Big smiles. Warm welcomes. Amazing slow food. And, the most unique bed and breakfast experience you are ever likely to have. Roll it all together and you have the distinctive, snug and delightful Swept Away Inn, berthed at Centennial Pier in Port Alberni.
The inn is housed in a 100-foot retired minesweeper/tugboat/fishing lodge that dominates the new pier in the heart of downtown Port Alberni. It took a full year for hosts Daniel and Bouchra to refurbish the boat in Port, by which time their initial plans to move on to Tofino had vanished. The couple fell in love with Port Alberni and its people and made the decision to stay right where they were. Since late summer of 2014 they have been running the B&B and offering dinner club-style meals that have proven to be a hit with local residents and travelers from all over the world.
The couple’s efforts have not gone unnoticed – they recently were selected as one of the top five nominees for a BC Small Business Award. As we discovered on a tumultuous rainswept winter day, all the praise for their efforts is not unfounded.
The sturdy tug has weathered the 70 years of its west coast existence with a good deal of grace, helped along by Daniel’s ministrations. Step into the combined lounge/dining area and you are immediately enveloped by the cozy ambiance and the one-of-a-kind appeal that only a shipboard experience can offer. Combine that with the warmest of welcomes from Daniel and Bouchra and there can be little doubt that you are headed for an extraordinary time.
Bouchra grew up in Morocco and learned to cook at her mother’s side. Her innate talent for flavour combinations and her dedication to what she calls ‘real, slow food’ shines through in every dish that arrives on the table. The combination of local ingredients and hours spent in the galley kitchen produces a wide variety of amazing taste sensations that keeps people coming back for the Swept Away limited-seating dinners. The night we were there we were treated to a traditional Moroccan meal that included a mouth-watering tahini, home-marinated olives and a traditional chicken dish featuring preserved lemons, olives and Bouchra’s own combination of time-honoured spices.
By my estimation it was three hours, start to finish, before dinner arrived at the table. But all through those hours we enjoyed the company and conversation of Daniel and Bouchra. Both of them are very engaged in the local community, so discussions range from our travels to their concerns about a possible coal port on the Alberni waterfront and revitalization efforts in town.
‘Our goal is to see the world through our guests’, says Daniel, and from the sounds of it they are doing exactly that.
Dinner finished, we hang out in the beautiful lounge area for a while before heading off to our small (but comfortable) quarters. Bunk beds are the order of the day here – nothing has been changed from the traditional accommodation found on older vessels, and we are fine with that (although we giggle a lot at having to pass each other going sideways in our small state room). We have a porthole that looks out to the wharves where the fishing fleet and the venerable packet freighter Frances Barkley are docked and, with wind and rain buffeting the boat we are rocked gently to sleep.
Breakfast the next morning is another Moroccan delight – Bouchra prepares barghrir, or ‘crepes with a thousand holes’, topped with a flavourful brown sugar sauce and bananas.They are substantial enough to sustain us well into the afternoon.
While the Swept Away Inn is not what anyone would class a luxury bed and breakfast it is most certainly clean, comfortable and more than welcoming. The food is amazing, the hosts are even more so…and really, how many people can say they have stayed on a 70-year-old retired minesweeper? It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that we wouldn’t have missed for the world.
The Swept Away Inn doesn’t have a website, but if you want to keep track of their dinner offerings and inquire about the bed and breakfast availability you can find them on Facebook at:
The Swept Away Inn is located at Centennial Pier at the bottom of Argyle Street, adjacent to Harbour Quay, Unit 1, 5505 Argyle Street
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.23507867084177 Long. -124.8163073878357
N 49 14.105 W 124 48.978