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:


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


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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:


            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





Cedar’s Mahle House a perennial favourite


Interior of Mahle House Restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Character and old-fashioned ambiance are the hallmarks of the beautiful interior of Mahle House

There is a reason that Cedar’s beautiful old Mahle House Restaurant is the ‘go to’ choice for so many on the Island.  In fact, there are many reasons.

We ventured down to Cedar recently for a celebration dinner – had been meaning to get to Mahle House for years and finally decided that the one-hour drive (each way) was worth the effort.  It was a good decision and made the celebration all that much more special.

Seafood croquettes and shoestring potatoes at Mahle House restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Seafood croquettes and house-made shoestring potatoes

Mahle House was built in 1904 and continues to retain much of the old-fashioned loveliness found in homes of that era. Worn wooden floors add character, large mullioned windows offer views on to the pretty ornamental garden, stained glass elements evoke thoughts and memories of a slower, gentler period.  While we found the orange-painted exterior a bit of a surprise there is certainly no doubt that it makes Mahle House very identifiable and easy to find.

We dined at Mahle House on a Sunday evening when, much to our delight we were able to partake of a generous prix fixe menu that offered three courses for $40 – a very good price indeed for the calibre of food, service and presentation being tendered.  The set menu is also available on Thursday evenings, and it obviously is a popular affair – the restaurant was impressively busy.

dijon and parmesan salmon on crispy polenta, Mahle House Rstaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Dijon and parmesan-crusted salmon on crispy polents

We began our culinary adventure with a glass of excellent pinot gris from Alderlea Vineyards located in the Cowichan Valley.  Appetizers – seafood croquettes with roasted garlic tartar sauce and a stack of perfectly crisped, lightly-salted shoestring potatoes – arrived promptly, hot and flavourful.

My husband ordered the Dijon and parmesan crusted salmon for his entrée.  Served atop a luscious wedge of crispy polenta and accompanied by a medley of perfectly-cooked fresh vegetables, the plate offered a cornucopia of bright colours and flavours.

Mushroom-stuffed chicken breast on creamy polenta at Mahle House Restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Mushroom-stuffed chicken breast on creamy polenta

My main course consisted of two generous portions of succulent chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms, served atop creamy polenta and fresh vegetables. Again, a lovely combination of flavours that left my tastebuds happy and my appetite sated.

There were two choices for dessert – house-made ice cream in several flavours  accompanied by ginger shortbread or Crème Brulee Napoleon.  We both opted for the latter, with no regrets.  The dessert was a totally decadent combination of crème brulee studded with pecans and layered between thin, shatteringly crisp layers of phyllo pastry.  A drizzle of the most amazing caramel sauce finished things off and left both of us wishing we could lick our plates.  A warning – this is a very rich dessert, something that we might normally have shared.  But that beautiful combination of flavours and textures  made me grateful that, this time around, my dessert was all mine.

Creme Brulee Napoleon at Mahle House Restaurant, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Crème Brulee Napoleon – to die for!

For all that the Mahle House is, and has been for many generations of patrons, there is not a whit of snobbishness about the place.  Welcomes are genuine and warm, service is friendly and fun but efficient, the beautiful old house has a charm all its own  and the food is superior.  Mahle House has been in business for 33 years – testament to the high standards that keep diners delighted – and coming back!

Further information on Mahle House can be found at the website:


wheelchair-lMahle House is located at 2104 Hemer Road, Cedar – 10 minutes south of Nanaimo

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.104937  Long. -123.859186

N 49 06.296 W 123 51.551


Port Alberni’s Jane Austen Festival

Jane Austen Festival prticipants in Port Alberni, dressed in Regency Dress

Regency dress will be the order of the day at the Jane Austen Festival in Port Alberni. Photo by Stirling Images

While the central Island community of Port Alberni is busy reinventing itself, morphing from a fishing and logging town to a paradise for lovers of the outdoors, another group of promoters has something entirely different in mind.  In fact, their plan for a huge Jane Austen Festival harkens back to the genteel days long before major industry dominated the local economy.

Port Alberni’s Centennial Belles have been planning the Jane Austen Festival for some time, organizing a packed two days of events that they hope will end with setting a Guinness world record.

The events kick off on Friday, July 8 with a regency-style brunch at the city’s beautiful old Rollin Art Centre. Hot on the heels of the brunch is an afternoon tea at the same location.  The historic home that serves as the Rollin Art Centre is surrounded by beautiful gardens, so a visit for this very special gathering might be an enjoyable introduction to the world of Jane Austen and her peers.

Activities shift to the Capitol Theatre at 7:30 on Friday evening, where there will be readings of Jane Austen’s works.  Her five major novels, which included Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma, were all commentaries on Austen’s times.  They interpret, critique and comment on the life of the English landed gentry and will take attendees back to a world and society long since faded from view.

Saturday, July 9 will be another big and engaging day for those attending the Jane Austen Festival.  First on the agenda is the attempt at the Glenwood Centre to set a Guinness world record for the number of people garbed in regency dress.  The Guinness folks have laid out strict parameters of what is required in the way of regency costume, so anyone interested in participating should click on the website below and follow the link to the Guiness World Record Guidelines, embedded in the festival programme. Each participant will be photographed and will be given a number to ensure that all entries in the record attempt are properly turned out.

Saturday evening will see the wind-up event for the Jane Austen Festival with a Grande Regency Ball at the United Church Hall, complete with a full late evening regency-style supper served at 10:30 p.m.  Regency dress is required.

So, for those looking for a taste of ‘the good old days’, the Jane Austen Festival might just be the ticket – it will be a refreshing change of pace that should bring a reminder of the mores and morals of yesteryear, a look at the genteel world of the late 18th century.  If you are planning to attend any of the activities the organizers advise to get your tickets early – they can be ordered through the website.

            Further information on the Jane Austen Festival can be found at the Centennial Belles website:




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Rustic country ambiance and honest food at Cowichan’s Alderlea Farm Cafe

Patio view of farmland and fields at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The pretty view from the covered patio at Alderlea

We love the concept of farm-to-table food and all the fresh goodness it brings to dining out.  The Cowichan Valley is rife with delightful finds of this genre, including Alderlea Farm Café, perched in the bucolic Glenora area.

Alderlea started out 13 years ago as a biodynamic farm under the stewardship of John and Katy Ehrlich. They developed a popular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce box program, then progressed to opening the organic café six years ago. We found it recently, awash in evening sunlight and bursting with all the colours and fragrances of a new growing season.

Grass-fed beef burger at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncan, Vancouver Island, british Columbia

Alderlea-raised grass-fed beef burger

Alderlea’s café is very, very casual, featuring sunny yellow walls, rustic ambiance and unadorned wooden tables and chairs.  There is a lovely covered outdoor patio that offers sweeping pastoral views – a perfect spot for a quiet meal or gathering with friends.

The café was very busy when we arrived on a Friday evening. We perused the daily offerings and settled on a hamburger made with Alderlea grass-fed beef for my husband and the Love Bird Roasted Chicken (also raised at Alderlea) for myself.  We started with Happy Weekend Leek and Mushroom Soup and Beltane Nettle Soup.

The menu at Alderlea is pretty extensive, featuring wood-oven fired pizza, veggie burgers, soup and salad combinations, vegetarian plates, grilled cheese sandwiches, a soup taster option (you can try all three soups on the daily menu for $10), sweet treats and a variety of alcoholic beverages.

Nettle soup at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Nettle soup

Both of the soups were extraordinarily good, full of unique flavour combinations that left our taste buds (and us!) in a very happy frame of mind.  They arrived with home-made buns – the better to sop up the remnants in the bowls.

There was a bit of confusion over our entrees – my husband’s beef burger got served to another patron, so he had to wait for his main course.  My roast chicken dinner arrived at the table in good time however, accompanied by a sweet pickled pepper and the most wonderful mashed potatoes (grown at Alderlea, of course) that I have had in years.  The spuds had that lovely old ‘potatoey’ flavour that seems to have disappeared in so many of the newer varieties.

When the beef burger did finally arrive – on a home-made bun – my better half deemed it very good.

Roast chicken and mashed potatoes at Alderlea Farm Cafe, Glenora, Duncah, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Roast chicken dinner with the best mashed potatoes anywhere

We fell victim at the end of it all to a slice of chocolate zuchinni cake that was so good it felt almost immoral to consume it.

While Alderlea Farm Café is far from what anyone would call fine dining it is, nonetheless, reasonably-priced good, simple food served in a cheerful, casual setting.  I loved the rural ambiance, the bustle of the place and the entire concept of offering true, home-grown food.

            Alderlea Farm Café is only open Thursday through Sunday during certain hours, so best to check out their website at :


Price rating: $$

Alderlea Farm Café is located at 3390 Glenora Road, Duncan

GPS co-oridnates are:

Lat. 48.758128  Long. -123.730982

N 48 45.488  W 123 43.859

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Qualicum Beach’s Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine attracts fans (and cars) of all ages for a great day of family fun

Vintage Car at Seaside Cruizers

Vehicles of all shapes, sizes and ages compete at the Show ‘n Shine

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of things vehicular.  But every year in mid-June I am drawn to the streets of downtown Qualicum Beach for the annual Seaside Cruizers Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine – there are just too many great sights to miss out on, and the local club has managed to turn this in to a great family event that has something for every member of the family.

Crowds at Seaside Cruizers Show 'n Shine

Thousands of people from far and wide show up to enjoy the day

            The show is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year.  It has grown and flourished to the point where upwards of 600 vintage vehicles from near and far invade the area for the weekend.  The combination of the pretty venue of the village of Qualicum Beach and the hundreds of amazing vehicles has become such a draw, in fact, that it was mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey show as one of the 10 best things to do on Father’s Day.

Face painting at Seaside Cruizers Show 'n Shine

Children enjoy many activities, including the face painting

While things get going for showparticipants on the Friday preceding Father’s Day, events for the general public gear up on Saturday night with a street dance in downtown Qualicum Beach. The entire downtown area is wired for sound, and music from the 1950s and 60s drifts through the streets during the day of the show ‘n shine, adding even more of a vintage flavour to the day.

            Although I have no particular interest in cars other than having them get me where I want to go, I am always amazed at the huge variety of vehicles on display at this event, and at the countless hours of devotion so obviously poured in to them. Every square inch of the exhibits, inside and out, gleams. A few hours spent wandering the streets of the village gets spectators a complete lesson on the history of motorized transport, in a most enchanting way.

Lunch in the village square in Qualicum Beach

Visitors enjoy lunch in the village square

            Over the years the event has evolved to be an all-inclusive family event.  There is face-painting for the kids and the downtown business association organizes a ladies Shop and Walk event, complete with prizes. Those attending can take in the Shriners Pancake Breakfast, located right in the heart of the shopping area, and lunch is available throughout the day from the many restaurants and food vendors.

            Thousands of visitors show up for this event, so if you plan to go be prepared to park your vehicle and walk a block or two to get to the heart of the action. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended.

Restored interior of vintage car

It’s not just the exteriors of the vintage cars that are immaculately restored…

            The 2016event gets under way for the general public on Saturday, June 18with a street dance featuring live music from 6 – 10 p.m.  Sunday, June 19(Father’s Day) features the car show, pancake breakfast from 7:30 – 11 a.m., the ladies walk and shop from 8 am. – 1 p.m., entertainment for the children.

            Further information on the Seaside Cruizers and the show ‘n shine can be found at the organization’s website:


IgnitedGPS co-ordinates for the Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine are:

Lat.: 49.347220922291704  Long. -124.4416880607605

N 49 20.833  W 124 26.

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Duncan’s Raptors centre offers a close-up look at birds of prey



Bald eagle alighting during flight demonstration at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A Bald Eagle alights on Robyn Radcliffe’s arm during the flight demonstration

You haven’t lived until you have had a conversation with a spectacled owl, or watched a bald eagle swoop for a fish at close quarters, or seen the huge black sweep of a turkey vulture’s wings as it heads (gulp!) straight towards you.  We experienced all of that and a lot more on a recent visit to Duncan’s famous Raptors centre.

Turkey Vulture in flight at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Turkey vulture demonstrates its flying prowess

The Raptors have been located on Vancouver Island for 13 years.  The staff and volunteers there are devoted to the concept of educating the public about these most remarkable birds and I must say, they do a stellar job.

Weldome area at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia The layout of the centre encourages guests to visit the birds – everything from owls to turkey vultures and eagles – in their confinement quarters, where they have access to perches in outdoor areas. We were fortunate enough to arrive at that part of the centre as one of the employees was working with the birds, so there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions and learn much about the magnificent creatures.

Golden Eagle at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Golden Eagle

Virtually all of the birds of prey at The Raptors are hatched at the site – they are not taken from the wild. In addition to helping to educate the public about their huge importance in the natural world, they all also have jobs.  Wildlife management at airports, construction sites and farms plays a central role in the lives of the impressive creatures from The Raptors.

Talons of Golden Eagle at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…and Golden Eagle talons….

We learned so much just talking to the staff and volunteers prior to the 45-minute flying demonstration. A massive bald eagle that was on display, for instance, weighed only 11 pounds thanks to his hollow bones.  That’s a hard fact to believe when you see these magnificent birds up close; and when you see the massive wing span that detail becomes even more difficult to digest.

Barn Owl at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Barn Owl

The highlight of the afternoon was the flying demonstration, conducted by operations manager Robyn Radcliffe.  Her tremendous sense of humour, obvious affection for the birds and incredible depth of knowledge made the 45-minute demo fly by. We were treated to the aforementioned ‘fishing’ demo by a bald eagle along with flying and prey hunting demonstrations by owls, gyrfalcons, a golden eagle and…a turkey vulture, which was not the most lovely thing on wings but was clearly Robyn’s sentimental favourite.

Robyn Radcliffe and gyrfalcon at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There is a great educational component that mesmerizes visitors of all ages

The flying demonstrations are conducted in a large open area, backdropped by fields and forest.  Bench seating allows visitors to sit comfortably while watching the amazing feats of the birds and a question and answer format added even more to our knowledge and appreciation of these incredible winged creatures.

For those who seek more contact with and information about the raptors, the centre offers a wide variety of hands-on programs, summer camps for kids, corporate retreat activities – and even wedding experiences.           Robyn Raqdcliffe and gyrfalcon at The Raptors, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia The whole afternoon at The Raptors was such an exhilarating visual experience that I am going to rely more on photos than words this week.  This is a wonderful program for all ages – a must-see that will put you in touch with the natural world and the impressive birds of prey who inhabit it.

            Further information on The Raptors can be found at the website:


            The Raptors is located at 1877 Herd Road, Duncan

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.820224  Long. -123.659307

            N 48 49.213   W 123 39.558


Duncan’s Totem Tour

Duncan Totem 1First Nations culture has always played a huge role in life in the Cowichan Valley, to the point were the main city, Duncan, is known as The City of Totems.  There is much native history seen in every facet of life in the region, not least among them Duncan’s Totem Tour.

Beginning of Totem Tour in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

At the beginning of the Totem Tour visitors can read about the history of the project

The Totem Tour is an outdoor exhibit that embraces First Nations art and story telling via the display of more than 40 beautiful and varied totem poles located throughout the city.  The walking tour begins at the museum/old train station, where a large collection of several totems and the story behind the excursion is displayed on several information boards.           Yellow footprints on the Duncan Totem Tour, Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia During the summer months the museum offers free hour-long guided tours.  Or there is the option of doing a self-guided walk with the assistance of a map and the bright yellow footprints painted on sidewalks to lead the way.  The footprint idea works very well and has been well-executed – if you are meant to be moving forward the footstep motifs point away from you.  If there is a totem to view, the footprints point inwards toward the work in question.            The tour covers about eight city blocks and takes about an hour, with plenty of time for picture taking.

world's widest totem pole in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The world’s widest totem pole, 5’11” in diameter

Each of the totems is displayed in an easily accessible spot – outside residential complexes, businesses and in the midst of busy intersections.  Every one of them has an information board alongside that tells not only the story of the totem and why it was created, but the story of the artist as well.  We discovered that several totems had been carved by carvers from First Nations around the world, adding a bit of international flair to the collection.            Unpainted totem pole in Duncan, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe eclectic outdoor gallery displays many different styles of totem.  Some are painted, while others are left unadorned.  The world’s widest totem pole is in the collection – carved from a 750-year-old tree it measures 5 feet,11 inches in diameter.

Duncan Totem Tour, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Information signs tell the story of each totem and of the artist who created it

Overall, this is an easy and very interesting excursion that throws much light on to the subject of First Nations culture and the innate talent within in.  It is an hour well-spent, whether you choose to do the tour on your own or join the guided tour offered by the museum.

            Further information on the Totem Tour can be found at the museum website at:


wheelchair-lThe museum, which is also essentially the starting point for the Totem Tour, is located at 130 Canada Avenue, Duncan

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.777864  Long. -123.706894

N 48 46.672 W 123 42.414


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:


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:


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: $$