I grew up in Vancouver and, like most folks, whiz on the freeway right through the Fraser Valley en route to elsewhere. But the fertile delta alongside the Fraser River – from bucolic South Langley through rural Agassiz, Abbotsford and Chilliwack to Harrison – has evolved into a budding, thriving mini-Provence, hardly known as a foodie destination to Vancouverites even though it's just 40 minutes from downtown.
Unpretentious and low key, you'll come across everything from cheese makers to tulip farms. Though it's rural, there's a handful of good restaurants working hard to use area products, plus hot springs, golf courses, cozy inns and country roads perfect for bicycling (the Slow Food movement organizes annual cycle tours). It all makes for a great weekend getaway – especially for food lovers. Here are my favourite spots to sample local flavours.
Domaine de Chaberton
Before you load a case of estate-grown wines (try the dry, fruity Madeleine Sylvaner) into the trunk, enjoy a meal at Bacchus Bistro and take in view of the sunny vineyard. Executive chef Ashley Chisham presents excellent bistro fare, such as grilled fresh local steelhead paired with local wines. It's no surprise the restaurant routinely garners kudos as one of British Columbia's best winery restaurants. 1064-216 St., Langley; 604-530-1736; domainedechaberton.com
Neck of the Woods
The standout at this winery is the delightful sparkling Blanc de Noir Brut. The 2008 vintage won silver at Oregon's 2011 Northwest Wine Summit. "All the grapes are from our seven acres of Blanc de Noir and we use the traditional French Champagne method," says manager Colleen Demers. "People think they need to drive five hours to the Okanagan for good B.C. wine tastings, but they're wrong," she continues. "That's why our new label is called Backyard wines; we're right in Vancouver's backyard." 3033-232nd St., Langley; 1-866-233-9463; neckofthewoods.ca
This estate in South Langley takes advantage of the area's microclimate, which is similar to that of Northern France. The property is full of old walnut trees whose fruit winds up not only in their preserves but also in their signature sip, D'oro, a fortified walnut wine made to an old French recipe that won bronze at the 2012 Shanghai International Wine Challenge. Another gem is their Pinot Noix, a sherry-like wine made from pinot noir grapes aged with brandy-macerated walnuts. 346-208th St., Langley; 604-514-3539; vistadoro.com
At this quirky farm, potter Lynda Scobie works the wheel while her partner, Dan, is in charge of a 1919 flame coffee roaster. Grab a cup of fresh brew and wander the grounds to commune with goats and chickens, then rummage through a pioneer cottage stacked with antiques and collectables. The couple offers organic goodies from their garden, including fresh eggs and 14 types of garlic. 6116 Golf Rd., Agassiz; 604-796-9871 bcfarmfresh.com
In the fall, many hazelnut orchards offer pick-your-own each October. But why wait until then to stock up? This small shop carries hazelnuts in myriad flavours (candied, roasted, spicy), hazelnut butter and – the can't miss – espresso hazelnuts. 6682 #7 Highway, Agassiz, 604-796-2136 discoveryorganics.ca
Farm House Natural Cheeses
The head cheese-maker at this family owned dairy farm has been inducted into the prestigious French Cheese Guild, which protects traditional cheese making. You can taste a roll call of goat and cow gouda, brie, cheddars and even Quebec-style curds. 5634 McCallum Rd., Agassiz; 1-877-496-8741
If your time is limited, get a taste for the area at this lakefront café in Harrison Hot Springs. "We serve Back Porch coffee, our duck comes from Yarrow, our heirloom tomatoes from Spence's Bridge and the pork is from Chilliwack," says Richard Fife, who opened the spot with Jenny Peters last spring. "Except for our Vancouver-made nacho chips, everything on the menu is from within 50 miles of here." Lunch mains start at $8. 328 Esplanade, Harrison Hot Springs; 604-796-5563
River's Edge Restaurant
This restaurant is part of Rowena's Inn, a century-old English manor that overlooks the Fraser River, mountains and an 18-hole golf course. It serves casual, contemporary West Coast cuisine, but if you're looking for something special, stop by midday for the proper afternoon tea – mini sandwiches and all. 14282 Morris Valley Rd., Harrison Mills;1-877-796-1001; sandpipergolfclub.com