After our marvellous east coast visit to Newfoundland last summer, (see Oh Canada) we decided to give equal time to the glorious west coast of British Columbia, namely Vancouver Island.
One of my fondest memories of Victoria was years ago, when my daughter Carrie was alive, and a boisterous 3-year-old. I was singing with the Victoria symphony and we were staying at the beautiful Empress Hotel. I was given a suite and it was pretty grand. We were sitting watching television and on came Mommy in an interview that was pre-taped. She looked at me and at the screen and just laughed and laughed that I could magically be in two places at once.
Parliament buildings in Victoria at night
The Empress was glorious in those days. Now it is a Fairmont and looks pretty much like most Fairmonts. Sadly,the famous tea in the lobby seems to have gotten mundane. However, we didn’t stay there, but at a charming hotel called the Inn at Laurel Point. Centrally located with rooms that look out on the magnificent inner harbour or situated in a Japanese garden, the one we chose. Again I had a swimming pool to enhance my morning exercise, and Charles and I walked and walked all over downtown Victoria. The hotel had a pleasant breakfast restaurant and we had a bed and breakfast deal. There was also an appealing terrace where we had drinks one balmy evening.
Romantic view of the inner harbour near the Inn at Laurel Point
Speaking of weather, my favourite travel words are, ‘You are so lucky, it has been rainy and cool until today.’ We did indeed luck out as our entire week’s vacation on the west coast was filled with sunshine and warmth, not always the case in British Columbia.
There was a lively Busker Festival taking place on the waterfront in Victoria and wherever we walked it seemed that some one was performing. Some acts definitely worth a sit, a terrific harmonica playing bluesy singer, others not so much. We grabbed lunch at a restaurant called Blue Crab and ate our beloved oysters. The plan was to eat BC oysters everyday, and we pretty much fulfilled that goal.
At the BuskerFest
After hours of walking in the sunshine and noting the sites we wanted to visit in more depth the next day, we headed back to the hotel, sat in the little Japanese Garden, and then had our nap. Three hours is not a lot of time change, but I always try to get on the new time as soon as possible and a nap helps me be able to extend the day.
Japanese garden outside our patio
We met up with old friends for dinner at an unusual restaurant, 10acres The Kitchen, and enjoyed seafood, more oysters and some delicious BC wine. There are three restaurants that are part of this group, all with different styles and cuisine, all stating that the food is from their farm, and the seafood is sustainable. Our dinner was very good, not brilliant, but very good. The décor was wonderful though, with large booths, and an open bar and excellent service. You can read the details on the link that I have attached.
The following morning we headed out to The Robert Bateman Centre, which we had passed the day before, and knew we wanted to visit. This is located in the old Steamship Terminal, a historic building that also houses a restaurant where we ate dinner the second night of our stay. The Centre is incredible, and the art of Bateman equally so. When I was a girl, my foster parents had talked at great length about Bob, who was a neighbour on Chaplin Crescent in Toronto. They even had some original works done by him when he was a teen. He was quite a star in their eyes, even though at the time he was so very young. I thought his work was mostly of birds with intricate detail in the drawing, however, the paintings that we saw of bears, and whales, and tigers, cheetahs in Africa, and other scenes from the west coast were a revelation. Charles and I were mesmerized. I highly recommend a visit.
My one pet peeve about Bateman’s art is that the major galleries in Canada; the Art Gallery of Ontario, The National Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery do not have any of his work. What snobs. Perhaps the acquisitions teams at these revered galleries should take a trip out west and look at his work in the Centre. He is a true Canadian treasure. I predict that Bateman’s art will be around a long time, remembered and appreciated by many generations after mine. I love this quote from him, referring to the fact that he’s not in the collections of the aforementioned galleries. “It is the least important issue facing the planet,” Bateman said. I have never met him, but I love his attitude and his art.
Everywhere a beautiful view downtown in Victoria
Lunch that day was dim sum in Chinatown. I have forgotten the name of the restaurant for a good reason. Dinner at the Steamship Grill outside on the terrace was delightful, more seafood and beautiful views of the waterfront.
Happy with my oysters at Steamship Grill
The strategy was to spend two days in Victoria, then drive to Tofino and finally end in Vancouver to visit our children. We rented a car at Victoria airport and planned to drop it off in Tofino after our stay there. As promised the road trip, about 5 hours in length, was majestic. The views of the mountains, the sea, and the size of the trees along the highway made the time pass quickly.
En route, we stopped in Parksville for lunch at Lefty’s. We spent some time there talking to the owner and getting a taste of local gossip. The fish tacos were yummy as was the cheesecake offering of the day. You may have guessed already that we like our food, and adore almost anything from the sea especially in a place where seafood is superb.
We arrived at our destination mid afternoon. The Wickaninnish Inn turned out to be better than advertised. So many folks had recommended this gorgeous, west coast resort that sits on Chesterman Beach that we wondered if it would live up to its exalted reputation. It absolutely did. Our room overlooked a rocky cliff and its small porch was a place we spent many hours just watching the changing light on the sky and water of the Pacific.
The Inn is stunningly built of wood, and truly embraces and fits in the surrounding natural beauty of the area. All the details are available if you click on the link above. It is part of the Relais et Chateaux group of hotels and fine restaurants so it is not inexpensive. However, there is a myriad of accommodations available near Tofino at every price point.
We had pre-booked the crab cookout on the beach, a summer special event in July. We went early as the sun was setting behind the hotel and we wanted to see the colours on the water. There were large driftwood logs on the sand that doubled as seats, and boards that doubled as tables. The crab, fresh that afternoon from the sea, was boiled in a large pot. A buffet filled with salads and desserts was on offer, and fresh corn on the cob was brought to us with our first serving of crab. The chef kept bringing more crab. It seemed endless. I learned how to crack it correctly and easily. What heaven it was outside in the warm setting sun, with all the crab we could eat. No alcohol though on the beach, so water and soda had to do. After this feast, Charles and I headed to the On the Rocks Bar in the Inn, for wine, fully sated.
Tofino sits on the western coast of Vancouver Island specifically on a sprawling peninsula in the Clayoquot Sound. The actual town is small and unprepossessing with some arts and crafts boutiques and plenty of good casual restaurants. We ate at one called The Ice House Oyster Bar, more oysters and fresh fish with a view to die for. We shared a table with a family from the states, and this just added to our fun evening. We also had a lunch outdoors on a lively patio at a place called Shelter with unusual mixed drinks, and of course seafood tacos.
Sunset at the Ice House Oyster Bar
We did almost nothing on our visit. There had been suggestions of deep sea fishing, whale watching, hot springs, hikes, but we happily just walked miles on the beach and watched the tide change the scene. One morning we set out in the fog and enjoyed seeing it lift, and met some dog walkers and had good conversations, and learned about the people who live in this paradise. We ate lunch in town or at the inn, then more looking at the view. We both were trying to absorb the beauty of the wild naturalness of the place. We enjoyed watching the snails draw weird and wonderful designs in the sand. We were never bored.
Snail drawings in the sand
The bath tub and separate shower in our room looked out on the jagged rocks below us and some cd’s were thoughtfully left in the Bose player, a nice assortment of Diana Krall and Joni Mitchell, very Canadian choices. We read our books and just luxuriated in the calm, except for the roaring of the sea against the rocks.
View from our porch
Our final dinner in The Pointe restaurant with that view again, was superb. Blue Mountain brut soon became my favourite as did their Sauvignon Blanc, and Charles loved the pinot noir. The sablefish was perfectly cooked as were the local prawns. You can check out the menu on the link. I can almost taste the wonderful flavours still. Service was attentive, but not intrusive.
Foggy beautiful morning walk
The next morning we found the tiny Tofino airport after a bit of two-ing and fro-ing on the highway and took Orca airlines to Vancouver. The views below us from the small aircraft were stupendous. What a utopia where mountain meets sea, definitely God’s country.