Sometimes a story really needs pictures. And in the case of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, I’ve decided that more is better.
Salt Spring is the largest and most populated of BC’s Gulf Islands. But don’t let that fool you. With only 12,000+ permanent residents, you’re not going to feel crowded. It’s a bucolic paradise, a haven for artists and farmers, with nary a stop light in sight.
It’s a magical place.
My friend Sandy and I journeyed to Salt Spring for a two-night getaway at Hastings House Country House Hotel. Located on a 22-acre country estate at the head of Ganges Harbour, it was built by a family between 1900 and 1940 as a working farm and in the style of an English country manor. Today, the inn features 18 suites, with views onto the formal gardens, rolling meadows or out to the rocky seashore and harbor.
Our mission was quite simple: Eat. Sleep. Bike. Walk. Spa.
In fact we even brought our bikes, although they have complimentary mountain bikes for guests. Other gratis services include a morning wake-up hamper with fresh pastries, coffee or tea; robes and over-sized towels; transportation to and from the ferry and float plane; and firewood for in-room fireplaces and stoves.
We spent the afternoon poking around the village. I hadn’t been to Salt Spring in more than a dozen years, and it’s grown — but in a good way. Of course that’s an opinion of a visitor and not a local. Being an islander myself, any “change” in an island is a hot button. I was somewhat shocked to see multi-million dollar homes overlooking Booth Bay, where my husband and I stayed with friends one sunny, February weekend for my birthday.
Long gone was the funky old resort. In its place were what appeared to be second homes, maybe third. Access to the beach is still allowed.
Since we were spending two nights, we opted to eat in Ganges on the first night, saving Hastings House for the grand finale’. We had a lovely dinner at Restaurant House Piccolo, an easy walk from the inn. The restaurant is owned by Chef Piccolo Lyytikainen of Finland, so the menu is Euro in feel, but with a local flair. I enjoyed the Pan Fried Wiener Schnitzel that featured Montreal veal with lemon, capers and anchovy fillets. The extensive wine list includes both Vancouver Island and BC wines. For an exotic appetizer, try the Caviar and Buckwheat Blinis ($125 or $165 depending on the amount and where the caviar hails from). Desserts include Chocolate Terrine Finlandia and Warm Lingonberry Crepes with Vanilla Ice Cream (moistened with Finlandia Vodka).
After dinner, a stroll back to Hastings House ended with a crackling fire in the room, good books and early to bed.
The next day we biked, hiked and made stops at Salt Spring Island Cheese with its wonderful Chevre cheese and a visit to the the Salt Spring Vineyards. The duo made for a perfect late afternoon picnic, as we soaked in the view from our outdoor chairs at Hastings House.
It was painful pulling ourselves away from this perfect spot, but Sandy and I had both booked late afternoon appointments at the Spa, so we donned our robes and headed over to The Barn.
The spa menu is small but the practitioners are excellent. I had a massage, and there is also a body wrap, facials, pedicures and manicures on the menu. A 20-minute steam shower is a nice add-on.
In a mellow mood, we returned to our rooms and soon it was time for a cocktail by the fireplace, served by our delightful waiter Michael Coughlin. Then it was a divine dinner prepared by Chef Marcel Kauer. The Swiss-born and trained chef creates such wonderful menu items such as Curried Salt Spring Island Mussels; Celeriac & New Potato Bisque: Grilled Rack & Loin of Salt Spring Lamb; and delicious desserts.
Since we were staying on the island midweek, we missed the popular Market in the Park held every Saturday through the end of October. It’s a crafts, food and face feast not to be missed.
Hastings House is open from mid-March through mid-November. One of the more fun packages is the Pajama Party package, blending gastronomy with fireside fun and pampering. The package includes two nights’ accommodations; wake-up breakfast hamper with hot beverages; continental breakfast in the Manor House Dining Room; afternoon treats in the Snug Guest Lounge; fireside Pajama part in guest suite, with Veuve Clicquot and a specially prepared three-course dinner; private consultation with Chef Marcel Kauer to plan the dinner menu; three course dinner in the dining room; two-hour Body and Sole treatment in the Spa; autographed copy of the Hastings House anniversary cookbook. Rates for the two-night/three-day package start at $1,069 CAD per person, single occupancy and $1,548 CAD for two people, double occupancy.
All photographs by Sue Frause, June 2007.