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Cowichan Valley in August

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My husband and two teen boys will be spending a few days in August on Vancouver Island. We are staying at the Affinity Guesthouse in Cowichan Bay. Travel & Leisure did an article last year on the Cowichan Valley that lead us to include a few nights here. Otherwise, we would have only known of Victoria. While the article mentioned a few places to eat: Craig Street Brew Pub, Deerholme Farm, Hilary's Cheese & Deli, The Masthead, and Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, as well as Sooke Harbour House, I was hoping to get additional input on these spots and any others you may recommend. I tried researching on other threads on CH, but mostly came up with recs in Victoria, or Comox (which I doubt we'll drive that far). Any help would be appreciated. We love good food, especially locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and will venture to high end or hole-in-the-wall places or anything in-between.

We're also starting our trip in Banff & Jasper, if you have any restaurant recs for that area. Found plenty on info on CH for Vancouver! Thanks in advance!

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Harbour House Restaurant
607 Oswego St, Victoria, BC V8V4W9, CA

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  1. We love the Cowichan Valley with all its farms, wineries and artisan products. Can't beat Hillary's for cheese or a light lunch, True Grain Bakery of coffee and breads and pastries, The Masthead for dinner, Amuse Bistro near Shawnigan Lake, or Merridale Cidery's bistro for lunch or cider tasting. Also check out Stone Soup Inn near Cowichan Lake. The ultimate dining experience on Vancouver Island is Sooke Harbour House but it is almost an hour's drive from Cowichan Bay. We stay there 3 times a year and love their creative food and presentation. Much easier to relax and enjoy if you actually stay at the inn. There are also some casual seafood restaurants on the water on Cowichan Bay and bistros in downtown Duncan. There is lots of good food because the products are so fresh and local. Several good wineries where you can taste the locally grown wines in the Valley if that is of any interest. Don't miss the homemade ice cream at Udder Guy's on Cowichan Bay.

    5 Replies
    1. re: saraWM

      We were there years ago and visited a winery called Cherrypoint vineyards. We had the most amazing blackberry "port" dessert wine. I am not sure if they are still around or carry that product but if you are there it is definitely worth seeking out.
      We had lunch at the Aerie Resort which was very local and delicious. This was however about 6 years ago so I am not sure if it is still good but hopefully someone more recently familiar with it, chimes in for a more relevant review.

      1. re: selena03

        A number of BC Wineries now produce 'Blackberry Port'-haven't had a bad one yet.

        To my taste Madeline Sylvaner is the grape that suits Cowichan Valley terroir the best-sad to see so few producing it now.

        1. re: Sam Salmon

          Thanks, we'll look for it when we are there!

        2. re: selena03

          The Aerie Resort no longer exists, sadly. We have lost a treasure. There are a number of wonderful wineries, including Averill Creek, Rocky Creek, Godfrey-Brownell, Vignetti Zanatta, Venturi-Schutz, Alderlea, Twenty-two Oaks, Muse and many others.

          As far as restaurants go, Amuse in Shawnigan Lake is primo, as is the Sooke Harbour House . Both feature fresh local ingredients.

          If you are looking for pub fare, Craig St. Brew Pub in Duncan is a good choice for some lovely on-site produced beer, and in Victoria you can find first class fare at Spinnaker's which also has an on-site brewery.

          Enjoy the visit!

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          Harbour House Restaurant
          607 Oswego St, Victoria, BC V8V4W9, CA

        3. re: saraWM

          Thanks, saraWM, for all of your feedback! I'll check out Stone Soup Inn and the other places you mentioned. And we are absolutely going to Udder Guy's! I had a note on that from somewhere. And the Merridale Cidery is a must for my family! If you think of any other places by name, please post them.

        4. Great suggestions up above. I add the Zenatta winery restaurant - lovely spot for light lunch
          http://www.wineislands.ca/members/zan...

          If you're there on a Saturday, the Duncan farmer's market is well worth your while.
          http://www.marketinthesquare.net/

          3 Replies
          1. re: kinnickinnik

            Zenatta sounds like a great addition to our list. And I love the website you directed me to. Very helpful! And yes, the farmer's market is on our list. I love a good farmer's market!

            1. re: ellen23

              Deerholm is a fabulous experience. More like eating in someone's home and having a guest chef. Check his website for dates and menus. I was at a mushroom dinner that was incredible.

              1. re: cassie

                Cassie, that sounds fabulous! Looked up his website and it doesn't appear that anything is going on when we are there. :( I will check back again or try emailing them, since our visit is still 2 months away. It looks incredible!

          2. For something a bit different - The Crow and Gate in Cedar - and near-authentic plaster and beam English pub complete with black swans swimming in the pond on the 10 acre property. Steak and kidney pie, ploughman's lunch, oyster stew, roast beef, yorkshire pudding, bitters, ales, etc.

            1. Several years back, I took part in the MS Bike Tour Cowichan Valley Grape Escapes. It was a great twist on fundraising.....a culinary/wine tour through the Cowichan Valle on a bike. The course is all set out for you. It occurs yearly in August and if you go to the MS Website the route is outlined which basically highlights all the best places to visit. You can access the information here

              http://www.cowichanvalleygrapeescape....

              http://www.cowichanvalleygrapeescape....

              http://www.cowichanvalleygrapeescape....

              I loved the area so much after this trip that a couple of years ago I took my husband for a culinary tour of the area. We went for a three night getaway in August. We stayed at the Stone Wood Inn in the North Cowichan area which was amazing. They had a beautiful swimming pond built right into the property and the breakfasts were a real highlight to our day. We went kayaking for a day to Maple Bay through Wilderness Kayaking and there is a nice restaurant there called Grapevine on the Bay. Don't miss the farmer's market in Duncan on Saturday. For other dinners we went to Amuse Bistro in Shawnigan Lake and The Masthead in Cowichan Bay, both highly recommended. A nice day trip is a hike along the Cowichan River bed. We also went to the Sunday lunch at the Fairburn Culinary farm served family style on their patio which was quite nice though a bit on the pricey side.

              Sooke Harbour House is beautiful. My sister got married there several years ago but is quite a trek from the Cowichan valley. You might want to venture a bit north of the Cowichan Valley to Chemainus. They have a very nice theatre there and I remember going to a lovely place for high tea there called The Twisted Sisters Tearoom.

              1 Reply
              1. re: GoaGirl

                All great ideas! Thanks for the non-culinary recs as well. I'll check out the links you gave me as well, GoaGirl. And thanks fmed for the English pub. Hadn't come across that one yet.

              2. Venturi Schultze makes great wine and I hear balsamic vinegar too.

                1. We just got home from our trip yesterday and I have to say that we LOVED the Cowichan Valley!!! I'm plotting my next trip back there already, but decided I need to go with other adults next time. My kids loved it also and I'm so happy we did this trip together, but I'd like to check out more of the wineries and do some of the prix fixe dinners. It wasn't worth the $75+pp to pay for my kids when they weren't going to necessarily enjoy what was served. So we did not partake in any of those options. Here's what we did do:
                  We arrived in Cowichan Bay in time for dinner our 1st day, so headed directly to Masthead. We had a lovely dinner. We were seated inside, but near the deck and could enjoy the fabulous views of the bay and sunset. While they don't have a kids menu, they did simplify the preparation of the chicken dish to my son's liking and also made him french fries. He was thrilled. I didn't take notes on our meals, so I don't recall what everyone ate, but I know we enjoyed everything. They did have a very reasonable prix fixe option that my husband ordered. I think he had asparagus soup to start that we all enjoyed. And I think this is where my older son ordered the Beef Wellington minus the foie gras. And I'm sure I had fish and salad. The service was excellent as well.
                  We stayed at the Affinity Guesthouse, which I highly recommend. Dwight and Vanessa are amazing hosts. They grow raspberries and blackberries on the property, and lucky us, the raspberries were in season during our stay. They incorporated them into our breakfast every day. We had raspberry crepes the first day, blueberry/raspberry scones the 2nd, and raspberry smoothies & jam on the 3rd. Of course we also had eggs, bacon, french toast, etc to round out each meal. My son wants them to make us breakfast every day and ship it! He's a bacon fanatic and they even made a trip to the butcher just for him to get some local bacon. And what was left over from breakfast they packed up for him to take on our last day.
                  On our 1st full day, we went kayaking on the bay, so stopped at Hillary's for soup and sandwiches beforehand. The sandwiches were prepared on bread from True Grain next door, and were delicious. We loved the soups too. After kayaking, we got ice cream at Udder Guy's, which was delicious. (After being in the Rockies, where Nestle's apparently has a monopoly, it was such a pleasure to eat good ice cream again!) We had planned to eat dinner that night at Amuse Bistro, but had failed to make a reservation and they were booked full. So we tried Terrain Regional Kitchen in Cowichan Bay (in the Oceanfront Suites). The dining room also overlooks the bay and there was live music the night we were there. Unfortunately, the ambiance was otherwise completely lacking. The restaurant needs a complete overhaul to match the food. We enjoyed our food, but service was off and I had trouble getting past the decor. I think they lease the space from the hotel property. Hopefully they will find another location or update this one so that the food and atmosphere match.
                  On our 2nd full day, we ate our way through the Valley! After breakfast, we headed to the Duncan Farmer's Market. It's a great market with lots of locally produced goods, edible and otherwise. Dwight and Vanessa recommended that we stop at Brenda's Baked Goods for the cinnamon rolls. They are small and were about 50 cents each and they were awesome! We bought several things from Brenda and they were all yummy. I probably would have overlooked her stand if it had not been recommended. They also recommended that we have lunch at Alderlea Farm and Cafe in Duncan. We had met Farmer John the day before when he stopped by Affinity, so were delighted to pay his farm a visit. I think they are only open Tues, Fri & Sat. Oh my, was lunch good. This was exactly what we were looking for. Everything was freshly prepared in an open kitchen, run by John's wife, Katy. We enjoyed 3 kinds of homemade soup, fresh salad, and quiche. And Katy made up a plate of chicken for my younger son (you're probably noticing a theme here!) I recall one soup was chicken noodle with veggies, and I think another was something curried. The 3rd soup was a chilled raspberry soup with berries from Affinity. The rolls that accompanied everything were also delicious. We sat at a picnic table just out back overlooking the fields. The desserts looked delicious, but we were saving up for our next stop. Someone during our trip had told us that we had to go to Saison Market Vineyard in North Cowichan. They are only open on the weekend. Saison had a beautiful display of scrumptious looking baked goods. We enjoyed a lemon tart on the spot, and part of a Callebaut Chocolate mousse cake. We wrapped up the rest of the cake and a strawberry rhubarb tart for later. (Notice I can't recall what I ate for dinner, but I could tell you every dessert!) I think it was now 3pm and we were having dinner at 6, so we cut ourselves off. Oh and somewhere during that day my kids allowed us a stop at 1 winery, so we chose Averill. My favorite was the blackberry port, which one of you recommended. We brought a bottle of that home. Can't wait to uncork that! For dinner that evening, Dwight and Vanessa run canoe trips from Affinity (I think they call it Gumboot Canoeing). We set out around 5pm and rowed over to Genoa Bay. We enjoyed a great meal out on the deck and then rowed back to the guesthouse. I highly recommend it whether you stay at Affinity or not. After our day of eating I wasn't that hungry. I had a delicious spinach salad and a little seafood chowder. I think it was the 3rd seafood chowder my family ordered on the trip. It was the most traditional one, which meant it was very rich and creamy. I preferred the lighter ones we had, but i'm probably in the minority on that. I didn't try them, but the fish and chips looked amazing. My older son had rack of lamb. I cleaned his bones and they were quite tasty. My other son had a turkey sandwich and my husband had the chicken entree. The chicken was quite good also. We skipped dessert here as well because we had accumulated a smorgasbord during the day. Dwight and Vanessa joined us and we still had leftovers.
                  On our final day we were headed back to Vancouver, so stopped at Hillary's for sandwiches and cheese to take with us for the ferry. My son ran into True Grain to stock up on pretzel croissants as well.
                  I also have to mention Rembrandt chocolates in Duncan. While we came across many wonderful chocolate shops on our trip, my older son is allergic to nuts and can rarely partake in anything from most shops. But he always has me ask about allergens anyways in hopes of finding safe chocolates. We hit the jackpot at Rembrandt. We spoke to the owner and she makes everything there and she is very careful about segregating ingredients and is careful about cross-contamination. Talk about a happy kid in a candy store!
                  So all in all, our trip to Cowichan Valley was awesome. Loved the food, loved the people, loved the vibe. I could easily spend a week there. I feel like we only hit the tip of the iceberg. Almost forgot, we had lunch at Pizzeria Primastrada when we arrived our 1st day in Victoria. This is how we like our pizza, so it was delicious! The fennel salad with citrus fruits was also quite delish. Thanks for all of your help and guidance making the most of our time in Cowichan!!!

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                  Genoa Bay Cafe
                  5000 Genoa Bay, Duncan, BC V9L 5Y8, CA

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ellen23

                    Wonderful report!

                    Glad to hear you all had a fine time and Thanks for posting back-this is invaluable info for future trippers to the Cowichan Valley!

                    1. re: Sam Salmon

                      Yes, thanks for the great report.
                      Saison - so glad you were told to go there. A must stop if you're around Duncan on the weekends. At Christmas they have huge tortierre pies in a rustic crust (chicken pot pies other times of the year) - both are incredible (as well as everything else there)