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THE DEAL: SOOKE HARBOUR HOUSE, Sooke, BC

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WHY IT’S A CONTENDER:

Once in a blue moon I’ll drive up to a property and instantly know that I’d be happy to settle in for a long while. And that’s what I felt when I came upon Sooke Harbour House, which overlooks an inlet on Vancouver Island and beyond to the distant mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. Imagine a rambling white clapboard country inn where every guestroom has a water view. A bright, airy and well-appointed room that comes with a soaking tub on a private deck, as well a fireplace ready to be lit. A house surrounded by a colorful garden where everything is somehow edible, be it leaf, flower, root, tuber, stem, fruit or bulb. Where seals surface just outside your window in pursuit of spawning salmon and bald eagles coast by on Pacific breezes. A dining room where a Wine Spectator Grand Award winning wine list is paired with the imaginative cuisine of chef Edward Tuson. Well, that’s Sooke Harbour House. Owners Frederique and Sinclair Philip have been running Sooke since 1979 as an energetic and creative labor of love. Sooke is that rare combination of homey and sophisticated, a country house perched on the edge of the continent. I am hardly the first one to sing its praises — Sooke has won every major award out there. But the place is magical enough to make you feel like you’re the first one to discover it.

THE ROOMS

River rock fireplaces, balconies, French doors, original art and views to die for are hallmarks of the 28 rooms. Larger rooms have separate sitting areas. And some of the touches, like the hand-carved wood, are delightfully eccentric, evidence of the craftsmanship of Vancouver Island artisans.

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MORE REASONS TO STAY. If you come here expecting great food, privacy and relaxation, you won’t be disappointed. And conversation is never dull. Sinclair Philip is the Canadian Council to the International Slow Food Council in Italy and has a doctorate in political economics from University of Grenoble in France. Expect topics to range from immigration to the edible hemlock. As Philip says, "If you can’t eat it, why grow it?"

THE DEAL: Rooms start at $250 CAN ($213). The Getaway Package, which include breakfast and dinner for two, is $390 CAN per night ($332) , based on double occupancy.Sooke4

INSIDER TIP The menu might incorporate sea asparagus, sea cucumber and seaweed. Not to mention scented geraniums, day lilies and yucca petals. The wine list holds treasures like the much-coveted Venturi-Schulze wines from Vancouver Island. If you’ve never eaten Grand Fir needles, now’s the time. A recent menu offered grilled rockfish with sweet cicely sauce and Grand Fir oil, wild rice dried blueberry caramelized onion griddle cake, maple roasted delicata squash and grilled leek. And you could have finished with Tamarina chocolate roasted begonia tuber croissant pudding with strawberry frozen yogurt, chocolate garnish and strawberry syrup.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION The setting and the views are the essence of the Pacific Northwest. And you’re about 40 minutes from Victoria, the city of the "newly wed and the nearly dead," though on a recent visit, it seemed livelier than ever.

THE DETAILS: Sooke Harbour House, 1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke, BC ; 250-642-3421.

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