After the tedious hours of our flight, the ferry ride to Vancouver Island, with its promise of majestic scenery and fresh sea air, was an enticing prospect. To reach our first destination, we boarded the service that runs from Tsawwassen in Vancouver to Swartz Bay in Victoria, a 95-minute trip that glides through Active Pass, a picturesque strait separating the Galiano and Mayne islands. During our ride, we encountered a pod of orcas.
From the Swartz Bay terminal, we drove 20 minutes southwest to Brentwood Bay Resort, a secluded waterfront hotel nestled in a sheltered bay on the forested Saanich Peninsula. There, the staff were cheerful and friendly and greeted us with refreshing flutes of local cider. The main structure encompasses the lobby, a boutique selling handmade regional crafts, a pub with a large selection of locally crafted beer and a downstairs spa popular for its vinotherapy treatments.
All 36 guest accommodations offer spectacular views of the serene Saanich Inlet. Our OceanSuite came with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors, a gas fireplace, handcrafted furniture, a neutral color palette, local artwork and a private terrace. The spacious slate-tiled bath included a shuttered window that made it possible to appreciate the ocean views while soaking in the tub. (In addition to suites, the property has two-bedroom OceanVillas ideal for couples traveling together.)
Until dinner, I was confident that the resort would merit a Hideaway Report recommendation. Alas, our experience in the Dining Room proved to be a severe disappointment. Menus were presented promptly, but after 30 minutes, when an heirloom tomato tart appetizer had failed to arrive, I summoned our waiter. He explained that there was a misunderstanding with the kitchen and that the dish would be out soon. When it finally did appear, it was delivered at the same time as our main courses. As my miso- and rum-marinated halibut was served, I was struck by an unexpected smell, and after one bite, it was abundantly clear that the fish was not fresh. This seemed doubly astonishing at a waterside restaurant on an island in a province renowned for its seafood. My partner had ordered the English pea ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a Parmesan cream. This sounded promising, yet the kitchen had managed to create a dough that was both stiff and chewy. The meal was inedible, and we left the restaurant disheartened and hungry. During the rest of our stay, we ate instead at the Dining Room at the Butchart Gardens, just 2 miles away. (Brentwood Bay offers a water shuttle to Butchart Gardens, the advantage of which is that it drops guests off at a private dock and ticket lines at the main entrance are thereby avoided.)
Aside from the spa, amenities at Brentwood Bay include a hot tub, a pool and a tiny gym at the marina. The latter comprises 50 slips, and as all boaters that dock there have access to the hotel amenities, the hot tub can soon become crowded.
The waterfront views from our room; the Zen-like décor; the charming neighborhood.
The unacceptable food at the restaurant.
The formal dining room at nearby Butchart Gardens is the ideal alternative to meals at the hotel.
Our next destination, Villa Eyrie Resort, though geographically just west of Brentwood across the Saanich Inlet, must be approached from the south. Throughout the 45-minute drive, the rich greens of the forests and the glistening waters dotted with boats were magnificent.
Perched at 1,880 feet, Villa Eyrie offers glorious vistas of the Saanich Inlet, the Olympic Mountains and Mount Baker. Formerly Aerie Resort, the hotel reopened in late 2017 following a multimillion-dollar renovation and now features a European-inspired style that is intended to evoke the look and feel of the region around Lake Como and Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. The 95-acre property encompasses 38 rooms divided among three Mediterranean-style villas, plus an indoor pool and a greenhouse where vegetables and herbs for the kitchen are grown.
A spa is set below the main house in a separate stand-alone villa. A sunlit reception area doubles as a small boutique where jewelry and other handmade crafts are sold. All treatments employ organic products that make use of local herbs. The signature Sea Holistic massage employs lavender flowers and sea salt crystals and is especially recommended. Following our massages, we spent time enjoying the panoramic views from the relaxation lounge, which is flanked by a multitiered deck.
The most striking feature of our Olympic Suite in the Villa Aquila was its balcony, which overlooked the Saanich Inlet and distant snowcapped mountains. The multitude of windows in the high-ceilinged living and dining rooms created a bright, cheery space, while a large gas fireplace and baskets filled with plush blankets made it even more inviting. However, the bedroom felt relatively small, as much of it was taken up by an oversize two-person tub that we never used. (Being on the highest floor, the suite allowed access to the rooftop and its 360-degree view.)
We opted for an early dinner at the hotel’s Alpina Restaurant. The European-inspired Pacific Northwest cuisine was exceptional. Our tuna crudo starter sprinkled with an oven-dried black olive seasoning was delicious, as was the wild halibut set atop a tomato-basil risotto and accompanied by tender grilled octopus and microgreens. The servers’ wine-pairing recommendations were spot on.
Activities at the resort include whale watching and kayaking excursions, fishing and clay pigeon shooting, but the property is primarily intended as a culinary and relaxation retreat. Though it is relatively close to a main highway, we never heard traffic noise. Indeed, the only sounds were the calls of birds, the rustle of wind through the forest and the trickle of a waterfall running into a koi pond in front of our villa. Despite its Mediterranean-themed design, the beauty of the setting, the sincere hospitality and the locally inspired cuisine all lend this self-styled “escape to the clouds” a strong sense of place.
The spectacular views of the Saanich Inlet; the knowledgeable sommelier; the proximity to the Cowichan Valley and its award-winning wineries.
The walk down to the spa is very steep, and it is necessary to use the shuttle.
The hotel is the official partner of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, so there are sometimes groups of travelers who have come to test and race cars.
Sadly, it was soon time to leave Vancouver Island and head back to the city. A ferry returned us to the Tsawwassen terminal, from where we drove to the highly touted Skwachàys Lodge, a hotel set at the crossroads of the Gastown and Chinatown districts. Billed as Canada’s first “indigenous arts hotel,” Skwachàys comprises 18 guest lodgings in the top three floors of the building, all of which have been redesigned by aboriginal artists working alongside well-known interior designers. The artists have studios in the building, and the gallery-boutique on the ground floor sells their work, including carved wooden masks, metallic screen-printed T-shirts and hand-painted trivets. We knew this property would not be a luxury hotel in the customary sense, but it seemed such an imaginative and admirable undertaking we hoped to be impressed.
Alas, events soon conspired against us. As there was no street parking, we pulled into a red zone in front of the hotel and walked into the boutique. A tiny lectern to the left of the store formed the check-in desk. The receptionist asked where our car was. On being told, he responded that we would need to move it immediately, as it would otherwise be towed away. His instructions to the parking garage consisted of “Drive down that alley” and “Eventually I’ll be there.” As we turned into the alley, we observed that it was tenanted by homeless people and the ground was littered with needles.
From the garage, the receptionist escorted us to our King Room. Though surprisingly cramped, with insufficient hanging space, it was attractively decorated with a handcrafted chair and an entire wall covered by a colorful painting of tribeswomen. However, the window let in little light, and the bulb in one of the bedside lamps was out. It was impossible to reconcile our experience with all the praise we had read.
Although we cannot endorse Skwachàys Lodge, its boutique and gallery are worth a visit. Many of the items for sale are unique and vibrant, and all the proceeds are funneled directly back to the artists.
The interesting gallery for local indigenous art.
The small room and its lack of storage space; safety concerns in the alley to the garage.
Advance booking and a minimum number of people are required to participate in one of the traditional ceremonies offered on the hotel’s overall misleading website.
We checked out a day early and transferred to the Loden Hotel, a 77-room property located in upscale Coal Harbour, a short walk from Vancouver’s seawall, bordering Stanley Park. Though its exterior looks somewhat corporate, the elegant lobby-lounge was lovely, with plush navy-blue velvet couches and an imposing fireplace. The young staff were cheerful, helpful and efficient. And their restaurant recommendations were excellent. Each floor has a maximum of seven guest accommodations, which lends the hotel a sense of tranquility and intimacy. All rooms come with Dornbracht fixtures, chrome mirrors, dark wood furnishings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Our Garden Terrace room was decorated with an earthy color palette, rich with chocolatey browns and creamy caramels and enlivened by red and orange accents. Its minibar was stocked with wines from the Okanagan Valley as well as regional beers and local artisanal snacks.
The property offers a spa suite, a sauna, a well-equipped fitness facility and a French bistro popular with locals. However, we found the most useful amenities to be the hotel’s fleet of loaner electric bikes and its complimentary downtown house car service. Every member of the staff, from the valet to the front desk attendants, seemed eager to share insider tips about Vancouver.
Despite being in a downtown location, the Loden is surprisingly quiet and feels intimate and modern. We continue to recommend the family-owned 83-room Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, conveniently located across the street from Robson Square and the Vancouver Art Gallery, with its excellent Bacchus Restaurant for modern French cuisine and on-site amenities, which include a full-service spa and a state-of-the-art health club. However, the Loden Hotel provides an appealing contemporary alternative.
The charming and helpful staff; the convenient downtown location; the hotel’s fleet of cruiser bikes.
The uninspiring menu at the French bistro.
When checking in, guests are asked to choose whether they would prefer complimentary parking or complimentary breakfast.