With fall in full effect, Vancouver is under constant cloud cover and I want out! What can I do this weekend to get out of the gloom?
Hop on a ferry or seaplane and head over to Salt Spring Island.
Really? Isn’t it just as wet and rainy there?
Sometimes, but since the Southern Gulf Islands have their own Mediterranean-like microclimate, the average rainfall is much lower here. Plus, our coastal breezes continuously blow away those pesky rainclouds.
Wait, you said “here” and “our”. Are you there right now?
Sure am. I’m a born-and-bred Salt Springer. We’re rare since most of the population of 11,000 consists of “blow-a-shores,” who came here for a weekend holiday, fell in love with the island, bought property and never left. (You’ve been warned!)
Besides the weather advantages, why should I visit in the fall or winter, rather than the popular summer months?
To be brutally honest: There are fewer mainlanders. As the days get shorter and the tour buses disappear, islanders emerge from the end of their long driveways and the sense of community swells. During the fall/winter/spring, you’ll actually get a feel for how locals live, when parking spots are plentiful (do bring or rent a car to get around), ferry lineups are manageable and everyone says hi when walking by.
I like the idea of seeing the “authentic” Salt Spring. Where should I start?
Salt Spring is a hotbed of creativity; the local lore is that it has one of Canada’s highest per-capita rates of artists and artisans. The summertime Saturday Market draws huge crowds, but it’s the handful of festive Christmas craft fairs scattered across the island in late November and early December that locals flock to.
Salt Springers seek out unique handmade gifts and catch-up time with neighbours at these fairs, hosted in pretty, century-old heritage halls decorated with fresh cedar and fir boughs and twinkling fairy lights. Grab a cup of homegrown apple cider and a gingerbread cookie, browse the colourful stalls and feel the festive mood fall over you.
Another surefire way to get into the laid back mindset of the island’s slow season is to sign up for a yoga class. There are a number of amazing yoga studios and private instructors, such as the Gatehouse and Salt Spring Mobile Yoga — but if you want to go old school, it’s Salt Spring Centre of Yoga. Founded in 1981 on the teachings of guru Baba Hari Dass and classical ashtanga yoga, this dynamic spiritual centre sits mid-island on 69 acres of dreamy forests and working farmlands, providing an idyllic setting for a morning of stretching and meditation. (Look on the schedule for Hanna’s classes for an introspective treat.)
Now that I’m all blissed out from a day of yoga and craft shopping, where should I go at night?
Salt Spring isn’t exactly known for its bumping night life. That being said, if you know where to look you can find some pretty cool (and quirky) things to do once the sun sets … at 4:37 pm.
The Pottery, an adorable potters-collective studio and shop in Fulford Village, recently launched Clay Nights, a weekly Friday-night workshop where you spend two hours under the patient guidance of a professional potter, hand-building mugs, bowls, vases or any other funky vessel you can dream up ($45; includes all materials, tea and an excellent playlist). It’s mucky, messy and totally engrossing — as well as a fun, interactive place to meet locals.
Musicians also make up a large part of the island’s artistic community: Tom Hooper of the Grapes of Wrath, Matt Johnson of 54-40, multi-Juno-nominated Harry Manx, and Canadian folk legend Valdy all call the island home. Perhaps it’s that pedigree that draws other world-class musician to our shores, and the best place to see them in winter is the Salt Spring Folk Club, a seasonal concert series at Fulford Hall. Before the music starts at 7 p.m., local caterers serve up an in-season dinner amidst the delightful din of enthusiastic conversations and laughter.
Now, I know you have a place to sleep, but what about me?
I recently organized a mini-staycation for my husband’s birthday at Solace Organic Spa, a holistic boutique spa in the lush south-end woods that offers one- and two-night wellness retreats in their rustic Lotus Loft (you’ll need mobility to navigate the ladder to the loft bed). Our Solace for Two – Romantic Spa Retreat ($425 a couple) began with a dish of chocolate-covered strawberries and side-by-side massages, continued with a private sauna, hot-tub session and use of their botanical body products, and ended with some relaxation in front the fireplace with a complimentary bottle of Salt Spring Vineyards Blackberry Dessert Wine.
For something closer to the main town of Ganges with knowledgeable hosts and a delicious, locally sourced breakfast, Hedgerow House’s year-round guest suite is also a delightful option ($110/night). At this small modern inn, the amenities are plentiful and include a specialty-tea bar, an electric-car charging station, and a secluded garden with a hot tub and sauna.
All this planning has worked up an appetite. Where should I grab a bite and good cup of coffee?
If you’re coming on a weekend, you’ll get to experience an island secret — brunch at Francis Bread. After selling their wood-fired, organic B.C.-grain bread during the summer Saturday Market, the owners opened a café serving lovingly prepared dishes using island-sourced produce in November, 2018, and instantly gained a loyal following. Since during the winter they’re only open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., come early for the best bread selection and to taste their everchanging menu, featuring items such as roasted delicata squash tartine with brown buttered hazelnuts and pecorino.
Stop in at Switchboard Café on Hereford Avenue for the best latte in town. Named after the telephone switchboard that used to be housed in its tiny heritage building, this high-energy coffee shop provides a bevy of hot bevvies, as well as prime people-watching. For a taste of another unique island experience, walk a few minutes through town to Mateada Lounge, a beautifully designed concept café built around yerba mate and nourishing superfoods. The daily soup, made from farm-fresh ingredients and served with gluten-free seed bread, and a Magic Mate Latte will warm you right up.
The only question left is — how will you fit all these island secrets into just one weekend?
Some of the writer’s experiences were subsidized by Tourism Vancouver Island. It did not review or approve this article.
FALL FUN ON SALT SPRING
Winter Solstice Gift Shop, Salt Spring Gallery of Fine Art, Nov. 15-Dec. 28
Wintercraft, Mahon Hall, Nov. 29-Dec. 22
Christmas Market, Lions Hall, Nov. 29-Dec.1
WinterFaire, Salt Spring Island United Church, Nov. 30
Fulford Hall Christmas Craft Fair, Dec. 6-8
Beaver Point Hall Christmas Craft Fair, Dec. 6-8
Bach on the Rock - Singalong Messiah, Fulford Hall, Nov. 30
Wreath Workshop at Salty Pear with Tara McHugh Flora, Nov. 30
Gathered by the Fire: Ancient Music for Yule, All Saints by the Sea Anglican Church, Dec. 8
Christmas With Scrooge, Fulford Hall Dec. 13-15, Dec. 20-22
Sing with Joy: Winter Concert and Singalong, ArtSpring, Dec. 14-15