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When my sister-in-law and her husband moved several years ago from North Vancouver to Salt Spring Island, I’d never heard of the rustic Canadian refuge located between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. I’ve since discovered that I’m not the only one unfamiliar with the largest of British Columbia’s 15 Gulf Islands. Few know of this lush, green, uncongested Eden with a throwback vibe and an official invitation to “Discover Yourself Here.” Accessible only by boat, ferry, or seaplane, Salt Spring is a hidden-in-plain-sight utopia illustrative of the true essence of organic. And its incognito aspect is part of the charm. It takes a concerted effort to visit, and those that make that effort are more than rewarded. After four extended visits over the years, I’ve fallen head-over-heels for this island that I call my ‘happy place.’ I feel healthy, happy, and very much alive when on Salt Spring. Here’s why:
Salt Spring’s forests, mountains, and waterfronts are all reachable via miles of coast-hugging hiking trails and hilltop paths, each of which leads to stunning Pacific Northwest sea views. The island’s sparsely traversed two-lane roads (that semi-fill only when the daily ferry from Vancouver Island’s Swartz Bay arrives) are bike friendly. And the sailboats that dot Ganges Harbor are emblems of breezy freedom. The entire island is ‘al fresco’ accessible.
Honesty is Island Policy
Many Salt Spring residents farm their land, the bounties of which can be found within roadside farmstands where the honor system is admirably utilized. Pull over, and take your pick of freshly harvested cabbage, cucumber, garlic, broccoli, blueberries, raspberries, and whatever else might be in season, and simply leave your money in the cashbox. Honesty on Salt Spring is a respected policy. At Stowel Lake Organic Farm’s honor system farmstand, shoppers will also find house-made specialties such as turmeric hummus, peanut butter energy balls, and chocolate-covered almonds.
From a full-service Relais & Chateaux hotel to luxurious B&B’s to modest motels to forested cottages to campsites, Salt Spring features accommodations for every budget. Go high at the gracious Hastings House overlooking picturesque Ganges Bay within the island’s urban center, or go low by pitching a tent at one of many campgrounds.
Wellness Within Reach
Salt Spring is home to Canada’s premier organic spa – Solace Organic Spa – a peaceful haven that features a private, forested hydrotherapy circuit of infrared sauna, hot pool, and cold plunge. The ancient hot-cold-relax ritual is both energizing and soothing, and when followed by a therapeutic massage with Solace’s bespoke oil blends, is utterly transportive. This is a place to envelope yourself in all that is Salt Spring – the beauty, the tranquility, and the power of nature to heal – “a harmony of the senses,” says Julie James, Solace’s owner and a Salt Spring islander for more than 25 years. Take home a bit of the Solace experience with their branded, organic skincare products formulated in small batches using ecologically and ethically conscious sourced ingredients. For further enjoyment of the relaxed atmosphere, book the Spa’s Lotus Loft for an overnight stay.
Those who know Salt Spring are surely familiar with its Studio Tour – a self-guided journey amongst 21 of the island’s artisans. Grab the studio map and seek-out island offerings such as wine, cider, woodcraft, glass, pottery, jewelry, textiles, and cheese. Many studios highlight artisans at work. At Lavender & Black’s organic lavender and helichrysum farm, find organic essential oils and aromatherapy blends, elixirs, and fragrances to aid in sleep health, vitality, skincare, and overall wellness. Ciderworks features organic, single-orchard cider in flights or bottles. And at BeeLoved Earth Candle & Soap, find 100% pure Canadian beeswax candles and natural soaps handmade in small batches.
From early April through late October, rain or shine, Salt Spring’s oceanside Centennial Park is home to the Saturday Market where more acclaimed artisans sell their wares. Find local pottery, organic skincare, organic produce, cheeses, clothing, accessories, jewelry and so much more. All vendors must “make it, bake it, or grow it” themselves, and all products must be “vendor produced and sold.” This is Salt Spring’s communal living room where the conscious community gathers en masse to celebrate the bounty of their island.
Ruckle Provincial Park
One of the most beautiful parks in the southern Gulf Islands, Ruckle Park features a mixture of field, forest, and shore with hiking trails, cliffside picnic tables, and grassy meadows in which to pitch a tent. This is a birdwatcher’s paradise, where eagles and cormorants are easily spotted.
Natural Beauty, Everywhere
As one who has taken pains over the years to cover my grays, it is liberating to witness a profusion of unadulterated hairlines on this island. The lack of overt vanity is empowering and provides unspoken encouragement to just ‘be.’ As we’ve all been taught, beauty comes from within, and on this island, one believes and feels that tenet to be truer than true.