Two-part series: Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
We told you all about Canada’s 150th birthday in our summer issue, see Jet Setter: Rocky Mountaineer. This summer, tourism is in full swing with Canadians traveling in-country and other tourists coming to beautiful British Columbia to celebrate Canada’s 150 up close and personal.
In fact, many hotels, resorts and B&Bs are sold out this summer because the demand is so high. However, once you get into the fall and winter shoulder seasons, it will be a great time to explore our neighbors to the north. (PRO TIP: There’s no better way to escape the Texas heat than to visit BC in the summer, so maybe make plans for summer 2018.)
Most of us know about Vancouver and Victoria, maybe even Banff, but few of you know about the small gems we’re going to cover here.
Salt Spring Island
Considered one of the five Southern Gulf Islands, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island (SSI) is a stellar example of island life, mixing the ocean and the mountains with an agrarian lifestyle that is both simple and superb. You can get there by taking the Tsawwassen Ferry from Vancouver and if you time it right and get a direct route, it’s only about 1.5 hours away (and the ride is beautiful in itself).
Stay at The Cottages on Salt Spring Island, which just opened June 1, 2017, after years in the making. They have 50 cottages on property and several of them lakeside. Most are two bedroom with king size beds in each. We slept a family of five easily by utilizing the couch on the main floor (bedrooms are loft/3rd story and basement floor), for around $250/night weekday and $325/night weekends. Bear in mind, the U.S. dollar is very healthy right now in Canada so Americans get about a 1/3 discount on all Canadian prices.
The Cottages are well appointed, spacious and have an ideal kitchen so you can shop for groceries in the town center, Ganges, only about a five-minute drive away, and fix meals in your cottage. You’ll find everything you need in the kitchen, except a dishwasher. This is because there’s extreme water sensitivity on the island. Locals are very precise when it comes to water usage and expect visitors to follow suit.
By the way, they’re selling the cottages and putting them on their rental program if you love it there and want to make one your own!
We loved all three restaurants we visited on the island (we cooked the rest of our meals in our cottage.) Mind you, it’s island time so don’t go into a restaurant expecting a speedy turnaround. Just enjoy the relaxed pace on the island.
Shipstoner is the downstairs pub to OysterCatcher and it’s right on the water in the Ganges Marina (basically, the hub of the island.) Owner/ Chef Barry spent years in a large Vancouver restaurant group and then moved to the island with his family, and hasn’t looked back. You can enjoy a crisp salad with crab cakes and pair with the local ESB (Extra Special Bitter) from Salt Springs Ales or a pinot noir from one of the island wineries like Garry Oaks; or enjoy a salmon burger with a Kelowna chardonnay, and kids will love their fish ‘n chips. I loved the outdoor patio overlooking the sailboats in the marina.
Rock Salt Restaurant is in a tiny village called Fulford Harbour, which reminds me of Paia on the island of Maui. In fact, in a tiny boutique there, we found a bumper sticker that said: “Aloha, Eh; Salt Springs Island is Canada’s Hawaiian island.” We enjoyed a sampling of appies (how they reference appetizers in BC) like seafood chowder, chicken wings, fish & chips, and, of course, poutine (a Canadian app which is fries covered with a brown gravy, melted cheese curds and pork belly.)
Barb’s Buns Bakery is on the far end of Ganges and has a great lunch selection of soups (chowder and tomato basil), sandwiches (pulled BBQ grilled cheese or a fig and goat cheese chicken sandwich). The bakery also boasts teas, smoothies and a counter full of house made pastries.
While on the island, make time to check out these sights:
- Mount Maxwell Provincial Park (provincial parks in Canada are free this year to celebrate the anniversary)—Most tourists drive up the logging road to the parking lot where you’re just steps away from spectacular overlooks, but then you can take a variety of trails circumnavigating the mountain. We chose one that was about an hour around the top section of the mountain.
- Ruckle Provincial Park- In this heavily wooded park, there are multiple trails around the day use section, and a few small beaches.
- Fritz Cinema- In this adorable cinema in the island’s town hall (built in 1896), you can see the one movie that’s showing on the blackboard out front. Most shows start at 7 p.m. but it’s a small room so get there around 6:30 for good seats together.
- Farmers market- If you’re there on Tuesday afternoon (2-6 pm), you can get a taste (literally) of the local agrarian community. There are 250 farms on the island so it’s easy to buy local eggs, produce, coffee and even kale chips and peanuts.
Other interesting features of Salt Springs Island:
- There’s a huge artist colony on the island with approximately 300 artists’ studios. You can obtain a tour brochure with the studios numbered to drive from one to another. You can drive up to someone’s home studio and watch them paint, sculpt, blow glass or any number of artisan specialties.
- SSI has the first chamber of commerce to become green accredited.
- You can find all types of accommodations from yurts, B&Bs, a teepee ($23/night), and a converted bus ($80/night), all the way up to Hasting’s B&B for $600/night.
- SSI has three wineries, one cidery, and one brewery.
You need to experience this little Canadian slice of heaven. While in BC, plan to spend at least two nights on the island to hear the silence. As they say, “Islands are special places; they deserve special care.”