Pleasures of Salt Spring Island British Columbia
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Renew ad De-Stress in Salt Springs with Views, Cheese, and LavenderIn fact, a great place to relax and enjoy scenic views is atop the highest point on the island, Mount Maxwell Provincial Park. The park overlooks sailboats on cerulean waters in Burgoyne Bay and west to Vancouver Island, as well as south to the San Juan Islands. The views are utterly breathtaking and perfect for early morning or sunset photography!
Another relaxing activity is to drive around Salt Spring, as numerous artists' studios and specialty herb and food shops are scattered about the island. The scenery changes from forested hills and cliffs over-looking the Strait of Georgia to lovely harbors and lush, pastoral pastures. Keep your eye out for farm stands along the way that sell fresh eggs, vegetables, herbs and flowers; many use honesty boxes.
In addition, two excellent farm shops to visit if you enjoy artisan cheeses and lavender are Salt Spring Island Cheese Company and Sacred Mountain Lavender. Salt Spring Island Cheese is highly regarded for their luscious hand-made goat and sheep cheeses, such as basil and roasted garlic. Their cheese is used by top restaurants and shipped across Canada and will soon be available in Oregon and Washington State as well.
If you love the scent of lavender, drop by Sacred Mountain and wander through several acres of stunning, multi-hued purple lavender fields (blooms June to Sept.), as you breathe in the heavenly scented air. Owners Ben and Jacqueline Sutton are originally from England and Ben is a plant biologist. The Suttons established the lavender farm in 2001, growing all of their plants organically; today there are over 60 different varieties of lavender on the farm. As the plants flourished, they created a fabulous onsite gift shop with blissful, top-quality essential oils, culinary items and a whole host of lavender products. Sacred Mountain also offers tours of the lavender cultivation and distilling process (make sure to call ahead for a tour) and is a retreat destination and wedding ceremony site.
Ganges VillageAmong the three villages on the island, Ganges is the core and focal point for shops, arts, restaurants and businesses. Grace Point Square, located on lower Ganges Road, features a bevy of fun shops to peruse, such as Harlans Chocolates and Gelato. Since the '80s, Harlans is the favorite sweet spot on the island for high quality delicious, hand-made chocolates with natural ingredients. The large shop is filled with every kind of confection you desire and hilarious, one-of-a kind photo postcards created by friendly owner Dan Dawson; move over Gary Larson. Stop by and try their awesome Belgium chocolate Hedgehogs or one of the 26 varieties of imported and local licorice. If you find you can't live without these stellar chocolates, Harlans ships their confections as well.
If you want to see some enticing shops and a bit of island history, head over to Mouat's in Ganges by the harbor. Mouat's is a family business that started in 1907 as a hardware store. Today, numerous must-visit shops and galleries sit adjacent to the historic store, where door hinges are still sold and visual history tells a bit of the island's past.
Salt Spring's Saturday Market, located in Centennial Park in Ganges, is the best in Canada and draws visitors from across the provinces and the U.S. From April to October, the market offers unique, eclectic and delectable items that are made, grown or baked exclusively on the island. It is also a great place to see and purchase a variety of exceptional art by well-known local artists, whose studios are sometimes located a distance outside of Ganges.
The market atmosphere is one of happy comradery and the sellers offer everything from exquisite textile art and captivating jewelry to chic apparel and fresh organic produce. Make sure to get there early, as the summer months are often busy; open Easter weekend this year.
The island is home to some amazing and famous artists, writers and musicians and, once you see this bucolic paradise, it's not surprising. Visitors often come to Salt Spring to take a self-guided Studio Tour featuring over 34 working studios that encircle the island. It's an excellent way to meet the artists and focus on artwork that interests you, such as ceramics and watercolors to woodworking and textiles. For a driving map and additional information on the working galleries, visit Salt Spring Studio Tour
One studio definitely worth the visit is the Meredith Studio Gallery, located on 730 Vesuvius Bay Road; however it is not on the Studio Tour. Mark and Jacqueline Meredith are long-time island residents that create extraordinary pottery and watercolor art. Mark is a wonderful gent to chat with and can tell you more about the island then almost any other resident. His pottery reflects the color and spirit of the island in his graceful designs. Jacqueline's watercolors capture the majesty and tranquility of the Gulf Islands with gorgeous sea and landscapes.
Outdoor activities on Salt Spring offer visitors a wide variety of options, including camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking, boating, scuba diving, fishing, canoeing, ocean swimming and golfing. The climate is moderate and the best time to visit the island for these activities is from late spring to October. If you like to hike, an extensive trail system ranges from easy to steep terrain all over the island; great beach and coastal hikes to wooded paths that ascend the mountaintops. Or, if you prefer to explore aquatic life, look into some of the tour companies for whale watching or learn about the diverse population of marine animals that live off the island's shores.
Food and LodgingThe accommodation choices available on the Salt Spring range from camping sites and hotels to upscale resort spas and cozy bed and breakfasts. The island is so beautiful that no matter where you choose to stay, the scenery is magical. For B&Bs, two top recommendations are the Hedgerow House and the Blackberry Glenn Bed and Breakfast. The Hedgerow House is located just outside Ganges and offers sublime luxury pillow-top beds, modern but comfortable decor and a lush landscaped setting.
For a great breakfast or lunch and dinner on Fridays and Saturday nights, visit the Tree House Cafe, located in Ganges by the harbor. Built in the 1920s, this unusual restaurant has seen many incarnations, such as an electrical generating station and a home as well. It is reminiscent of a Hobbit style cafe with a large tree growing up through its center. And, on most afternoons and weekends, this cool and popular lair provides live music to entertain guests. The Tree house offers a delicious breakfast menu of mixed fare with lunch and dinner reflecting a taste of India.
Located behind Grace Point Square, on McPhillips Ave., is the best bakery on the island, Barb's Bakery & Bistro. Barb's is always buzzing with customers, and when you step inside, the aroma and bakery case will have you immediately stepping into line. If you prefer a sit-down breakfast, try the Eggs Bennie with creamy hollandaise (a winner and local favorite). Or, the bakery's excellent assortment of generously-sized heavenly pastries (killer butter tarts) and croissants; Barb's won't disappoint.
Salt Spring Island is a destination that will truly renew your spirit and awe you with its natural beauty, superb art and scenic attractions. The friendly and charming residents are happy you have come to stay and experience their enchanting island in British Columbia. For additional information on Salt Spring Island, visit Salt Spring Tourism.
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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular guest on Travel radio talk shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author