By John Gilchrist
It’s early evening and we’re on a trail through the rainforest on Vancouver Island’s west coast, a few kilometres south of Tofino. The trail is lush and dense with huge cedars and Sitka spruce, drops of the afternoon rain still dripping from the forest canopy. We round a corner and there stands a smiling server dressed in black and white, a tiki torch behind her, and a tray of glasses bubbling with Blue Mountain Brut in her hands. We take a glass and a sip and soldier on to Shell Beach, one of the Wickaninnish Inn’s special places, where we are to indulge in dinner on the beach.
Yes, roughing it in West Coast style is the thing at the Wickaninnish Inn. (Regulars, once initiated into the ways of the 75-room Relais & Châteaux property, call it “The Wick.”) Perched on rocks above the sweeping Chesterman Beach, The Wick has helped transform Tofino and area into a year-round tourist destination.Built for storm-watching, the Wick’s two buildings face the ocean, offering views from a number of comfortable settings. As the waves, seemingly rolling all the way from Japan, crash on the shore, you can lounge inside and enjoy the view, or don The Wick’s weather gear for a stroll outside. As owner Charles McDiarmid says, “On the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices.”
Cozying up in The Pointe Restaurant or The Driftwood Café are good – and much drier – options. The menu of seafood -focused regional cuisine brings spot prawns, Dungeness crab, halibut and Northern Divine sturgeon caviar to the table, skillfully prepared by chef Warren Barr and his talented staff. The Wick has a long tradition of fine chefs, dating back to its first in Rod Butters, now of Kelowna’s RauDZ. Mark Filatow (Kelowna’s Waterfront Wines) and Nick Nutting (Tofino’s Wolf in the Fog) also spent some time there, honing their skills, and Calgary’s Duncan Ly (Foreign Concept) and Justin Labossiere (Concorde Group) started their careers in The Wick’s kitchen. (You’ll find many of their recipes in The Wickaninnish Cookbook, a new – and gorgeous – collection of recipes from
many of The Wick’s chefs.)
Back in the rainforest, we take a nature walk – another service offered by The Wick — with local guide Nora Morrison, a delightful and knowledgeable U Vic student. She talks about the history of the area, the names of the trees and the delicate balance between the area’s natural world and our impact on it. There’s no bubbly on this walk, but when we emerge from the forest onto Chesterman Beach and see surfers cresting the waves and the tide creeping up the shoreline, no enhancements are needed. The Wick is an intoxication in itself, a bit of West Coast therapy in any weather.
Note: The Wickaninnish Inn was recently recognized by Conde Nast Traveler readers as being the number 1 resort in Canada. This was the third time the inn has won this award, with a score of 98.81 out of 100. (It also won in 2013 and 2014.) The Wick also appears as one of only two Canadian hotels on Conde Nast’s Gold List of favourite hotels around the world, chosen by the magazine’s editors.
Note: The Wickaninish has recently announced that Carmen Ingham has joined their culinary team as executive chef. The North Vancouver native held senior positions at the Villa Eyrie Resort and the Sonora Resort.
John Gilchrist is a Calgary-based food and travel writer