Photo by Averill Creek
Summer is fast approaching and it’s time for those sneaky weekend getaways! Life is busy these days. You may not have time for a full vacation, but if you want to recharge with a mini adventure then a weekend getaway might be just what you need!
We are so lucky to have the Cowichan Valley just past our backyard! “Quw’utsun” is derived from the word “shquw’utsun” which means “warming your back in the sun”… which is fitting for this area known as The Warm Land. As Canada’s only Mediterranean climate zone the Cowichan Valley has the warmest year-round temperatures in the country making it the perfect home for artisanal food producers! Come along with us for a weekend get-away to the Cowichan Valley!
No weekend is complete without a trip to the local farmer’s market, and this is where we start our adventure! Held on Saturday mornings in the middle of Downtown Ducan, this year-round market hosts producers from around the Cowichan Valley and even some of your Victoria favourites. Grab some breakfast at one of the many bakery stands and meet the farmers and artisans growing and crafting in Cowichan. Some of our favourites are; breakfast from Chef Dan at the Farms Gate Foods truck, cheese curds from Haltwhistle Cheese, Wasabi Carrots from Hermeneutics Preserves and Wild Blackberry Gin from Stillhead Distillery.
Photo by @amy.is.busy
Newly opened this year, the next stop on our adventure is Promise Valley Farms to visit for grass-fed, cream-top milk. If you are lucky one of their heritage Guernsey cows will be close enough to pet! Bring a cooler with you and pick up some fresh milk from their self-serve milk dispenser for your morning coffee, or Wildflower Honey yogurt for breakfast. This 25-acre dairy farm is the only Vancouver Island farm with exclusively Guernsey cows, whose milk has only A2 beta-casein, which some believe is easier to digest. Can you taste the difference in the milk?
Just a little further down Richards Trail is our next stop, Westholme Tea Farm. On the sloping hill just above the tea store are rows of Camellia Sinensis tea bushes. These bushes were first planted in 2010, making Westholme the first and only commercial organic tea grower in Canada! While the indoor tea service stopped due to covid, you can book a Moroccan Tea Experience or a Tea Tour of the farm. Of course no at-home tea party is complete without a gorgeous tea set! Resident potter Margit Nellemann crafts stunning teapots, cups and bowls in which to serve this spectacular tea. If you’re a fan of tea this is a must-stop destination!
4. Riot Brewing
Making your way North to Chemainus our next stop is a beer lover’s dream! After touring the town’s extensive collection of murals, stop to watch the brewers work through the window then sample some of their best beers in a flight. The patio is open to outside food, so crack open your treats from the market or order from one of the nearby restaurants like The Sawmill Taphouse. Each can is a work of art with its own story and Riot Brewing has plenty of options. So fill that cooler for bringing some home!
Making your way back south the next stop on our adventure is Averill Creek Vineyard. Planted on the side of Mount Prevost in 2001 by Andy Johnston, this estate vineyard consists of 30 acres of planted vines just 12km from the coastline. The vines are surrounded by old-growth forest and grown in a blend of soil, clay and old-growth organics. This terroir combined with the expertise of winemaker Brent Rowland has resulted in some incredible wines. Indulge in a glass from the Joue collection on their patio overlooking the vineyard, or sample a tasting of all their current releases. If you’re lucky enough to score tickets for one of their events you can enjoy a meal from a visiting chef expertly paired with wine!
The final destination for our day is Duncan’s Old Firehouse for dinner. An artisanal bar with great food in an eclectic atmosphere, featuring a fantastic cocktail and zero-proof drink menu. The perfect way to conclude our day is with an incredible meal from Chef Ian Blom. His menu incorporates local ingredients into elevated dishes crafted from scratch and prepared with passion.
Our adventure isn’t over yet! Fall asleep under the stars in the valley, there are so many places to choose from. Spend a night in the vineyard at the Emandare Guest House or in a Yurt at Merridale’s apple orchard. Perhaps the Ocean Front Suits at Cowichan Bay are more your style? Whatever your style, the Cowichan Valley has it! Tourism Cowichan website has a full list of magical places to stay.
A good day always starts with a cup of something hot! For our adventure this means heading to Cowichan Bay to True Grain Bakery and Leeward Cafe. Located next door to each other this combo is the ideal destination for caffeine and pastry lovers! Their handcrafted bread & pastries are made with a wide variety of 100% BC-grown, BC-milled organic flours. If you’re a home baker don’t leave without a bag of their artisan flour!
8. Mt Tzouhalem
Now that we are properly energized it is time to embark on the active part of our adventure with a hike on Mt Tzouhalem, traditionally named Pi’paam. Bring a water bottle and good shoes for this 6km hike, and with some effort, find yourself strolling through the forest culminating in stunning views of Cowichan Bay and across the valley. Make sure to look at the directions and watch for mountain bikers… or bring your own bike (and safety kit)! Want a slightly easier option? Stoney Hill Trail Loop offers a nice 3.7km trail with views over the strait to Salt Spring Island.
9. Merridale Cidery & Distillery
Working up a sweat in the forest calls for one last stop on our way home… to sip some cider in Merridale’s orchard! A stone’s throw from Shawnigan Lake, visit their Farmhouse Eatery for a post-hike meal, we love their pies! Refresh with one of their craft ciders or a cocktail flight… or sip on cider in their orchard courtyard!
As we make our descent down the Malahat our adventure has come to an end. Slip back into the everyday routine feeling a little inspired and with your cooler full of treats from your Cowichan Adventure! But don’t worry. You can visit again as the Cowichan Valley is close by, with so many other places to explore!
Written by Amy Ayer