crowded streets of Vancouver, western Canada’s largest metropolis, it is easy to be lured by what is just outside the city. Looming mountains, the
shimmering Pacific Ocean and dozens of tiny tree-topped islands constantly wink at you between
downtown’s forest of shiny glass towers.
But while the
area’s peaks and beaches are well-visited, a trip to the Southern Gulf Islands
– strung like hundreds of pearls between the mainland and giant Vancouver
Island – is one of the most popular ways
to tap into a chilled-out British Columbia vibe.
inhabited options – such as tranquil Galiano and quirky Saturna – have their
fans, but Salt Spring Island is the archipelago’s biggest enticement. The most
populous of the group (more than 10,000 people call the 180sqkm landmass home), its tree-fringed
country lanes connect colourful wood-built communities and more than enough
attractions for a lazy long weekend.
To get to Salt Spring, regular BC Ferries services –
ideal for bringing your own car – travel from the mainland and Vancouver
Island. These gentle, scenic crossings weave between the multitudinous islands
and lower your heart rate to ultra-relaxation levels.
But travelling from
downtown Vancouver via the Salt Spring Air floatplane
is more exciting. Taking just 35 minutes, these low-level flights provide
mesmerising panoramas of the city, with the island-studded ocean and
boat-fringed Salt Spring emerging from the water ahead. Landing at Ganges, Salt
Spring’s main village, passengers stroll right into the heart of the action.
To market to market
On weekends, that action is all about the Saturday Market. With almost 150 vendors (all operating under the rule that everything sold here
must be made, baked or grown on the island), the market’s Centennial Park location is usually
crammed with smiling browsers by 10 am.
music and conversation and lots to see and buy,” said twinkle-eyed Raffi Cavoukian, a composer and entertainer famous across Canada for
his children’s songs. He has
lived on the island for decades but still enjoys selling his books and CDs at
the market. “I started here in 1976 from
the back of a station wagon – and it's still fun.”
soaps to rustic loaves – the latter sold by the near-legendary Bread Lady –
and from fresh-picked raspberries to sweet tomatoes, it is hard not to fill you backpack with tasty purchases.
But Salt Spring’s artistic side lures just as many shoppers, and is a reminder that the island has
long been a haven for creative types.
explore the art scene via dozens of local galleries and studios. On foot, by car or by bicycle (vehicle rentals are
available from Salt Spring Car
Rentals in Ganges, and Salt Spring Air loans free bikes to passengers), a self-guided weave is the
ideal way to spend your time beyond the market. And navigation-wise, the new
(and free) Salt Spring Island app can help
you find your way.
I've lived was three years here, five years there. But I've always felt this
was home,” said Salt
Spring painter Diana Dean, who has lived for 30 years in a skylight-studded wooden house/studio
surrounded by arbutus trees. “From the Native Indians onwards, I think this
island has been a special, sacred place – and it has definitely become more artsy in recent years.”
Back in Ganges,
internationally renowned husband and wife artists Kathy and Deon
Venter agree, adding that quality of life is a big draw. “This is a good place
to raise kids – that's why we first came. And the kids, once they've left the
island, always come back," said
Kathy, who added that
visitors often drop into their studio-gallery space, Venter Studios, to chat about their
And often, their
next art walk stop is at the nearby Duthie Gallery. Lined
with large contemporary sculptures and intriguing installations, locals will
tell you the best time to visit this hilltop gallery is on summer evenings
(Thursday to Saturday) when its woodland sculpture park stages starlit strolls.
The gallery is also close to Hastings
House hotel, a
popular lodging for
visiting art fans. Like a mini-version of an English country estate, its
manicured grounds display works by local artists.
But there is a
tastier side to Salt Spring creativity,
with a growing menu of artisan food and drink producers on the island.
foodie crawl in Ganges with some java – and a side order of local gossip – at Salt Spring Coffee, or eat
brunch outside in the shade of a plum tree at Ganges’ ever-popular Tree House
northwest of the village, Mistaken Identity Vineyards is
one of several small wineries. A sun-dappled spot for leisurely tastings (the
highly quaffable Bianco is a top seller), sip a glass or two and nibble on
local cheese at a picnic table near the vines; expect an inquisitive visit from
Summerdale, the winery’s friendly black Labrador.
Beer nuts are well
served over at Salt Spring Island Ales, occupying a rustic, cedar-built shack hidden between
trees 11km north of the vineyard. Its funky little tasting room offers a
friendly welcome (and free samples), plus a roster of all-organic brews,
ranging from malty Extra Special Bitter to smooth Heatherdale Ale. The brewery
recently introduced refillable “growlers” (1.89-litre brown glass jugs) that
make picnicking in nearby Ruckle
Provincial Park an enticing idea.
Nearby Salt Spring Island Cheese
provides further sustenance. A cute farmstead with strollable gardens, wandering
chickens and a winery-style shop and tasting room, it produces goat and sheep
milk chèvre, feta and Camembert styles – the bestseller is Ruckles, soft goat
cheese rounds in herbs and garlic. You can watch the handmade production
through windows in the back of the farmstead.
David Wood, the island’s art and culinary scenes go hand-in-hand. “Salt Spring
is on the cusp of becoming a foodie destination – I think we've reached a
critical mass,” he said. “Many people move here for the lifestyle, but then
they have to either get a job or figure out how to make something. It is why we have such a creative community.”
local artist Ron Crawford, this is an impulse that shapes the island. His works – including a monumental Stonehenge-style
rock ring that overlooks the waterfront outside Ganges – can be found on Salt
Spring and around the world. “There's a creative energy here not present in
many other places,” said the 26-year veteran of island life. “When I first
moved here, there were no galleries. But now there's a rich community of