride of the town: www.nanaimomuseum.ca/index.html
Where to stay:
Two resort hotels you'll never want to check out of:
Sunrise Ridge Waterfront Resort: A newly developed resort on 10.2 acres within walking distance of the beach. Luxury two bedroom suites with fully appointed kitchen and dining area, quality linen, kitchen ware and chinaware also boasts an independent one-bedroom suite for friends or family that accompany you. www.sunriseridge.ca/
Tigh Na Mara Resort (almost adjacent to Sunrise Ridge Resort) has a well-deserved reputation for stylish opulence.
The Grotto Spa: www.grottospa.com/
Tree Top Tapas and Grill: www.tigh-na-mara.com/treetop.htm
Attractions - Mid Island:
Old Country Market (goats on the roof) at Coombs: www.oldcountrymarket.com/
The Amazing World Parrot Refuge: worldparrotrefuge.org/
MacMillan Provincial Park (Cathedral Grove): www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/macmillan/
Where to stay:
Old House Village Hotel & Spa bills itself as a luxury boutique hotel, but offers four-star accommodation with average facilities. Their one-bedroom suites include a pull out sofa-bed and a functional kitchen area.
Attractions - Courtenay/Comox:
The charming Filberg Lodge estate: www.filberg.com/
The Sunshine Coast:
Where to Stay:
The Painted Boat Resort Spa and Marina in Madeira Park offer visitors suites that are the ultimate in luxury. Every last detail, from the exquisite interior décor to the furnishings and deluxe kitchen facilities, has been chosen to please the eye and delight the heart. Set in tranquil wooded surroundings with spectacular views across the waterfront, this is an idyllic retreat for romantic couples of all ages. www.crmr.com/paintedboat
For a list of B&Bs and cottages and myriads of stellar attractions along the Sunshine Coast:www.bbsunshinecoast.com
Where to eat:
Savoury Bite Restaurant & Pub at Beach Gardens Marina, 7-74 Westminster Street, Powell River
Smitty's Oyster House in Gibsons: www.smittysoysterhouse.com
Pebbles Restaurant, 5454 Trail Avenue, Sechelt (try their signature clam chowder)
Sunshine Coast Art Galleries:
Copper Sky Gallery, Madeira Park: www.earthlycreatures.ca
Amazon Earth Works, Halfmoon Bay: www.amazonearthworks.com
Blue Dot Studio, Sechelt: www.bluedotartstudio.com
Fibreworks Studio (in a yurt) www.gunboatbaylodge.com/fibreworks.html
Spirit of Place Gallery, Gibsons: www.barryhaynes.com
Westwind Fine Art Gallery, Gibsons: www.westwindgallery.net
Interested in a historical tour of Gibsons Landing? Contact Cindy Buis of Artworks Tours & Framing, 441 Marine Drive, Gibsons Landing at 604-886-1250
PHOTOGRAPHS AND CUTLINES:
1. Riding the Ferry en-route to Nanaimo
2. Chemainus Mural
3. Wendy, owner of World Parrot Refuge in Coombs with one of her lodgers
4. Incomparable B.C. West Coast scenery
5. Cutting Edge Stained Glass studio version of Klimpt painting
6. Yvonne Stowell, owner of Fibre Works Studio & Art Gallery, Madeira Park, Sunshine Coast
7. The view framed by my bedroom window at the Painted Boat Resort Spa and Marina.
8. Cindy Buis of Art Works Tours and Framing