Eat Your Way Through the Gulf Islands

There's no better place to cozy up, storm watch and comfort-food yourself into fall and winter than the Gulf Islands during the “secret season.” Here's a three-day weekend itinerary to fuel your hibernation

There’s no better place to cozy up, storm watch and comfort-food yourself into fall and winter than the Gulf Islands during the “secret season”

Here’s a three-day weekend itinerary to fuel your hibernation…

Galiano Island

1. Sturdies Bakery and Cafe

Your first foodie stop is a short walk from the ferry terminal: this modest-looking one-room bakery cafe has shelves and a showcase heaving with house-baked goods. Get there early and people-watch and eavesdrop your way through the morning, as the local crowd changes from early-shift workers to stroller moms, remote-working laptoppers and old hippies talking politics. Find big rustic loaves of whole wheat or spelt bread and goodies from apple hand pies to scones, plus entire cakes and pies, with a backdrop of good strong coffee and local art on the walls. Stop in at the bookstore next door, which also appears humble but houses more than 25,000 titles.

2. Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa

During the sunny months the covered patio of La Lena Pizza Patio (which reopens next May) is the place for thin-crusted pies like chorizo with B.C. mushrooms. At lunch, cozy Atrevida Restaurant has big fresh salads like rocket greens with praline pecans, blue cheese and tart pickled onions; add tuna poke, salmon or prawns to make it a meal. On winter weekend mornings, it serves breakfast, plus dinner Wednesdays through Sundays—with prime rib on Sundays. With 20 suites and 10 villas (ask for one with a wood-burning fireplace and soaker tub room), you won’t want to leave your room—except to hit the eucalyptus steam room and a massage at the Inn’s Madrona Del Mar Spa.

3. Woodstone Manor

With nearby foraged-food temple Pilgrimme raising the bar on the local culinary scene (book several weeks in advance), the boutique getaway just down the road raised the ante with a three-star Michelin chef. Nestled into the forest, with decor from the eclectic mansion of your imaginary rich relatives (from suits of armour to Faberge eggs and Ming vases), chef Sekihata Katsuyuki is producing a tasting menu that’s as local in ingredients, French in technique and Japanese in its minimal, elegant presentation. Charcuterie boards with house-preserved vegetables and fruit compote and an outstanding bowl of seafood chowder (teeming with mussels, clams, cod, sockeye, scallops and prawns in a silky, light cream broth) could make a meal. Mains like lamb chops with ratatouille and touch of thyme are a standout, especially with thoughtful pairings by wine-savvy servers like Rhiannon Davis. If your evening out turns into a late-night pint at the nearby Hummingbird Pub, you can safely take the yellow pub bus shuttle (driven by local legend Tommy Transit) back to the marina or campground.


Pender Island

1. Vanilla Leaf Bakery Cafe

Grab an adorable coffee mug sweater by Pender crafter Debra Hunt at Talisman Books & Gallery then head here for your morning caffeine injection, green smoothie or humongous, hot cinnamon bun fix. Thick breakfast sandwiches or a brie and mushroom croissant are other options; bagels and lox are a Friday highlight, as is an Island Ice Cream cart during warm weather.

2. Jo’s Place

With decor that’s part pop-culture movie-and-TV shrine, part spots bar, this all-day cafe has a big, tasty menu, with a huge range of all-day-breakfast Bennies, sandwiches and omelettes. The Pender Bowl is packed with rice, veggies, nuts, greens and tofu and the house-made wild salmon cakes make a dynamite lunch, sided with a piled-high salad. Saturdays there’s always a special pancake or French toast, and daily drink specials start at 9 a.m.!

3. Twin Island Cider

After lunch, take a tasting trip to this farm-based cidery, which harvests apples and pears from “heritage orchards and backyards” on Pender, Saturna and Mayne Islands, fermented using native yeasts for spectacularly tart, funky results. On weekends from 12-4 p.m. get samples, bottles and growler fills, including small-batch releases.

4. Woods on Pender

The Woods on Pender is like camping, but better: think hip Airstream campground (some with bunkies for extra beds, plus rustic cabins and a 9-room motel) with hot tubs, fire pits, outdoor showers and high wooden fences for privacy in your own little camp. The trailers have tiny kitchens, but let owner and chef Curtis Redel do the cooking. Start with a signature G&T (with cucumber juice and sprinkle of citrus sea salt and pepper); a dozen B.C. wines, beers and ciders are also on tap. Ask for a bottle of Sea Star Vineyards, the sold-out, Pender Island winery that will become your new B.C. favourite. Thin-crust pizzas and decadent cream-sauced, gluten-free gnocchi are must-trys at dinner; Pender Pasta Co. noodles (in flavours like sriracha and beet) are made right upstairs, and also for sale here. For dessert, ask for s’mores kits to toast on your own firepit. The popular Camp Truck that feeds happy campers all summer is running Camp Kitchen from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Monday in the off-season; Coffee + Kitchen restaurant serves dinner and brunch Friday through Sunday through the end of the year.


Salt Spring Island

1. Mateada

Open from 8 a.m. Tuesday to Saturday, this cafe wakes you up with authentic Argentinian-style yerba mate, which has the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea and the euphoria of chocolate all in one beverage.” It’s served hot, as a latte, in a flight of flavours on tap or nitro-infused; there’s also kombucha, and a menu of “elixirs” like the anti-inflammatory Golden Dragon Milk (with turmeric, ginger, ashwaghanda). Acai blends, smoothies, bowls and boards (spreads of everything from avocado toast to smoked salmon) are the way to start a healthy day.

2. Buzzy’s Luncheonette

This tiny lunch stop is refreshingly the opposite of your gluten-free, local, healthy options. Order an Old School sandwich with Montreal-style smoked meat on marble rye, served with a tart pickle spear and coleslaw. Delicious crispy latkes are pillowy and dense. If all that sounds good, the decadent Fat Jewish piles all of it right on a thick sandwich. There’s Matzoh ball soup in cold weather and all-dressed rugelach cookies for dessert.

3. Foxglove Farm

A star of the Tuesday and Sunday Salt Spring Markets, with pretty produce like candy-cane striped beets and leafy long-stemmed ginger that just begs to be ‘grammed, Foxglove Farm, a local-food beacon that comes under the umbrella of local-food advocate (and Sole Food Farms visionary) and farmer Michael Ableman, is open for self-guided or guided visitor tours. Foxglove also offers accommodation (a restored log home, farm cottage or cozy cabin) and fresh produce and eggs for guests who stay and eat in.

4. The Bistro at Hastings House Country House Hotel

For an elegant night out, nosh in the Bistro, located in an enclosed verandah of this venerable Relais & Chateaux country inn, with sunset and Ganges Harbour views. The menu has fun throwback dishes like buttery escargot, comforting shepherd’s pie and schnitzel. The applewood-smoked trout starter is the local favourite for a reason. Stay the night in a cozy historic barn room, a modern hillside suite or your own three-bedroom cottage, and you can roll right home for the night after dinner.