Wednesday June 2, 2021

A Promise of Reconnection

What do you do when your 11th wedding anniversary (the gift for which is steel?!) is coming up, and neither of you has the time or energy to plan an elaborate vacation! Yikes!

Soak in Vancouver Island’s natural beauty, of course, and do it in style.

My spouse, Charlie, and I narrowed down our favourite places on south Vancouver Island to enjoy over the course of one long weekend. After much (and occasionally heated) debate, we settled on The Malahat and Shawnigan Lake.

We moved to Victoria from Alberta just before the initial onset of COVID-19. A combination of that, my new job and their online-now work, we hadn’t had the chance to explore. Plus, moving is exhausting. We’d been in the same house for 15 years. We were also downsizing. Suffice to say, it was a lot, and I am never, ever, moving again. I don’t know if Charlie and I would survive another one (only partially joking).

Anyhow, I digress. Here’s our itinerary!

Book in at the Villa Eyrie, a European-styled alpine resort on the Malahat to dine, decompress and spa.

  • Check off Charlie’s bucket list conquering a fear of heights via the famous Malahat SkyWalk
  • Set up a hammock and homemade picnic on the Shawnigan lakefront for an afternoon
  • Round off our staycation with a visit to the Unsworth Vineyards, which came highly recommended by my boss, who lives in the area

The first stop was Villa Eyrie. It’s a one-hour drive from our downtown Victoria waterfront condo (swoon). Villa Eyrie offers views of both the Olympic Mountains and the Saanich Inlet. After an early start, we beelined for the in-suite Nespresso machine and spa-style bathroom to freshen up. I had surprised Charlie with a whirlpool tub upgrade. We had to exercise restraint lest we waste the day lounging in it. We decided to save that for later with a little Veuve Charlie didn’t know I brought.

The Alpina Restaurant was exquisite. We imagined it would be hard to match the mind-boggling view across the Malahat, but the meal was gorgeous. It feels a bit classy old-school with the table linens. The menu has classics like Jagerschnitzel (Charlie loved this), Gnocchi with wild and cultivated mushrooms, pecorino with truffle and parsley (my choice, so pillowy), and we devoured a sumptuous creme brulee with two spoons. A toast to that first-rate service!

Our favourite part of the Villa Eyrie and, in turn, what ended up making us choose it in the first place, was the Tuscan spa. There are three relaxation treatment rooms, a pedicure and manicure lounge and outdoor loungers with mountain views. Hello heaven and a mimosa. We chatted with their resident massage therapist and learned that their spa ingredients are 100% organic, locally sourced and customizable. Even the water used is sourced from the Malahat itself, apparently. We booked in for the couples massage. We had to do it back to back in compliance with things, which was understandable but a bit of a shame, but wow. We had to pour ourselves back to our room after, I kid you not.

We also took a gander around their terrace and are now weighing up renewing our marriage vows there. Our concierge said the terrace fits up to 40 guests and that celebrations usually take place beside their stunning koi pond—something to consider.

After a truly splendid visit to the villa, we moved on to the “daredevil” component of our trip. Charlie’s nerves go off at the idea of heights—we drove when we moved because they won’t fly. To set the tone and ease into things a little, we started the day learning the historical aspects of the drive. For example, we learned that the Trans Canada Highway 1 originated as a cattle trail in 1861, upgraded to wagon road standards in 1884. Charlie brought their tablet and captured fun facts like this.

The Malahat SkyWalk offers a “bird’s eye” view of the surrounding Mt. Baker, Finlayson Arm, the Saanich Peninsula and islands. It is 250 meters above sea level with breathtaking 360-degree views. We also learned that arbutus trees are incredibly fragrant! The entire location is fully immersed in nature with what seems like endless elevated walkways that wind through the Arbutus and Douglas Fir forest — an absolute must see.

Second-to-last on our checklist was Shawnigan Lake. Most-loved as a place to fish, swim and sunbathe during the summer months, we had been in the area once before five years ago to check out the Shawnigan Lake Museum. With its array of galleries, gift shops, eateries and even its sustainable learning community, we were badly tempted to sway from our original plan. However, we stayed the course and unpacked our hammock from the trunk of our car and set up on the lakeside.

Charlie was in charge of food and drink. They picked up a basket full of vegetarian bistro and bakery items from Owl’s Nest Bakery Bistro (and two impeccable iced lattes). We relaxed with magazines and listened to the sparkling water lapping the shore. The occasional powerboat careened by with water skiers, and there was a gentle, calming breeze. It felt like a proper summer getaway. I am only partially horrified by the atrocious farmer’s tan I received from sunbathing. Always remember to put on sunscreen in the morning (something I never do). As I write this, we are half-debating relocating to Shawnigan. But moving—blerg.

Finally, we toasted our weekend getaway… literally, at Unsworth Vineyards. Labelled “Canada’s Provence” by the late, distinguished foodie James barber, these family-owned vineyards star scenic views of rolling hills, a long list of locally-made red and white wines and rosés and an attached restaurant with an array of seasonal eats. We indulged in a three-course meal. As a vegetarian, I opted for the polenta fries, decadent beetroot falafel and chocolate tart. Charlie picked the smoky seafood chowder, pan-seared chicken, and seasonal fruit crumble. We stole bites of each other’s desserts and topped off the meal with a sampling of their dessert wine, Ovation.

But that is not all. We went on to our reserved Signature Tasting session. A guided sip-and-savour selection of five limited-production and premium Unsworth wines, Charlie adored the opportunity to learn more about Unsworth’s history and info on BC’s general wine industry. Our guide told us about Tim and Colleen Turyk’s purchase of the Unsworth Vineyards in 2009. After 40+ years working in BC’s fishing industry, Tim was reportedly immediately infatuated with the land and early 1900s farmhouse. The Turyks expanded the existing operation, restored the farmhouse, built the restaurant and the vineyard around sustainable, local practices.

Committed to making wines that reflect the unique soil and growing conditions of the Cowichan Valley, their lead winemaker Daniel Cosman and his team currently farm 12 acres of grape varieties at Unsworth Vineyards. Their oldest block is Marechal Foch, planted in 2007—the grape behind their award-winning Ovation, which we enjoyed as our dessert wine! In the summer of 2011, several Blattner varieties were produced, which have become big players in the orchestration of the Allegro and Symphony blends.

Unsworth was the perfect ending to what was, indeed, a quintessential local celebration. We even signed up for their UV Wine Club, which offers:

  • Hand-delivered wine delivered to your doorstep every May
  • 10% off on all wine tastings and gift certificates
  • Free shipping across Vancouver Island
  • UV Wine Club News
  • Wine education nights and classes with their resident winemaker, Dan Wright
  • Recipes from the Unsworth restaurant chef (which is amazing, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to live without those polenta fries now that I had tried them)

We are both so glad that we made our 11th wedding anniversary one to remember. Between the Villa Eyrie, the Malahat SkyWalk, hammocking at Shawnigan Lake and enjoying Unsworth, it was, hands-down, one of our most romantic and memorable summers yet.

Categories: Featured, Malahat