Cowichan’s Merridale yurts provide a unique accommodation experience

Large yurt at Merridale Estate Cidery, Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaMy husband and myself are pretty much up for almost any experience during our travels, but when I suggested staying in a yurt for a couple of nights he looked askance at me. I was considering the yurt offerings at Merridale Estate Cidery at the time, which are most definitely not what you would call rough camping.

With a little cajoling hubby agreed to join me (otherwise he was going to miss out on three wonderful days in the Cowichan Valley, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing.) The Merridale yurts offered a lot of amenities and a new experience for both of us.

Interior of large yurt at Merridale Estate Cidery, Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A comfy bed and a claw foot tub – not exactly rough camping!

Yurts are portable bentwood-framed dwelling structures that were traditionally used by Turkish nomads.  The ones used at Merridale and other locations across North America utilize high-tech materials and are highly engineered, making them more of a permanent structure than an easily transportable home.  The evolution  from a moveable round felt tent-like structure to our home-away-from home at Merridale was quite remarkable and, thankfully, probably a lot more comfortable than the original designs.

Essentially the Merridale yurts are similar to a one-room cabin. The round structure – no sharp edges or corners – imparts a serenity and coziness not found in many accommodations.

Reclining easy chairs inside large yurt at Merridale Estate Cidery, Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nice sitting area with recliners and a fireplace

We stayed in the large yurt, which offered many of the comforts of home, including two bathrooms.  There was a cozy sitting area replete with reclining armchairs, a lovely deep claw-foot tub and a warming gas fireplace that helped keep the place warm even in early Spring. Returning to the yurt each evening after a busy day of exploring the Cowichan Valley was a real pleasure – soft lighting and firelight infused our evenings with coziness and warmth. When we tucked in to the comfortable bed we could look through the skylight above us, and the Spring song of frogs at the nearby pond lulled us to sleep.

There is no WiFi, television or telephone at the yurts at Merridale so being ‘unplugged’ added to the relaxing effect.

There is a kettle and coffee supplies at the yurt, so we began each day lolling about in bed with a hot beverage.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t conducive to sitting on the deck when we visited, but I could envision myself enjoying my first coffee of the day out there in warmer weather.

We headed up to the Merridale Bistro around 10 each morning, where we were served scrumptious fresh-baked goods, fresh fruit, yogurt and a cornucopia of other flavourful and healthy breakfast items.

All told, staying in the Merridale yurts was a unique and lovely experience.  Even the over-zealous rooster who woke us each morning had his charms – it made for a true ‘country’ experience.

Deck view from the large yurt at Merricale Estate Cidery, Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view from the deck

If you are considering the Merridale yurts, there is plenty to do at the place without ever leaving the property.  I wandered through the extensive apple orchards, enjoying the fresh Spring air and the sounds of nature.  There are cider tastings and great food at the bistro, a shop offering gourmet food items.  There is a spa on-site, and you can enjoy a self-guided tour of the cellar to learn about the cider making process.  There is never a dull moment at Merridale, but the rural ambiance permeates everything, leaving visitors delighted and relaxed.

            Further information on Merridale Estate Cidery and the yurts can be found at the website:

http://www.merridalecider.com/yurts

Merridale Estate Cidery is located at 1230 Merridale Road, Cobble Hill

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.664441  Long. -123.586655

N 48 39.866 W 123 35.199

Posted in ACCOMMODATIONS, DOG-FRIENDLY, DUNCAN/COWICHAN | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Beautiful food in a beautiful setting at Cowichan’s Vinoteca

Roast lamb dinner at Vinoteca at Zanatta, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Roast lamb dinner

We have always been fans of Fatima Da Silva’s culinary creations.  We first discovered her talents in the kitchen when she ran Bistro 161 in downtown Duncan.  More recently, she has transferred her flair for food to a beautiful early 20th century home in the Glenora area of the lush Cowichan Valley.  Her new restaurant, Vinoteca at Zanatta combines a glorious environment with flavoursome  fare that left us in seventh heaven during a recent Springtime visit.

View from the verandah at Vinoteca at Zanatta, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The pretty view from the verandah

We sat on the spacious covered verandah of the old farmhouse, built in 1903, and were swept away by the sheer beauty of our surroundings. Fruit trees had burst in to bloom, Zanatta Vineyards’ sturdy grapevines marched away from us in orderly rows, and a pretty mountain backdrop completed the picture. There was bird song galore, and the promise of more pastoral loveliness in the days and weeks to come. Soft jazz played quietly in the background.   By the time we arrived at Vinoteca we had eaten our way through several outstanding meals in the Cowichan region.  So, we passed on an appetizer and went straight to entrees.

Exterior of 1903 farmhouse at Vinoteca at Zanatta, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beautiful old 1903 farmhouse serves as home to Vinoteca

My husband ordered the roast lamb, accompanied by roasted vegetables.  Perfectly cooked – not overdone – the lamb had that lovely sweetness to it that only true lamb imparts.  There was no muttony flavour, and we found ourselves thinking that people who don’t think they like lamb really needed to be at Vinoteca that night.

Prawns with beluga risottoI ordered the large prawns, served in a tomato, basil and coconut milk sauce. The generous serving of shellfish arrived atop a creamy beluga lentil risotto – the perfect complement to the seafood.

Service was pleasant and efficient – when we asked to sit on the verandah rather than the table they had reserved for us indoors it was no problem.  Our waitress quickly set up an outdoor spot, told us about the special (that gorgeous lamb) and left us to enjoy the view.

Flourless chocolate cake at Vinoteca at Zanatta, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Flourless chocolate cake

We finished our meal by sharing a piece of decadent, dense flourless chocolate cake, thoughtfully sliced in half and nicely presented. That, I think, speaks to the dedication of the staff at Vinoteca – it’s not just about the food, it’s about the esthetics of presentation as well.

Although we consumed only water with our meals and coffee with dessert, anyone contemplating dining at Vinoteca will probably appreciate knowing that Vignetti Zanatta is the first family estate winery on Vancouver Island, started more than half a century ago.  The winery has more than 25 acres under cultivation and a long family history of winemaking . Zanatta uses 100% of its own fruit in the vinification of its wines, making them a truly unique addition to any meal that you might enjoy at Vinoteca.

Interior of Vinoteca at Zanatta, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The interior of the restaurant oozes old-fashioned charm

Depending on the time of year you may be able to enjoy lunch, dinner or brunch at this lovely dining venue.  If the weather is nice be sure to ask for a table on the verandah – dining al fresco in such an exquisite setting will make your experience just that much better.

            Further information on Vinoteca at Zanatta (including hours of operation) can be found at the website:

https://vinoteca.ca/

Vinoteca is located at 5039 Marshall Road, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.754448  Long. -123.748953

N 48 45.267  W 123 44.937

Price rating: $$

 

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Shawnigan’s OUR Ecovillage – inspired and inspiring

Sanctuary at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, bRitish Columbia

The sanctuary at the Ecovillage offers a beautiful, calm environment

Plunk a group of dedicated people on 25 acres near Shawnigan Lake, stir for 17 years, and the end result is both inspired and inspiring. Although in truth, there is no end in sight at O.U.R. Ecovillage, a sustainable co-op community that finally, this Spring, is holding its grand opening.  After 17 years of dealing with banks, financing, property ownership issues and a number of other bureaucratic intricacies, the Ecovillage is at long last a true co-operative community from every legal standpoint.

Vegetable cellar at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Many community groups and school classes contribute their talents at the Ecovillage – this is the vegetable cellar

It all began in the late 1990s when 14 people put their collective heads together to create an environment that would allow them to live sustainably and to work together

“’Most of us weren’t running away from something” says Brandy, one of the original founders of the movement. “The movement was quite strategic, more sophisticated and ‘techie’ than what was going on in the commune era.”

Terraced gaqrdens at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Several acres are occupied by terraced fruit and vegetable gardens

So, what began as a small farmstead with an old farmhouse, a barn and an ancient garage has slowly evolved over the years into a vibrant community that, pretty much, is well able to take care of itself.

According to Brandy the goal was to create a sustainable living and demonstration site.

“This place is a value system and a design of life”, she says. “ It’s like a community empowerment model – a social experiment, in essence.”

Cob-built dining hall at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Zero Mile Eatery – the dining hall, built of cob

Other than the original farmhouse on the property many of the buildings are constructed of cob, a natural building material integrating subsoil, straw and water. Others are built with recycled wood and other ingredients – 90 per cent of all the materials used are either diverted from the landfill or salvaged.  All of the buildings at the Ecovillage are fully permitted and engineered – there is no slapdash construction or, for that matter, slapdash use of the land. That is an admirable record for any project – one that proves that if you put your mind to it is certainly possible to create a much smaller environmental footprint than one might expect.

Recycled bottles make windows in cob house at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beauty of cob houses is that you can incorporate anything in to the building material – including old bottles and glass to let in light or add colour

The Ecovillage is also home to a varied collection of livestock including Jersey cows, goats, sheep, upwards of 150 layer hens, 200 roasting chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs.  Several acres are occupied by terraced vegetable gardens.

In addition to the food sustainability aspect of the Ecovillage there are courses of all make and models offered.  The courses run the gamut, from public school (including residential programs) right through to university and college-level programs.

Interior of unfinished cob house at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The interior of a cob house under construction. Recycled Styrofoam trays originally used to transport tree seedlings provide insulation in the floor

There is a teaching kitchen in the beautiful dining hall, aptly dubbed the Zero Mile Eatery, There is an eight-month-long community homesteader course, and there is a myriad of other activities that help to keep the Ecovillage financially afloat and vibrant. The old farmhouse has been converted to a six-bedroom bed and breakfast, and there is a dorm area above the communal eating area that will accommodate 50. Local trade and barter has also played an integral role in the Ecovillage’s survival.

Wash stand at campsite at OUR Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is also a legal campsite at the Ecovillage – this is the wash stand

Thousands of volunteers show up each year, coming from research programs,  Universities and school groups.  They turn their efforts to any number of projects and, in the process, learn about sustainable living.

On average there are 20 – 25 people living at the Ecovillage at any given time. They participate in all activities, from helping to construct the beautiful cob buildings to working with the livestock or in the garden or kitchen.

One of our favourite aspects of this most unique venture was the collection of stunningly gorgeous cob structures.  They have a serenity and distinctive welcoming suppleness that embraces you the minute you walk through one of the beautifully-crafted doors.  Perhaps it is the lack of straight lines and sharp corners that appeals – you feel more cocooned than anything.

We had the opportunity to tour a couple of the cob houses – one finished (for the most part) and the other still under construction. Innovative use of what would have been garbage was evident at every turn – it was a stunning revelation to realize just how much ‘trash’ can be effectively utilized in other ways.

The Ecovillage is also providing modeling for succession planning for farmers.  Several of the village’s neighbouring farmers are close to retirement and have approached the Ecovillage about purchasing their properties.

“Ten thousand people a year come through here,” says Brandy. “We have almost more of a draw than anything in the Cowichan region. And when we take people on tours we almost don’t have to talk about it, because people can see that it’s for real.”

            O.U.R. Ecovillage is not a pristine, highly-manicured site – it is a living, working community, always evolving and changing. Being self-sustaining isn’t necessarily always pretty, but it certainly is impressive  It is an amazing story and an inspiring model, well worth a visit and a couple of hours of your time. O.U.R Ecovillage offers guided tours of the site every other Saturday.

More details can be found on the website:

http://ourecovillage.org/

            O.U.R Ecovillage is located at 1565 Baldy Mountain Road, Shawnigan Lake.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.638376  Long. -123.609084

N 48 38.303  W 123 36.545

 

Posted in ACCOMMODATIONS, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jacquie Gordon’s Bed and Breakfast in Duncan

We love old houses – we love their character, their histories and, generally, the people who care for, live in and cherish those aged beauties. So when we checked in to Jacquie Gordon’s Heritage Bed and Breakfast in Duncan we weren’t too surprised to feel that instant, all-embracing comfort that old homes seem to engender.  That ‘coming home’ sensation was enhanced by Jacquie herself – a diminutive, ageless hostess who greeted us with a warm welcome, conversation and a cup of tea and baked goods in the beautiful sitting room.

Upstairs bedroom at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sloping ceilings and old-fashioned ambiance predominate throughout the beautiful home

Upstairs bedroom at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The other half of the upstairs bedroom

We found Jacquie and her beautifully-maintained home on a travel website, where people raved about her exceptional hospitality and about becoming friends by the time they left.  ‘Sure’, I thought to myself when I began reading the reviews – I was skeptical that anyone could cast that kind of spell over so many people. Turns out my skepticism was badly misplaced – we stayed with Jacquie two days, and both of us felt compelled to give her a big hug on our departure.  She is just that kind of person, and a superb hostess.

Gardens at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast

Gorgeous gardens are a feature at the B&B

The beautiful old home that serves as the bed and breakfast was built in 1929.  It displays all the grace and beauty endemic in homes of that era – wood burning fireplaces, covered verandah, sloping ceilings upstairs.  And, there is an exquisite garden encircling this lovely old place,  treasured and kept up entirely by Jacquie herself (other than the lawns, which are cared for by hired help).

Fruit and yogurt parfait at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Fruit, granola and yogurt for a breakfast starter….

halibut cakes and scrambled eggs at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…followed by halibut cakes and scrambled eggs….

Cinnamon rolls at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…and finishing with freshly-baked cinnamon rolls

We had a choice of either of the bedrooms at the bed and breakfast.  The upstairs room is large and houses a queen-sized bed and two twin beds.  The sloping ceilings and two comfy chairs add a certain coziness to the simple arrangement, which opens on to a spacious loft area with some exercise equipment and toys for the use of anyone – child or adult – who might care to use them.

Jacquie Gordon on the covered verandah at Jacquie Gordon's Bed and Breakfast, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Jacquie on the beautiful covered verandah

We stayed downstairs in a smaller room with a double bed. A large window looked out on to the garden.  Furnished with antiques and tastefully finished with period wall coverings, it was perfectly comfortable – the kind of room that took you back a century every time you walked through the door.

The other half of the equation of the bed and breakfast – the food – was yet another delightful surprise. Jacquie’s early working life centered on home economics, and her culinary skills shine through to this day. Generous quantities were the norm and innovative meals arrived on the table each morning.  We dined in the Fireside Room, wood-burning fire blazing away behind us and quiet music in the background.

Jacquie is a fount of knowledge about the Cowichan Valley area and makes a point of keeping up with events in the area so she can let her visitors know what might be going on during their stay.  We got sent home with a newspaper clipping about a local (but famed) artist we had expressed an interest in – Jacquie is that engaged and clearly works hard at making her guests’ visits the best that they can be.

So, two days at Jacquie Gordon’s Heritage Bed and Breakfast, and we have fallen under her spell.  Great house, beautiful gardens, wonderful food and a hostess extraordinaire.  It doesn’t get better than that.

            Further information on Jacquie Gordon’s Heritage Bed and Breakfast can be found at the website:

            http://jacquiegordon.com/

Jacquie Gordon’s Heritage Bed and Breakfast is located at 2231 Quamichan Park Place, Duncan.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.786816  Long. -123.680829

N 48 47.209 W 123 40.850

 

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Family fun and feasting at Qualicum Beach’s Fire and Ice Street Festival

Chili galore!

Chili galore!

A little bit of madness will hit the streets of the village of Qualicum Beach on Saturday, April 30 when the 22nd annual Fire and Ice Street Festival gets under way. Upwards of 5,000 people flock to the village centre’s closed-off streets to take in a wide variety of attractions that combine to make for a great family day.

            The ‘fire’ aspect of the event is the Chili Cook-off, a heated (if you’ll excuse the expression) competition between local businesses, politicians, restaurants and resorts. The  competitors set up  street-side booths and dole out offerings of  their specialty chili  to anyone and everyone who is keen to try it.  A mere $4 gets you an opportunity to  eat your way from one end of town to the other.  I should note here that my husband and I have yet to manage to down samples from every entrant, but there are those, apparently, who do pull it off. The organizing committee took a year off in 2013 and came back  with some new innovations that will encourage the participation of restaurants who do not normally sell chili, but will be able to offer other hot foods for sampling.

There are plenty of activities for youngsters at the event

There are plenty of activities for youngsters at the event

The fun thing about the competition is the variety of flavours on offer, the weird ingredients that sometimes go into the chili, and the ‘extras’ such as corn muffins, tortilla chips, and all manner of other stuff, that come with the main attraction. The Peoples’ Choice Award is the most coveted of the day and is decided by those who take the trouble to place ballots in boxes at the booths. Participants can also cast ballots for Best Professional Chili, Best Amateur Chili, and Best Decorated Booth (and believe me, there are some dillies in this category!)

The ice carving competition draws competitors from near and far

The ice carving competition draws competitors from near and far

The ‘ice’ aspect of the festival is a popular ice-carving competition that has the contestants set up at various locations intermingled with the food booths. The 15 master ice sculptors turn out some genuinely amazing works of art, and their expertise with everything from chain saws to picks and drills is something to behold.

            The day also features all sorts of kid-friendly activities such as face-painting, pony rides, story time and the ever popular balloon man.  There is music galore – several main stage feature acts are complemented by melodious offerings from buskers who wander through the crowds.

Be prepared for crowds and a great time.

Be prepared for crowds and a great time.

Another new addition to the day’s festivities is the theme, which this year is Bring Back The Sixties.

            Over-all, this is just one of the most relaxed, fun events imaginable. The festival atmosphere permeates every aspect of the village and provides a pleasurable beginning to what everyone hopes will be the onset of summer.  Be prepared for a great day of feasting and fun!

             The big day gets under way at 11 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m.

              Further information can be obtained at: www.fireandicestreetfestival.com

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

                  Lat. 49.34719366303581  Long. -124.4416344165802

           N 49 20.832  W 124 26.498

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Farm Table at Duncan’s Providence Farm

Smoked steelehead in filo pastry at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Smoked steelhead in filo pastry

For the past several years we have been trying to get to Duncan’s Providence Farm to partake of a meal at The Farm Table, a culinary partnership between the farm and Vancouver Island University.  We finally got there one recent fine Spring evening and were truly delighted with the experience.

Providence Farm is the training site for VIU’s culinary arts students.  Shepherded by Chef Allan Aikman in the kitchen and Skipper Sorensen in the dining room, the 13 students currently participating in the course learn everything from soup to nuts in the way of restaurant operation. They also spend one day a week working in the fields at Providence Farm – a great learning experience that implants an appreciation and understanding of the effort that goes into producing the ingredients that arrive in their kitchen.

Butternut pierogies at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

The Farm Table takes pierogis to another level

The Farm Table offers the students an opportunity to gain expertise in the creation of extraordinary meals, as well as plating and serving.  The program runs from March to early August, and during that period dinners are served  Wednesday through Friday between 5:30 and 9 p.m.

We arrived on a Wednesday evening, when there were few other patrons in the beautiful old dining room.  Thursday and Friday nights were both fully booked – up to 30 diners per night can be accommodated.

Duck Breast with Indian spices at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Perfectly prepared duck breast

Skipper showed us to our table and we were presented with an impressive menu that gave us a lot of trouble – only because of the diversity and tempting offerings. The Farm Table operates on the basis of patrons ordering a three-course meal. We had four choices for our first course, six main courses to choose from, and three desserts.  The entire three course affair ranges in price from $18 – $24 depending on the entrée that you choose.

The fact that the meals are so reasonably priced may make people wonder at the quality of what will be served.  There is no reason for doubt, however – the food and presentation were up to fine dining standards.  The service by the students was, perhaps, a little tentative but they had only been at it three weeks.  I suspect by the time summer rolls around they will all be waiting tables with great aplomb.

Fresh spinach and potato soup at the Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Spinach and Potato Soup

So – the food.  Ingredients are purchased as locally as possible, including from Providence Farm’s extraordinary organic farming operation.  That attention to detail and dedication to freshness shows up in spades in the delightful flavour combinations that arrive at the table.

Our first courses were comprised of mouth-watering butternut pierogis accompanied by caramelized onions, apple relish and sour cream, and a lovely potato and spinach soup with smoked cheddar and brioche croutons.  Pierogis are a particular weakness of mine, and the ones created by The Farm Table certainly went above and beyond in the flavour and texture categories.  Even my husband, who is most definitely not a fan, agreed that the VIU students’ version of these Ukrainian staples were excellent.

Rhubarb meringue pie and blackberry cobbler at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Just enough sweetness at the end of the meal – fresh rhubarb meringue pie and blackberry cobbler

I ordered the smoked steelhead trout enveloped in filo  pastry with salmon mousseline and lemon caper sauce for my entrée. Perched atop a creamy risotto and accompanied by fresh asparagus, the dish sent me in to raptures.  Every mouthful was a delight – I still savour the memory.

My husband ordered the Indian-spiced roast duck. The perfectly cooked duck breast arrived with an accompaniment of mango chutney and asparagus.  Again, a delightful combination that set the palate to singing.

Rhubarb meringue pie and blackberry cobbler were our choices for dessert.  Served in smaller portions, they were just enough to complete the meal without being overwhelming.

Dining room at The Farm Table, Providence Farm, Duncan, Vancouver Island

The beautiful old dining room echoes the farm’s past

I can’t say enough good things about The Farm Table.  The concept of a training program co-operative between a university, a school district and a farm is inspiring.  The opportunity to enjoy exquisite, seasonable food at a reasonable price is delightful. And the dedication of those young people and their supervisors is truly something to relish. The entire arrangement is a stroke of genius that benefits so many in so many ways.

A couple of notes if you plan on dining at The Farm Table: please be patient and understanding of the fact that The Farm Table is a training ground and educational project – not a business. Service levels may vary because of this aspect, but generally we found the service to be good.  We were at The Farm Table for 1 ½ hours – not an unreasonable amount of time to enjoy a three-course meal, a glass of wine and coffee.

Also, reservations are highly recommended. The Farm Table can accommodate about 30 diners each evening and it is not unusual for it to fill up.

            Further information on The Farm Table can be found at the website:

http://cc.viu.ca/farmtable/

The Farm Table is located in the main building at Providence Farm in Duncan at 1843 Tzouhalem Road.

wheelchair-lGPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.782607  Long. -123.652804

N 48 46.956  W 123 39.168

Price rating: $$

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Qualicum Beach’s Oh…So Yummy Cafe

Vertical exteriorThere are a lot of surprises in Qualicum Beach’s Oh…So Yummy Café, not least among them the food and its presentation.

Located in the charming village core, Oh…So Yummy faces on to the main shopping street, tucked in among boutique shops and galleries. It turns a cheery face to the street , and that ambiance carries on through the door where upbeat owner David Keating takes orders in his booming voice and caters to every whim.

There is nothing subtle about this café.  There is some pretty unique artwork on the walls, and the colour orange predominates on walls and chairs, softened by a half-wall covered in cedar shakes.

Lunchtime Melt at Oh...So Yummy Cafe and Coffee Bar

Beautiful presentation combines with good food

Oh…So Yummy opened in Qualicum Beach following a very successful run in Courtenay that lasted 3 ½ years.  David and his partner made the move south simply because they were ready for a change. It has been a happy transition for them, as well as for those seeking a decent meal.

The café offers all-day breakfasts for those who feel so inclined, but we were looking for lunch on the day we visited.  The regular menu offers lots of flavourful, healthy options including quinoa bowls.  We opted for the daily lunchtime melt – a sublime open-faced sandwich featuring house-made red pepper jelly, fresh spinach, sliced grilled yam, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, melted mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, all topped with a fan of sliced avocado. The presentation was inspired and totally unexpected in a casual café. A cup of delicious chicken-vegetable soup accompanied the sandwich – more than enough food for the two of us to share.

Interior view of Oh...So Yummy Cafe and Coffee House in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Bright and eclectic is the only way to describe the interior

Oh…So Yummy only seats about 20 people, but obviously has attracted a devoted following, for good reason – David’s cheerful persona on the front end and the talent in the kitchen combine to create an attractive, casual, fun place to meet up with friends for coffee or a meal.  It’s a nice addition to the café scene in Qualicum Beach, orange walls and all!

Oh…So Yummy Café is located at 129 Second Ave. West, Qualicum Beach.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.347267  Long. -124.443202

N 49 20.836  W 124 26.592

Price rating: $-$$

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Port Alberni’s Kitsuksis Dyke walking path

Paved pathway at Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The entire length of the path on both sides of Kitsuksis Creek is paved, providing easy access for everyone

There aren’t a lot of walking paths on Vancouver Island that can be enjoyed by virtually everyone, so we were particularly delighted to discover Port Alberni’s Kitsuksis Dyke trail. The dykes were constructed following a devastating tidal wave that came up the Alberni Inlet in the spring of 1964, decimating many of the lower-lying areas of the town.

Skateboarders on Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Skateboarders roll along the pathway with ease

The path is paved for its entire mile-long (1 ½ km) length and, while there are a few rough spots it is generally in very good condition.  The paving makes it a pleasant excursion along the banks of pretty Kitsuksis Creek for walkers, cyclists, skateboarders, in-line skaters and those pushing wheelchairs or baby carriages.

Both sides of the dyke are paved, so it is easy to do a loop that offers different vistas.  We began our walk at the southeast end of the walkway and strolled along under budding willow trees. Blair Park, about half way along the east side of the path, is a spacious playground with all sorts of equipment for little ones.  We saw several dogs gamboling about there as well – it is obviously a favoured community meeting place.

Gravel pathway to Kitsuksis Creek falls and train trestle, Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The short trail to the falls and train trestle is gravel, and well-maintained

We continued on towards the end of the paved walkway, noting a lovely large grassy area called Spencer Park – a perfect spot for a picnic or a lazy peaceful retreat.

Just past Spencer Park we crossed a footbridge, then forked right to follow a gravel trail that led to Kitsuksis Falls and the train trestle.  A sign on a tree promised the trestle was only five minutes away, so we headed up through a forest of Grand Firs and shortly found ourselves perched on a bench, enjoying the rush of water from the falls and the view of the impressive trestle overhead.

Kitsuksis Falls and train trestle, Kitsuksis Dyke Trail, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Kitsuksis Falls and train trestle

Heading back down the trail we traversed the west side of the paved portion of the pathway, encountering dog walkers, skateboarders and cyclists.  The pathway along the west side borders on private properties but there are several access points, all with nicely landscaped entryways.  We crossed the lower footbridge to get back to our parking spot, but a variety of parking locations along both sides of the trail means visitors can access any number of routes.  We could, in fact, have walked all the way from Victoria Quay at the confluence of Kitsuksis Creek and the Somass River.

Although we visited in the early Spring, autumn offers up its share of attractions along the trail as well.  Black bears are often seen foraging for salmon on the opposite bank of the Somass, and coho salmon can be seen jumping up the waterfalls after the first heavy rains in the fall.

Kitsuksis Dyke Trail Map, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Although not of the ‘wild’ variety of trail, the Kitsuksis Dyke walking path has its own unique charms and offers a pleasant outing for people of all abilities. It is an easy walk; we spent about an hour, start to finish, and that included time to stop for photos and a brief stop to admire the falls and the train trestle.

The Kitsuksis Dyke walking path can be accessed from several points. If you want to avoid walking in traffic the best starting point would be at the bottom of Margaret Street, off Gertrude.

The best bet for getting accurate information on this walk is to stop in at the Tourism Information Centre at the eastern entrance to town and ask for a map – the centre has printed directions for access as well as the map included in this story.

           wheelchair-l GPS co-ordinates for the southeastern access point off of Margaret Street are:

Lat.: 49.258983  Long. -124.814245

N 49 15.539  W 124 48.855

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Qualicum Beach’s Thai Smile Cuisine

Thai folod at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaIt doesn’t look like much, inside or out, and it would be easy to whizz right by it on your way to or from Port Alberni. But Thai Smile Cuisine is one of those little local treasures that you should make the effort to try – it may appear unimpressive, but what arrives at your table will more than make up for that.

Formerly a well-known Malaysian food restaurant, Thai Smile took on a new persona in September, 2014.  Word quickly got out that anyone liking Thai cuisine needed to go there, and every time we have driven by since the makeover the parking lot has been full and diners’ vehicles have overflowed to the roadside. It’s always a good sign.

Vegetarian spring rolls and green papaya salad at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Green Papaya Salad

Thai Smile’s ‘home’ is a small building with one big room for diners.  It’s clean and tidy, but don’t expect any high-end décor. Folding chairs and unadorned tables are the order of the day.

Four of us arrived for dinner on a Friday night after making reservations for 5:30.  Glad we did – the place was busy already, and the tables continued to fill up following our arrival.

chicken cashew plate at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Chicken cashews

The menu is pretty extensive and offered a variety of options including appetizers, soups, salads, curries, stir fry, fried rice and noodle dishes. Diners have the options of ordering different protein sources with each plate – chicken, beef or pork, and with some dishes fish or prawns are offered as an alternative for a bit of an upcharge.

We ordered six dishes, starting with a plate of four crispy vegetarian spring rolls, a salad featuring shredded green papaya and a beef salad. The flavour combinations were interesting, and none of the offerings were overly spicy.

Drunken Noodles at Thai Smile Cuisine, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Drunken Noodles

The other three dishes included yummy drunken noodles, chicken cashew nuts (a little more heat in this one, thanks to the use of chili paste) and pad gra pao – a nice combination of prawns, bell peppers, garlic, sweet cabbage and Thai basil leaves. Loved the drunken noodles especially – I could have eaten an entire plate of them all by myself.

All of the dishes were colourful and featured fresh vegetables in abundance, adding to the attraction of our meal.

Although Thai Smile became increasingly busy during our visit service was always attentive and quick. There was never any indication that it was time for us to vacate, and we loved the fact that everyone who looked after us had a smile on their faces, from the moment we walked in the door to the time we left a couple of hours later.

Thai Smile also offers a lunch menu, with 10 generous options offered for $10 each – in this day and age, a pretty good deal. Can’t wait to go back!

            Further information on Thai Smile Cuisine can be found at the website:

http://www.thaismilecuisine.com

Price rating: $-$$

Thai Smile Cuisine is located just off Highway Four at 1015 McLean Road, Qualicum Beach

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.303470  Long. -124.459939

N 49 18.208  W 124 27.596

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Magical beauty at Parksville’s Robert Held Art Glass gallery

 

Floral blown glass vase by Robert Held Art Glass, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the many spectacular vases

Magical.  That is the best word I can think of to describe the Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville.

We recently visited the huge Quonset hut that houses the Held gallery and glass-blowing operation and were flabbergasted at the exquisite beauty that occupied every nook and cranny of the place. Vases, crucibles, paper weights, light fixtures, decorative pieces, seasonal work – all in vibrant, jewel-like tones that left us wondering at the loveliness of it all.

Gallery at Robert Held Art Glass, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The gallery area

Vancouver Island is lucky to have the likes of Robert Held – he originally moved to Parksville three years ago to retire after many years of running a 30-man glass-blowing operation in Vancouver.  But an entire lifetime as an award-winning artist held sway and when Robert spotted the vacant Quonset hut on the highway near Parksville’s Orange Bridge, his curiousity was piqued.  One thing led to another and before he knew it his long career in glass blowing was revived.

Work area at Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The creative end of the gallery…

 

Glass blower Robert Held, at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…and the master at work

Anyone walking in to the Held gallery expecting to see only the finished product will have a bit of a surprise.  Three glass blowers are hard at work in the back half of the Quonset, with furnaces blasting out heat that, at times, is almost enough to knock you over.  Wide-open doors were the order of the day when we visited.

Blown glass Easter eggs at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

If you are seeking a very special Easter gift…

Other than the superb finished products displayed in the front of the gallery, the opportunity to watch these talented artisans in the creative process is an added bonus. Several customers and browsers spent quite some time taking in the methods used.

Blown glass heart at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A sample of the more-than-one-million blown glass hearts

The other great thing about this gallery is that you will most likely have the opportunity to meet and converse with the master himself.  Although Robert now leaves most of the glass blowing work to his three long-time employees, he is ever-present in the gallery area, working on new designs and other projects.  He is a totally affable fellow, happy to talk, it seems, to anyone and everyone.

Giverny blown glass pieces at Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pieces from the new Giverny line, inspired by Monet

Robert’s career in glass blowing began 48 years ago when he attended a two-week course in North Carolina. He returned to Canada to launch this country’s first college-level hot glass program, and over almost half a century has been acknowledged as the pioneer of art glass here. His work is treasured all over the world.

gold-lined crucible at Robert Held Art Glass gallery in Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A gold-lined crucible

One of the gallery’s most popular items over the years has been a decorative  blown-glass heart design.  Small enough to be held in the hand, the hearts contain exuberant colour combinations and designs that can’t help but raise the spirits and engender an appreciation for the fine craftsmanship that goes into each one. Robert says that he and his artisans have created more than one million of these tiny jewels over the years, and they are all over the world.

Blown glas drinking glasses at Robert Held Art Glass gallery, Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Drinking glasses

But, enough words – the accompanying photos of some of the Held work speak more volumes than I ever could.  If you are in Parksville just go there!

            Further information on Robert Held Art Glass gallery can be found at the website:

http://www.robertheld.com/

wheelchair-l

            Robert Held Art Glass gallery is located at 708 East Island Highway, Parksville.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.316129 Long.: -124.287616

N 49 18.968  W 124 17.257

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