Cowichan’s Unsworth Restaurant relaxes

Unsworth Restaurant, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beautiful heritage home that houses Unsworth Restaurant

The vibe has changed, but the ambiance at Cowichan’s Unsworth Restaurant remains very much the same since new operators Christie Pope and Steve Elskens took over a couple of years ago.

Situated amidst the verdant beauty of  the Unsworth Vineyards, the heritage home that houses the dining spot of the same name continues to attract a devoted following.  The feeling is less formal these days – a lot more casual, in fact.  It seems to have more of an appeal for family gatherings, and the menu reflects that feeling.

Beef burger, fries and salad at Unsworth Restaurant, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Not-your-average beef burger

While we adored the ‘old’ more high-end Unsworth under the direction of Brad Boisvert, we found the new iteration just as pleasing.  The restored historic home, built in the early 1900s, seems to be able to morph with ease and grace – it’s a classic, no matter which way you look at it.

Christie and Steve have spent many years cultivating relationships with local food mongers, so there is a great emphasis on the ‘fresh local’ angle at Unsworth.  The menu offers seasonal specialties integrating such delicacies as spot prawns and lamb.  There are small plates for sharing, or larger offerings – all of them innovative.

Spaghettini with lamb bolognes at Unsworth Restaurant, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Spaghettini with lamb bolognese

We arrived for dinner on a Spring evening, when the vineyards were awash in  dusky sunlight.  A clutch of free-range chickens worked their way up and down the rows of grape vines as we perused the menu and enjoyed the pretty view.

I settled on a burger – but not just any burger.  My husband chose the spaghettini pasta with lamb Bolognese, parmesan, mint and parsley.

View from Unsworth Restaurant, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view from the restaurant

Our meals arrived in good time, and I went to work on the generously-sized burger that included beef, smoked chorizo, pancetta, basil cream and sweet and spicy tomato jam. I can only say it was unlike any burger I have ever consumed – the combined flavours were a delightful surprise on the palate and had my taste buds wondering what the heck had hit them.  The burger arrived with fries and a salad – no lack of food on the plate, to the point where in the end we decided we probably could have split a single order and been quite satisfied.

My husband’s pasta dish was also a nice change from the standard beef or pork Bolognese, with the flavour of the lamb coming to the forefront in the sauce.

`We finished our meal by sharing a slice of decadent hazelnut brown butter cake accompanied by caramelized pears, sour cream and whipped cream – a lovely combination that was not too sweet.

Hazelnut brown butter cake with caramelized pears, whipped cream and sour cream at Unsworth Restaurant, Duncan, Vancouver Island

Sweet endings – hazelnut brown butter cake

Unsworth Restaurant has also come up with the concept recently of a CSR – Community Supported Restaurant.   Based on the concept of CSAs or Community Supported Agriculture produce boxes, the CSR accepts pre-paid subscriptions that get participants a set number of meals on designated nights through the winter and early Spring months.  It’s a smart method of ensuring the viability of the restaurant during less busy seasons and has obviously appealed to those in the Cowichan region.  Christie revealed that Unsworth had 100 subscribers last winter.

So, it’s onward and upward at Unsworth.  If the operators continue going in the direction that they started from there seems to be no limit to what they can accomplish.  In the meantime, we get to eat interesting food in a beautiful setting – it’s a sweet deal for all concerned.

            Further information on Unsworth Restaurant, it’s hours of operation, location and menu can be found at the website:

            http://www.unsworthvineyards.com/unsworth-restaurant/

Price rating: $$

            wheelchair-lUnsworth is located at 2915 Cameron Taggart Road in the Mill Bay area

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.660453  Long. -123.589376

N 48 39.627  W 123 35.363

 

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good food and good value at BoMé Café in Coombs

Goulash soup with foccacia bread at BoMe Cafe, Coombs, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Goulash Soup with house-made foccacia bread

It took more than 15 years to get things rolling but finally, this past Spring, BoMé Cheese and Café opened its doors to the general public.

Pork donair at Bome Cafe, Coombs, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pork donair

When Horst Boehm and his wife Bibi Menge immigrated from Germany in 1999 and settled in Coombs their dream was to produce artisan cheeses.  However, various bureaucracies had other ideas. Between milk quota problems, equipment containing brass elements that were no longer allowed and a variety of other delays the couple had to persevere.  They constructed a state of the art cheese-making facility with a pretty café above, looking down on the production area.

Interior of BoMe Cafe in Coombs, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is plenty of space in the pretty cafe

We recently ventured out to the café for lunch and were delighted to find a variety of German-themed foods on the blackboard menu.  The culinary offerings harken back to Bibi’s past as a hotel and restaurant operator in Germany and, while quite simple are nonetheless flavourful and plentiful.

We each started with a cup of soup – creamed carrot for my better half and a spicy goulash soup for myself.  Both were served with a tasty slice of in-shop-made foccacia accented with BoMé’s cheese.  My husband’s carrot soup was a smooth blend of the bright orange vegetable that resonated with carroty flavour.  My goulash soup was substantial enough to serve as a meal all on its own, with the hearty flavours of Germany shining through.

Frankfurter Kranz buttercream cake at BoMe Cafe, coombs, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Frankfurter Kranz cake, a German specialty

I ordered the pork donair for lunch, a crammed-full triangle of lovely fresh bread stuffed to the max with a tasty combination of pork and slaw.  We could easily have shared this and been completely satisfied, but my husband was dealing with an equally-delicious schnitzel sandwich that included a slice of the BoMé cheese, pickles and other accoutrements.

We should have stopped right there.  But there were four tempting desserts lurking in the display case.  We ended up sharing a slice of Frankfurter Kranz cake – a dense buttercream creation layered with a creamy concoction featuring, once again, the BoMé cheese and finished with crunchy caramelized nuts.

Cheese-making facilities at BoMe Cheese and Cafe, Coombs, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The view from the upstairs café, to where the cheese is produced

By the time we were done we both agreed that a very light supper was in order that day.  We purchased some of the delicious foccacia to take home and enjoy with home-made soup that night,

One of the really nice things about the BoMé café is that the tables are spread out (we figured there was seating for about 24, plus outdoor availability of tables on the patio for fine weather days.)  The view downstairs to the cheese-making facility offers a different kind of ambiance, and the old family photographs on the walls add a hominess and different interest to the place.

Outdoor patio at bome Cheese and Cafe, Coombs, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The outdoor patio offers views over verdant fields and woods

The other nice thing about BoMé is that you can purchase some of their specialties to take home and enjoy if you feel so inclined, saving the hassle of cooking or making for a quick and delicious meal on a busy day.

Service was quick and friendly at BoMé and, although the café isn’t even mentioned on their website word of mouth has brought patrons through the door on a regular basis.  Located just off the Alberni Highway between Parksville and Port Alberni, BoMé offers a tasty, nutritious, reasonably-priced and easy dining option if you don’t want to battle the crowds at the famous Goats on the Roof just down the road.

Further information on BoMé can be found at the website:

http://bomecheese.com/

wheelchair-lPrice Rating: $-$$

BoMé is located at 1876 Alberni Highway, near Coombs.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.306247  Long. -124.393805

N 49 18.375  W 124 23.628

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Alberni Aquarium a hit with all ages

 

Child views fish from inside tank at Alberni Aquarium, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Kids can enjoy a fish-eye view of the creatures of the deep

It’s not a big facility, nor is it the most impressive on the planet.  It pales in comparison to the likes of the huge public aquariums in Vancouver or Monterey, California.  But the brand spanking new Alberni Aquarium  at Port Alberni’s waterfront Harbour Quay is nonetheless a great educational resource and a massive hit with the younger set.

Opened just this summer, the Alberni Aquarium was conceived and executed by the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association.  The group has been in existence since 2002 and is comprised of private citizens interested in preserving, protecting and enhancing aquatic species and their habitats.

Children viewing tanks at Alberni Aquarium, Port Albe3rni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Tanks are set at easy viewing heights for youngsters

The Alberni Aquarium, as previously mentioned, is not a large facility.  But it is teeming with life (both human and animal) from the moment you walk in the door.  There are several tanks set up that exhibit a large variety of colourful/gorgeous/ugly     underwater creatures.  Above them are large screens depicting many aspects of marine life.  I was mesmerized by the video depicting the full life cycle of a salmon – a species so populous in the waterways of Vancouver Island that it behoves everyone to learn about it, appreciate it and try to protect it.

 

Child at touch tank at Alberni Aquarium, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Touch tanks – always a big hit

The best part of the Alberni Aquarium, however, are the squeals of delight from all the youngsters who come through the doors.  No matter where I was in the building I encountered excited comments, wondrous gazes and the occasional squeamish remark as the kids toured the various exhibits.

One of the best installations involved a tank with a glass bubble rising in its midst.  Small people can easily pop in under the tank and come up in the bubble for a fish-eye view of the world.  It was very cool, and a big hit with the youngsters.  It made me wish I was small enough and agile enough to enjoy the experience as well.

Orange zoanthids at Alberni Aquarium, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the prettier creatures of the deep

Around the final corner of the Alberni Aquarium is a large work table for aquatic-related crafts, and the source of many of the ‘eeeews’  from the kids – the touch tanks. Various species have been put in easily-reachable tanks (little footstools also supplied for those of the shortest stature) and aquarium visitors are welcome to gently handle and examine a cornucopia of aquatic creatures.

Alberni Aquarium sign, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Just look for the big wooden octopus to find the Alberni Aquarium

One Mom I spoke to had just purchased a full year’s membership ($25), enthusing about what a great outing the Alberni Aquarium would be for her and her daughter when the rainy season arrives.  The Alberni Aquarium is a fitting addition to the Port Alberni waterfront, where fishing and other waterborne activities have dominated for virtually the entire history of the Alberni Valley.  And affordable recreation (entry fees are $5 a person, kids under 5 get in free) is a definite plus in a town that for years has suffered from a downturn in its lifeblood industries.  Kudos to the West Coast Aquatic Stewardship Association for its vision and dedication – hopefully the exposure to such a magical world will inform and enthuse.  Maybe it will even spawn a new generation of marine biologists or environmental advocates – a happy thought.

            More information on the Alberni Aquarium can be found at the website:

http://alberniaquarium.ca/new-page-1/

            The Alberni Aquarium is located at #7, 5440 Argyle Street, at Harbour Quay.

wheelchair-lGPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.234858  Long. -124.815521

N 49 14.091  W 124 48.931

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Duncan’s Whippletree Junction – a charming shopping enclave

Pathway to curtyard at Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the oldest and quirkiest little shopping enclaves on Vancouver Island is snugged up right alongside the Island Highway just south of Duncan. Whippletree Junction came in to being 47 years ago, the result of relocation of some of the old buildings in Duncan’s Chinatown.  The contract to demolish Chinatown went to a fellow named  Randy Streit, who came up with the bright idea of establishing a small business centre using the aged structures.            Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, british ColumbiaWhippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe scheme took hold, and over the years many businesses have come and gone at Whippletree Junction.  But many have endured, too, for upwards of three decades.

Gift shop at Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, bRitish Columbia

One of the heritage buildings houses a gift shop

Carved beavers on eaves of gift shop at Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Detail work on the eaves of the gift shop

These days Whippletree Junction is a colourful conglomeration of charming buildings, garden-lined pathways and a pretty central courtyard that hosts a delightfully funky water fountain (The Trickle Tree Fountain) comprised of old scrap metal.

Tryptich at Solid Gallery and Studio, Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Original artwork at Solid Gallery and Studio

All of the businesses at Whippletree Junction are owner-operated, so there is very much a village feel.  You can find all sorts of unique and beautiful items in the eclectic gathering of merchants.  Shops offer locally-produced goods, rattan furniture, Italian leather furniture, reclaimed furniture, original art works, garden décor – all the sort of stuff that you will never find at a mall or a chain store, all of it special because of its distinctive characteristics.

Reclaimed furniture at Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Upcycled furniture

There are also a couple of places where you can grab a bite to eat.  Or, you can learn how to spin or weave or enjoy many other aspects of textile arts at Leola’s Studio, tucked away at the back of the courtyard.

Trickltree Fountain at Whippletree Junction, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Trickltree Fountain

I hadn’t visited Whippletree Junction for probably 35 years, and was delighted to see how well it has survived – nay, thrived!  It is bigger than I remember it, with more diversity, more colour, more charm and charisma, and plenty of life.  It’s a treat to visit and well worth an hour or two of your time.

            Whippletree Junction is located at 4705 Trans Canada Highway, Duncan        wheelchair-l GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.738975  Long. -123.652504

            N 48 44.339   W 123 39.150

Posted in ARTISAN GALLERIES, ATTRACTIONS, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Small-but-mighty Cumberland Farmers Market

Vegetable vendor at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Veggies, veggies everywhere!

Small is mighty – that’s the first thought that comes to mind when we visit the relatively new Cumberland Farmers Market.  An offshoot of the Comox Valley Farmers Market, the Cumberland fixture got its start just this year and has been successful enough that the vendors are hoping to carry on in to September rather than wrapping things up at the end of August.  Either way, this great little market is full of character and is worth a visit.

Fruit-filled hand pies at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Fruit-filled hand pies – and full-sized ones, too

Spread around the perimeter of the village square, the Cumberland Farmers Market offers pretty much anything you could want to prepare a meal, and then some.  Ethically-raised beef, chanterelle mushrooms and organic produce are front and center, along with baked deliciousness and three different flavours of hemp ice cream.  There are even gorgeous cut flowers for your dining table. There is a kids’ activity tent and a variety of craft vendors. And, like any good farmers market, the Cumberland event features live music.

Zinnias at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Beautiful flowers….

If you get peckish (or don’t feel like cooking) there is a food truck offering the authentic flavours of Sri Lanka.

Kids activities tent at Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island

Says it all…..

The Sunday that we visited we enjoyed a wander around and savoured the relaxed ambiance which seems to be part and parcel of this endearing rough-and-tumble village.  There is none of the hustle and bustle of many of the larger farmers markets. So, if you are looking for quality products in a quieter environment, head to the Cumberland Farmers Market – it’s worth the trip!

Cumberland Farmers Market, Vancouver Island The Cumberland Farmers Market runs every Sunday during the summer months between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

         wheelchair-l Further information on the market dates can be found at the website:

            http://cvfm.ca/calendar-node-field-event-date/month

The market is held at the Cumberland Village Square on Dunsmuir between Third and Fourth Avenues, next to the old post office (now the Wandering Moose Café).

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.618878  Long. -125.027220

N 49 37.133  W 125 01.633

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, DOG-FRIENDLY, FARMERS MARKETS, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Qualicum’s Uptown Summer Market

OverviewWhat can be lovelier on a soft summer evening than a relaxed outdoor market in a beautiful setting, topped up with live music and talented vendors?  There isn’t much that tops an experience like that, and we recently enjoyed such an affair at the  Qualicum Beach Uptown Summer Market.

Baked goods at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Baked goodies feature at the market

Organized by the Qualicum Beach Downtown Business Association, the evening market runs every Thursday during July and August from 6-9 p.m.  A long block of Second Avenue (the main shopping area in Qualicum Beach) is closed to vehicular traffic and vendors set up their tents offering a wide variety of beautiful and intriguing offerings.

Hand-knit slippers at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Who could resist these cozy hand-knit slippers?

We spent a happy hour wandering up the street enjoying the very relaxed ambiance – a big change from the busier and more frenetic farmers markets and other street markets held throughout the Oceanside area.  There was plenty of time and space to peruse goods and chat with vendors, who hail from as far away as Campbell River.

 

Jazz musicians at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Live music is a much-appreciated feature

The added bonus to the evening was a very cool jazz duo, perched in front of one of the original charming Qualicum Beach homes.  Mellifluous tunes emanated on to the street and convinced us to sit awhile and simply enjoy.  One couple was inspired enough by the music to share a dance in the middle of everything.

Rustic birdhouse at Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

Unique garden décor…..

You won’t find a lot of produce at this market, but for those in search of food there is a food truck serving up yummy samosas and Mirella Trozzo’s very excellent Italian baking is featured  at the Biscotti de Notte tent.

What visitors to the Uptown Summer Market will find is a multiplicity of beautiful hand-crafted items that could well get your Christmas shopping started early.  Cozy slippers, beautiful windchimes, garden décor, mouth-watering baking.  And for those needing a little relaxation, three masseuse vendors ply their trade.  Several of the local businesses remain open late as well.

Teapot and cutlery windchime, Uptown Summer Market, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

…and upcycled silverware

While the Uptown Summer Market was originally designed to draw summer visitors to the downtown core in the evening it is also drawing locals.  We ran in to some neighbours as we strolled along the street, and noted that quite a few of the attendees were recognizable local faces.  Regardless of your residency or lack of same, however, be prepared for a delightful evening that offers the quintessential Qualicum Beach essence of summer.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

The Qualicum Beach Uptown Summer Market runs up Second Avenue from Memorial Avenue to Primrose Street, every Thursday evening in July and August .

           wheelchair-l GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.347099  Long. -124.441742

            N 49 20.826  W 124 26.505

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, FARMERS MARKETS, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Courtenay’s Nymph Falls

Nymph Falls, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThere is a little bit of heaven near Courtenay that is open to equestrians, dog walkers, hikers and mountain bikers. Nymph Falls Nature Park is a 151-acre preserve along the north side of the Puntledge River that offers a cornucopia of outdoor activities on a year-round basis.

Trail to Nymph Falls, Courtenay, Vancouver Island,. British Columbia

The trail to the falls is easily traversed

We hiked the forested trail from the parking lot down to the pretty falls with ease. The trail wends its way through second growth forest, past picturesque resting areas and comes out upon massive flat bedrock that offers easy access to lovely views of the falls.  The main feature is the fish ladder, blasted out of the bedrock more than 70 years ago, with several smaller outcrops with rushing water tumbling over them surrounding the ladder. Although the falls may not look as impressive as some of the more imposing water features on the Island they are, nonetheless, captivating.  It would be easy to sit on the bedrock in the sunshine for hours on end just listening to the rush and swirl of the river.

Fish ladders at Nymph Falls, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The fish ladders were blasted out of the bedrock more than 70 years ago

Nymph Falls Nature Park has many fine features, including dedicated trails for experienced mountain bikers, trails that can be shared by those on horseback, foot or mountain bike, and trails devoted to pedestrian traffic only.  There are several loop options, laid out clearly on the map in the parking lot, that allow visitors to decide their route. Trails are very well-marked, making for easy navigation once you are in the forest.

There are a few picnic tables in a cleared area that once served as a labour camp site for conscientious objectors during World War ll.  Several benches are located in various spots along the riverside, allowing for rest and contemplation.  And,  nearby Barber’s Hole is a popular and tranquil spot for a cool dip on a hot summer’s day.

Off leash dog sign at Nymph Falls Nature Park, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British columbia

Off-leash dogs are welcome at the park

The other main attraction at Nymph Falls is the return of the salmon during the Autumn months.  The annual migration up the river generally happens during October and November, and can be a great outdoor excursion that entrances visitors of all ages.

Trailhead route sign at Nymph Falls Nature Park, Courtenay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Trail routes are well marked

The other thing we loved about the Nymph Falls park is that it is deemed perfectly legal and acceptable to have dogs off-leash, as long as they are under control.  This freedom is so rarely found these days that it was a revelation to discover a sign actually saying that canine companions are allowed to run loose. No guilt trips here, and no wondering if a conservation officer or other official is suddenly going to pounce.  Reasonable precautions must be taken, of course, due to the fact that there is wildlife in the area.  But, a refreshing change from most places these days for those who like to let their dogs loose for a good leg stretch and a little exploring.

So, put Nymph Falls on your must-visit list – it is a great adventure for all ages offering much in the way of natural beauty, the wonders of nature, fresh air and peace and quiet.

            Further information about Nymph Falls Nature Park, including directions to get there, can be found at the website:

http://www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/EN/main/community/parks-trails/comox-valley-parks/nymph-falls-nature-park.html

Nymph Falls Nature Park is located off Forbidden Plateau Road

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.671108 Long. -125.078498

N 49 40.266 W 125 04.710

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, DOG-FRIENDLY, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowichan’s Saison Market Vineyard

Saison Baking Cowichan Valley restaurateurs and farms seem to have nailed it when it comes to providing good food in beautiful settings.  We finally got to another one that has been on our list for a long time, and Saison Market Vineyard did not disappoint.

Saison is located 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) north of the city of Duncan.

Lineup of patrons at Saison Market Vineyard, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Busy. busy, busy – so much good food, so little time!

Created as a culinary agritourism project, this busy eatery was bursting with activity, good smells and delicious food when we visited one Saturday at lunchtime.  There were patrons of all ages digging in to the daily offerings and savouring the fresh flavours of real food.

View from the deck at Saison Market Vineyard, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Pretty views abound

There is indoor seating at Saison, along with an expansive deck fitted with picnic tables that offer sweeping views of field, forest, vineyard and rolling hills.  We opted, as we always do when the weather is fine, for the al fresco experience.

The big problem at Saison is what to choose.  The baking displays are a huge temptation and as someone with a well-developed sweet tooth I always have difficulty at this point.  However, erring on the side of ‘healthy’ as opposed to decadent, we settled on a delicious spinach and chevre quiche accompanied by small bowls of cauliflower and kale soup.

Quiche and soup at Saison Market Vineyard Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Lunch at Saison

The food – oh, the food – had that  ‘farmhouse fresh’ quality to it. Distinctive flavours intermingled to create taste sensations that, even now several weeks later, have my mouth watering.

Saison is a very busy spot, so be prepared to wait in line to place your order.  And be prepared to wait for your meal or treat to arrive at your table.  But why, with all the bucolic loveliness surrounding it, would anyone care about having to wait? Kick back, enjoy the birdsong, people watch (there is some great people watching to be had!), breathe in the fresh country air and relax.  Between the wait and the excellent food, you will be set up for the rest of the day.

Saison Market Vineyard is only open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. The market does not accept any credit cards, but will accept debit, cash and cheques.

            Further information on Saison can be found at the website:

http://www.saisonmarket.ca/index.html

Price rating: $-$$

Saison Market Vineyard is located at 7575 Mays Road, North Cowichan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.836563  Long. -123.705745

N 48 50.194   W 123 42.345

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Duncan’s Red Arrow Brewing Company

Beer tasting samples at Red Arrow Brewing Company, duncan, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaI have consumed my fair share of beer over the years – it’s part of the territory when you are a news reporter. But in the ‘good old days’ of my burgeoning journalism career there was no such thing as a craft brewery – all the big companies dominated the market and the offerings in the pubs.  Things have changed more recently, and the proof was in the tasting when we stopped in recently at Red Arrow Brewing Company just off the highway near Duncan.

Red Arrow is housed in a beautiful red brick building that was originally used as a motorcycle shop.  The tasting room at the brewery has high ceilings, plenty of space, Red Arrow merchandise (of course!), friendly staff and some of the most interesting darned beers that have ever graced my gullet.

Tasting room at Red Arrow Brewing Company, Duncan. Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The tasting room

The signature brews are created on-site right at the Red Arrow building.  At the time we visited the company had on offer eight very distinct beverages, created in just one year of existence.  They have recently added several more, to the point where tasting all of them could be a dangerous thing from the point of view of trying to decide just which ones to purchase and take home to enjoy.

My husband and I have done our share of wine tasting tours over the years, including one very long and interesting day in the Cowichan Valley when I began writing for Destination BC. (http://blog.hellobc.com/vancouver-island-cowichan-valley-wine-region/)   But beer had never been on the agenda until now.  After the experience at Red Arrow I found myself wondering why we had taken so long to get around to visiting a craft brewery.  It definitely won’t be long until our next experience!

Red brick building that houses Red Arrow Brewing Company, Duncan, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

The exterior of the beautiful building that houses Red Arrow Brewing Company

The thing that impressed both my husband and myself was the wide range of intriguing flavours and hues that were set down before us.  Everything from sourdough bread to cacao, black cherry and floral essences came through.  We loved the Sweet Leaf IPA, a bright amber creation with a floral and fruity nature. And the Chocolate Cherry Porter – well, the name pretty much says it all on that one, describing the flavour as well as the dark, chocolatey brown colour.

Truth be known, there wasn’t a single offering among the eight that we didn’t like – each had its own special aroma and taste, and each had its own appeal.  We travel Highway 1 south on the Island quite frequently these days, so we are happy to know that this great little brewery is a) so easily accessible off the highway and b) produces so many unique and delightful beers.  I think Red Arrow is going to become one of our favourite stops on the way up and down-Island.

            Further information on Red Arrow Brewing Company and its products can be found at the website:

http://redarrowbeer.ca/

Red Arrow is located at 5255 Chaster Road, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.762630  Long. -123.690293

N 48 45.758 W 123 41.418

 

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Innisfree Farm offers a tranquil oasis for an al fresco lunch

Lunch Buffetherb crusted lentil flan with garlic aioli zucchini bread gathered greens (mixed lettuces and wild herbs) with blueberry vinaigrette

afternoon tea $12.50 includes 3 baked treats and hot or iced herbal tea

plum tarte tatin quinoa chocolate lavender cupcakes with raspberry coulis (gluten free) Helen’s raspberry cake with raspberry coulis

or a single baked treat with hot or iced herbal tea for $5.00

iced tea of the day rose bergamot, spearmint and lavender

We thought we were just heading up to Royston’s Innisfree Farm for a nice Saturday lunch – who could resist a menu like the one posted above?

Lentil flan and zuchinni bread at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It’s all about the food – delicious and healthy!

Innisfree in the past has held a few farmhouse dinners, which we have greatly enjoyed, so we were pretty sure that their new summertime Saturdays-only Green Dream Café would be a happy experience as well.  It most certainly was a delight, but for many more reasons than we expected.

Gluten-free quinoa chocolate cupcake at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Gluten free chocolate cupcake

Innisfree Farm is a 7-acre botanic garden that has evolved over the years to become a central meeting place for those dedicated to learning about and practising botanical medicine.  In the process of developing that concept Chanchal Cabrera and Thierry Vrain have created an oasis of calm at the terminus of a dead-end road in the tiny community of Royston, just south of Courtenay.  As I said earlier, we had been to Innisfree in the past but it was always during the fall and winter months when weather and darkness were closing in, which meant opportunities to explore the farm were limited.

Man sitting in Adirondack chair at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sit and rest awhile – Innisfree is an inviting escape from the everyday world

Our summer excursion, however, offered a chance to wander the farm prior to lunch, taking in the huge oyster shell labyrinth, the peaceful pond, mowed paths bordered by high grass, a sculpture garden.  There were arrangements of chairs all over the place, inviting visitors to sit a while and simply enjoy the peace and quiet and listen to the sounds of nature. We trailed through the gardens and wandered through the wildly beautiful medicinal garden before ambling back to the rustic outdoor setting where the Green Dream Café was set up under cover.

Oyster shell labyrinth at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The huge oyster shell labyrinth

The lunch offering was simple but substantial, very healthy and extremely delicious. Each Saturday there is a different prix fixe menu with lunch priced at $15

View from long table lunch at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columtia

The view from our long table lunch

We began our meal with the individual lentil flans, served with a generous portion of excellent garlic aioli and a salad of mixed greens. A slice of delicious zuchinni bread served with a zingy herb butter accompanied the main course. The iced tea went down with a final hint of lavender.  – not too sweet, but flavourful.

Pond and Adirondack chairs at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Quiet places for contemplation are found all over the farm

The desserts all looked too tempting for words, and with good reason.  The choice of spiced plum cake with a plum coulis, raspberry cake with raspberry coulis and a gluten-free chocolate-lavender cupcake topped with lavender coconut frosting and accompanied by the raspberry coulis were all beautifully presented and a pleasure on the palate. The nice thing is that you get a choice of desserts, so if you are with friends you can share and savour the various flavours.  The raspberry coulis particularly was a hit – clean and fresh flavours of pure raspberry (one of Innisfree’s big crops) without an overbearing sweetness. The quinoa chocolate cupcake was my favourite – dense, very chocolatey and a big plus for a chocolate lover like myself.

Metal sculpture at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the striking pieces in the sculpture garden

One of the other really charming things about lunch at Innisfree Farm is that you never know who you may end up talking to.  We enjoyed several pleasant conversations with both Innisfree staff and patrons – a not-unusual occurrence at long-table meals, and always very interesting.

Lunch setting with vintage rocking bench at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The intimate rural setting enhances the lunch experience at Innisfee

So, what started out as ‘just a lunch’ evolved into a delightful, relaxing occasion that made us eager to return.  Great, healthy food, gorgeous environs, friendly conversation and a tranquil, calm pace – it doesn’t get any better than that on a lovely summer afternoon.  If you go be sure to put aside enough time to enjoy the farm and all it has to offer, and be prepared to be drawn in to the quiet, measured tempo that permeates this special place.

Chairs on hillside at Innisfree Farm, Royston, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Another tranquil perch, on a hillside

The Green Dream Café is open on Saturdays from June through September, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you aren’t up for a full lunch, a simple repast of tea and sweet goods is also on offer.  Innisfree Farm also sells from its farm stand on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

            Further information about Innisfree Farm can be found at the website at:

http://www.innisfreefarm.ca/about-innisfree/

            Menus for the Green Dream Café can generally be found on the farm’s Facebook page under Innisfree Farm

Price rating: $-$$

            Innisfree Farm is located at 3636 Trent Road, Royston

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 49.634777  Long.: -124.952089

N 49 38.087 W 124 57.125

 

 

 

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