Sailing through Canada’s gorgeous Gulf Islands

- Nicole Humphries-Voorhoeve, Guest Blogger

After a few nights of sleeping on a sailboat, Kristina and I (as the two females on the trip) decided it was time to get off the boat and into comfortable beds. So we headed to Hastings House Country Estate on Salt Spring Island and Poets Cove Resort and Spa on Pender Island.

One of the best things about the West Coast of Canada is its awe-inspiring natural beauty. And there is nothing like a sailing trip around the Gulf Islands to make you realize what an incredibly unique place it is.

My husband, Paul, is an avid sailor, and he and our good friend Cailan did most of the work on our adventure, leaving Kristina and I to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

After a few short forays to some of the area’s smaller islands, our first major stop was Salt Spring Island. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite Gulf Islands, and notable names from all over the world seem to agree.

Bill Gates owns property here, and celebrities like Tom Sellick, AI Pacino, Robin Williams and Barbra Streisand have also been known to frequent the island. Thanks to the people who call Salt Spring their home, the place has been infused with a unique, independent, and artistic spirit… the locals have certainly brought the place to life.

Hastings House, an enchanting property that was originally built in the early 20th century, was our accommodation on Salt Spring. Warren Hastings, a British naval architect, moved to Salt Spring with his bride in 1937 and built the Manor House in 1940 to resemble his 11th century Sussex-style family home.

The original house was built in the Tudor style, and its charm and beauty is overwhelming to this day. How’s this for attention to detail: the stones for the fireplaces and chimneys were all quarried on the estate’s own land, the wood floors are of end-grain fir, random width, fastened with black boat nails, and the iron hardware for hinges on the doors and iron window frames were made by the local blacksmith. Apparently, a clay pot Mr. Hastings brought from England is still buried beneath the hearth… “to keep the witches away.”

We stayed in a suite in the Manor House, and every detail of the place was exceptional, from the gorgeous view, to the huge bathroom, cozy fireplace, incredibly comfy beds and a breakfast hamper of fresh-baked muffins and scones that arrived at our door with a pot of coffee in the morning.

The gardens at Hastings House are truly exceptional, thanks to  Shelley Kobylka and her delightful dog, Cali. The walking trails around the property are beautiful and peppered with original sculptures.

And dinner at Hastings House… wow. We were brought cocktails and a snack on the veranda in front of the Manor House while the sun was still shining, and once inside, it was difficult to leave. I think our dinner lasted about five hours in total and was absolutely incredible. We all opted for the three course option, and each one was awesome: a perfectly seared scallop as an amuse bouche, then a blue cheese salad, crab cake, or broccoli and boursin soup.  Followed by the most delicious salmon, halibut, and lamb imaginable (there were 4 of us, mind you, so we all tried a bite of each other’s selections).  And then dessert, of course… which was incredible. Kristina ordered the chocolate pâté, and it was amazing!!

The hotel is introducing a new guest chef program this summer – “Chefs Across the Water” – where top chefs will be preparing five-course dinners in the Hastings House kitchen, incorporating Salt Spring Island’s produce, seafood, and meats. Wine pairings will be offered to complement the extraordinary menus, and the events will raise awareness of the health and economic benefits of using local, organic and sustainable ingredients… illustrating how local farming is being challenged by changing regulations that favor large agri-businesses. Our server, Michael, told us about an interesting initiative to create a designated slaughterhouse (close to the on-island farms) on Salt Spring Island so that the animals won’t have to be shipped to Cowichan Bay first. I couldn’t agree more with that idea!

Hastings House is located right next to the town of Ganges, making it close enough to anything you could possibly need. And one evening, after exploring Mount Maxwell, we drove to a restaurant called Rock Salt for dinner – another place I would highly recommend. The best tzatziki, salad, halibut, and dessert I’ve had in a long time!

Saltspting Island was definitely a difficult place to leave, but the fact that we were headed to Poets Cove Resort, Spa and Marina on Pender Island for our last three nights made it bearable.

In fact, as we pulled up to the marina at Poets Cove, we realized that this place was a boater’s dream.

Located on South Pender, the resort feels wondrously remote and faces out onto an idyllic bay. The marina staff is extremely helpful and we had no trouble at all locating a berth and tying up before heading up the hill to check out our new lodgings for the next (and final) few days of our trip.

Thanks to the hard work of the resort’s relatively new GM, Walter Kohli, this beautiful resort has been revitalized and is now running like a well-oiled machine.  It boasts a truly international staff (surprisingly so, considering its location!), fantastic food, amazing amenities, and a magnificent spa.

When we entered the lobby of the main building, it felt much like walking into a gorgeous ship. And the hallways leading this way and that make you feel like you could be walking through the Titanic instead of through a hotel!

Ina Timmer was kind enough to suggest we stay in one of the resort’s villas for the first night…. and it was gorgeous. The villas are two storied townhouse style accommodations and the view from our private patio was amazing. For our last two nights, we moved into a cottage – complete with hot tub – and reveled in our last couple of days of freedom before returning back to the real world.

The wildlife on Salt Spring was beautiful and not timid at all. On Pender, however, this was even more the case! Deer would practically walk right up to our doorstep, and we’ll never forget the sight of a huge dog sitting mildly by as a doe and her fawn waltzed past him near the pool. Adorable.

Poets Cove was the perfect way to end our trip, and our leisurely sail back to the main island was on a beautiful, sunny day – the weather seemed to be reflecting our mood. Note to self for next time: unless on a ship that resembles the Titanic, head straight to places like Hastings House and Poets Cove… skip the sleeping on the boat idea.

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