Seeking solitude? A walk on a remote beach on Canada's wild west coast with some fine food on the side, is my favourite kind of retreat.
(Cinda Chavich photos)
By CINDA CHAVICH
For me, nothing is as luxurious as solitude.
Across this wide stretch of sand, a flock of tiny shorebirds dances from sea to shore in an aerial ballet. The only sound is the rhythm of breaking waves. My busy mind is quiet.
There aren’t too many places where you can dine at some of the top tables in the country and, in mere moments, retreat into this kind of calm. But here, on the wild, west coast of Vancouver Island, I’ve found that rare spot, where creature comforts and true wilderness share a happy symbiosis.
The Wickaninnish Inn is built on a rocky point at the end of Chesterman Beach, wedged between churning ocean and majestic rainforest. The Wick, as locals know it, is the epitome of rustic elegance, the hand-carved cedar entrance doors welcoming guests into its warm, indigenous-inspired interiors.
Once ensconced in a cozy suite, you may find it difficult to get out of your fluffy bathrobe and tear yourself away from the view. But it’s hard to resist the allure of the rippling sands, expansive at low tide and shimmering at sunset.
When the winter storms come crashing in, you can pull on your complimentary hotel rain slicker and boots and wander down the beach to chat with a artisan in the Carving Shed, or simply go out to face the sea spray head on, then warm up by the fire with a briny glass of local Kelp Stout and a plate of house-smoked and cured salmon.
Even if you can't get a reservation for dinner, a seat at the bar, a few steps above The Pointe Restaurant, for lunch or cocktails, puts you right in the heart of this prime oceanfront location, with a panoramic view of the dramatic Pacific Ocean beyond a curving wall of glass. Or you can head down to the impressive new wine cellar, literally blasted out of the rock beneath the dining room, to taste rare wines around a 20-foot, yellow cedar slab table.
With fresh Dungeness crab, salmon, oysters and halibut delivered to their door, and wild gooseneck barnacles, sea asparagus, golden chanterelle mushrooms and bull kelp at hand, chefs have plenty of local inspiration.
Chef Carmen Ingham celebrates it all in his artful tasting menus. Whether it’s a pristine piece of halibut braised with kelp, or a tender agnolotti, stuffed with wild mushrooms and topped with nettle pesto, it’s food inspired by its unique setting, often foraged by the chef himself.
The friendly concierge offers ideas for other explorations, whether it’s an old
growth forest trail, the best place to catch a wave, or eat a famed Tofician fish taco.
A new generation of entrepreneurs is making the area a mecca for food lovers, and many honed their skills at The Wick. Former hotel chef Nick Nutting created Tofino’s acclaimed Wolf in the Fog restaurant, a room with a cool vibe and a focus on wild Pacific seafood, foraging, communal feasting and creative cocktails.
Chef Warren Barr is the latest Wick alumnus to make waves, opening award-winning Pluvio Restaurant + Rooms in Ucluelet. With Barr’s playful yet refined cuisine celebrating island ingredients, and four boutique guest rooms, it’s a new destination for discriminating diners.
Or visit chef Ian Riddick up the street at Heartwood Kitchen, for his Ukee breakfast, brunch and dinner, from killer crab cakes to local ling cod and albacore tuna.
Looking for more invigorating experiences? Book a private surfing lesson with Surf Sister at Cox Beach, then try the boat-to-table fare at Surfside Grill and a sunset cocktail at the Long Beach Lodge. Paddle a dugout canoe, carved by a Tla-o-qui-aht master carver, and walk among the 1,000-year-old cedars with a First Nations guide. Try hooking a big Chinook salmon or free diving to catch your dinner at the Tofino Resort and Marina.
You can also stay in a comfortable suite, complete with a kitchen for cooking your own catch at Pacific Sands beach resort, or set up camp in one of the coastal campgrounds.
The stretch of Long Beach at the centre of Pacific Rim National Park — 22 kilometers of sand and surf — is literally at the end of the road, a place to truly find space and serenity.