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A Hidden Gem in the Pacific Northwest

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“Three people may keep a secret — if two of them are dead.”

Benjamin Franklin

Story & photos by Jacqueline Church

Travelers love discovering new places. The joy of sharing these secret finds is tempered only by the fear that we’ll soon see it overrun by hordes of new travelers, changing what made us fall in love with “our” special place to begin with.

Some secrets are too good not to share, however; so share we must. Pack your bags for Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Who?

When you say you’re heading to Vancouver Island, many people exclaim “Oh! Vancouver! I love that city!” Then you say, “Actually, I’m heading to Vancouver Island.”  This is often met with a quizzical look. A short hop from the beautiful city with its chic yoginis and trendy chefs is one of the West coast’s best-kept secrets. While the SoBo (Sophisticated Bohemian) vibe of Tofino has gotten some well-deserved attention of late, there’s a place in between hip Vancouver city and Tofino’s rugged SoBo vibe, that also deserves a visit: the Comox Valley.

Rooted in History, Looking Forward

If you want to take a step back in time to when people seldom locked their doors, families gather on summer lawns to listen to music together and smiles just seem easier to come by, visit the land of plenty. The Comox Valley has a rich native history and takes its name from the First Nations term “koumox” which means plenty.

And plenty there is. The natural, rustic beauty of the Island is a good place to start. My intrepid traveler of a grandmother always started a new adventure from the highest spot she could find. What better way to survey the Comox Valley than taking a floatplane up over a glacier? From the breathtaking aerial vantage point you can see glaciers, pristine waters, and bustling coastal villages connected by a few small roadways.

Queenesh Lake
Queenesh Glacier and Crater Lake

Once back on the ground, you’ll have your choice of adventures. When planning your trip, be sure to check the award-winning festival schedule. There are chef-driven culinary events, eco-friendly adventures and music of all types, seasonal sports, just to name a few.

For Foodies and Families

With a mild climate and Asian influence, as well as First Nations presence this region can literally be tasted in each meal. Seafood is prominent and not to be missed. Chowder festivals and shucking competitions bring Vancouver Aquarium experts, celebrity chefs, and seafood lovers together.

Vancouver Island MusicFest in July brings music lovers and environmentally minded together with its Living Green program and Earth Day Festival tie ins. Outside magazine named it one of the top 25 festivals in North America.

Some rare fossils lie in the Comox Valley just waiting for your budding archeologists to discover at the Paleontology Centre. With skate parks, climbing walls and loads of outdoor adventures, it’s hard to imagine a more family-friendly destination.

Outdoors and Inns

Clean, clear waters and temperate climate fill year-round farmers’ markets. Outdoors enthusiasts come for mM\ountain or road biking and hiking , skiing and snowboarding.  Inns like the Old House cater to families with mini kitchens, a pool and access to the small Courtenay river for paddle boarding or kayaking, roads for biking.

The Old House
The Old House

Whale watchers, birders and trekkers will not be disappointed on Vancouver Island. (The west coast of Vancouver Island is British Columbia’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.)  Comox Valley boasts miles of bike trails and rivers to paddle. Festivals are year round, too. WinterJam in January, for example.

Kayaking on the streams, the Courtenay and Campbell Rivers gets you up close to where the water meets the land. You may paddle up to an Inn like the White Whale and sample local brews, delicious oysters (ask for Fanny Bay or Mac’s) and great food. Keep an eye out for one of the regulars there, a sea lion named Charlie. He’s discovered this protected little spot, free of orcas that swim in the open waters. I thought he was a myth the locals teased tourists with – until he swam right by as if on cue!

 

The White Whale takes its name from the First Nations story of the Comox Glacier or “Queneesh” which provided safe haven for the First Nations people in the time of the great flood. The pub is a fine example of the laid back and welcoming culture of the valley.

For Hop Heads or Freds

Serious cyclists or newbies (AKA Freds) will enjoy the miles of bike friendly paths and roads around the Comox Valley. Throughout the year tours like the Farm Cycle Tour [LINK: http://discovercomoxvalley.com/cvfarmcycletour

let you eat your way from farm-to-farm guilt-free, while pedaling off the calories and taking in the scenery. For mountain bikers, there are miles of trails for all levels of ability and many operations to rent bikes, provide trail maps, and assistance.

Micro-brewing has taken off all around the valley you can sample many, but if you sample too many, better not get back on that bike or behind the wheel. Taxis are pretty easy to come by. There are also cycle shuttles that will pack anything you buy at farms or breweries enabling you to just ride!

Geoduck
Geoduck

Seeds of Change

The Comox Valley is growing and actively encouraging business and residential development. One hopes the economic growth will be balanced with environmental stewardship, building on hard lessons of its past. A bright spot is the burgeoning geoduck (pronounced “gooey – duck”) aquaculture business. Still primarily a luxury item for the Asian markets, geoduck is gaining in popularity with the growth of the Slow Food movement. Geoduck, for the unfamiliar, is a giant clam with a comically long neck (siphon).

There are active environmentalist and chef communities and you don’t have to go far to find a restaurant or a festival highlighting the importance of aquaculture to the economy.

Both oysters and geoduck aquaculture are good examples of economic activity that’s balanced with the concern for the environment.

Whether your interests are music, outdoor adventure, family-friendly travel, or culinary discovery – visit the Land of Plenty and visit soon. You’ll be so glad you did, you won’t be able to keep it to yourself.

IF YOU GO:

Driving in Comox brings its own special distractions. Bald eagles soar above while deer cross the streets like any other pedestrians. It’s rumored they use crosswalks on occasion, but beware of the common jaywalking deer.

Comox is an easy flight or ferry from Vancouver. Discover Comox Valley

Ride in a floatplane to see the glacier up close, take in the view of the valley from above. Harbour Air Seaplanes

STAY:

The Old House is well situated at crossroads and caters to ski groups, family events, tourists of all stripes.

The Kingfisher Oceanside Resort  is well known for the breathtaking views, luxury spa, excellent dining. Watch bald eagles from your ocean-side deck.

 

headshot_closeupWhen not writing about food or travel, Jacqueline Church is usually found teaching private cooking clients, guiding food and culture tours in Boston’s historic neighborhoods, or hosting videos for clients like FoodableTV. Her Oyster Century Club hosts tastings and tweetups all over Boston, spreading the joys of her beloved bivalves. You will also find her across social media (@JCCraves), and her clips live @ http://jacquelinechurch.pressfolios.com/ and her site JacquelineChurch.com.

 

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