The Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island is increasingly becoming known not only for its wines and cider, but also for the local foods grown and produced here.  Some of the best places to find many of the great local, fresh foods of the Valley are at various Farmers Markets in the region.

On Saturday a couple of weeks ago (remember that gorgeous Easter weekend we had?) I made a trip out to the Duncan Farmers Market.   This market is open all year round on Saturdays, from 9 am or 10 am until 2 pm.  Not only will you find local food producers here, but crafts people and artisans as well.  There was everything from locally made baked goods to seafood and smoked meats, pasta, clothing, beautiful wood crafts, local author Sandie Bergen with a fantasy series of books, tea from the Tea Farm, local honey and more! As spring and summer advance, there will be even more fresh and locally grown produce available.  I took home some fresh bread and some stinging nettle pesto which I really enjoyed from Fat Chili Farm, a local Cobble Hill grower and producer.

The Duncan Farmers Market is probably the biggest of the Cowichan Valley Farmers Markets, but there are several others in operation during the late spring, summer and early fall, so lots of opportunities to buy local, or, if you’re a visitor to the Cowichan Valley, take home some great fresh products as a reminder of your visit here.

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The new (this year) Mill Bay Farmers Market will start at the Mill Bay Shopping Centre on Thursday May 2nd, from 2 – 7 pm.  The South Cowichan Farmers Market, which starte

ays.d up last year, will open for the season on Sunday May 5.  Hours are 10 – 3 pm.  Great tips for shopping at Farmers Markets on their website!  The Chemainus 

Farmers Market will start up on May 29, and runs every Wednesday 10 – 4 until the end of September.  In our own village, the Cobble Hill Farmers Market takes place on Thursd

So, there are numerous places to find great local products, meet the growers , vendors and people in the community, and experience one of the big reasons to visit the Cowichan Valley.   Let me know if there are any other Farmers Markets in the Cowichan Valley that I’ve missed.  Book your Cowichan Valley Bed & Breakfast stay, explore the area, and go home with some great food!

 

We had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of the film “Once upon a day…Cowichan” on March 7th at the Cowichan Theatre. This film, produced and directed by Nick Versteeg, fellow Dutchman and internationally known videographer, and citizen of the Cowichan Valley, was created to promote this great place that we call home.

“Once upon a day…Cowichan” features a community effort by musicians, artists, fresh food producers, wineries, restaurants, and community leaders all coming together to share their love of the Cowichan Valley and the reason why it is such a great place to live and work. The mild climate allows you to grow just about anything here, the ocean offers a bounty of seafood, the scenery is beautiful and stimulates creative minds, and the community of people thrives on what the area has to offer. This film is a celebration of the charm, diversity and bounty that is the Cowichan Valley.

The “Once upon a day…Cowichan” presentation was followed by “Once upon a year…Cowichan” a full journey through the four seasons of life in the Cowichan Valley. You’ll meet some of the fresh food providers, the award winning wineries, the world class chefs and restauranteurs, the adventure seekers, the community leaders, and take a journey through the entire Cowichan region from historic Ladysmith, the world famous murals in Chemainus, the exhiliration of wind surfing at Nitinat Lake or tackling the West Coast Trail, the totems in Duncan, the beauty and rural ambiance of Cobble Hill and Shawnigan Lake, and the funkyness of Cowichan Bay.

As citizens of the Cowichan Valley of almost 20 years, we too love this place. We fell in love with it when we first came on a visit. The film made us very proud to be Valley citizens. As Cowichan Bed & Breakfast innkeepers, we are already ambassadors for our region, and this film only inspired us more to share the richness of our home with visitors from far and wide. We hope you are planning a trip to our Cowichan Valley soon. Here is a taste of what we have to offer!

In a little over two weeks we will say goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012. It seems time goes faster and faster and the years just fly by. Does it have something to do with age do you think?

We had the great pleasure of hosting wonderful guests again at our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast this past year from many parts of the world including most parts of Canada, a number of US states, Australia and New Zealand, Singapore, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, Scotland and England and South Africa. Being a Bed & Breakfast innkeeper is such an interesting job as you hear guests talk about their travels and experiences and then get the opportunity to share with them the great things to see and do in your part of the world. It is a real “feel good” profession to be in and after 18 years in the business I still love that aspect of it the most.

Highlights this year included the long awaited opening of the Kinsol Trestle, a heritage attaction that completes another stretch of the Cowichan Valley trail portion of the Trans Canada

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Trail. The new Unsworth Vineyard opened up just down the road from our Bed & Breakfast and will be joined by one of our finest restaurants, Amuse Bistro, this winter. At the civic elections in November, the proposed

Eco Recycling Depot planned by the CVRD just a kilometer down our road was voted down 2 to 1 which is a big relief as we had major concerns in seeing that built in this

particular location.

We would like to thank all the guests who stayed with us in 2011. It was our pleasure to host you during your vacation, your get-away, your family or friend’s weddings, your visits to family or friends. We hope you enjoyed your stay with us, and especially thank those of you who took the time to write us a review. Have a wonderful Christmas, a safe and happy holiday, and we hope to see you with us again in the future. 2012 here we come
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Bed & Breakfast innkeepers not only provide accommodation and serve delicious breakfasts, they also often serve as ambassadors for their community and assist their guests with all kinds of information to enhance their stay. The question we are probably asked more often than anything else is “where to go for dinner”.

Fortunately the Cowichan Valley is home to a number of very fine restaurants so it is very easy to recommend these to our guests. We always ask them afterwards “how was dinner” and almost always the recommendation has led them to a great dining experience, often featuring locally grown or harvested foods.

MerridaleAt the top of the list of Cowichan Valley restaurants is Amuse Bistro. Currently located in Shawnigan Lake village, Amuse will relocate to Unsworth Vineyard just down the road from our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast this winter. Owner/chef Bradford Boisvert and wife Leah have built an enviable reputation for great food using fresh local ingredients. On Saturdays this month, you can book a mushroom hunt with one of their chefs and a Benedictine monk. There is great mushroom hunting to be had in the Cowichan Valley.

In Cowichan Bay, just a 15 minute drive away, you will find The Masthead Restaurant, another favorite with our guests. They specialize in seafood, but have something for everyone’s taste. All their entrees are served with “pot au feu” fresh vegetables and duck spuds, and they have a great wine list.

Back in Shawnigan Lake Village is another of our recommended restaurants, Steeples Bar & Grill, an “adventure in casual dining”. Located in a converted church, Steeples is a big part of the community as well. They have just launched their new fall promotion “Mediterranean Nights” and had a very successful Asian fusion promotion this spring.

While the bistro at Merridale Cidery is mostly open just for lunch, they offer hugely popular pizza nights on Sundays during the summer. Currently they are open on Saturday nights until mid December for Field to Table 3-course dinners. We met some of our guests at Merridale at one of the last pizza nights of the season and they really enjoyed the food and the ciders there! La Pommeraie Bistro is another popular choice with our guests, and it too, is just around the corner from Cobble House B&B.

While in a very rural location, Cowichan Valley restaurants are among some of the best restaurants on Vancouver Island. We’ll happily book a table for you when you come to stay, so you too can enjoy really fine dining in the Cowichan Valley.

Fall has arrived. It’s my favorite time of year, especially if we get some of that lovely “indian summer” weather; clear warm days, cool crisp nights. So far this fall of 2011 has been rather wet, but the sunny days have been there. The rain has greened up the grass everywhere and has taken the forest fire hazard level right down to normal, which is a relief when you live surrounded by forests as we do at our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast.

 

fall 2013People are harvesting the last of their produce from the many farms and private gardens around the Cowichan Valley. Lots of signs around the Valley selling everything from apples to herbs. There are still some flowers in the garden, and a few trees are starting to put on a colorful display among the west coast evergreens. The Cowichan Valley wineries are leaving the grapes on as long as they can to get every bit of sunshine possible to ripen the grapes, as the summer heat didn’t quite last long enough this year. Canadian Thanksgiving is just a week away, when we celebrate the rewards of long summer days of work and growth and the harvest that has resulted from our efforts. Time to clean up the flower pots and hanging baskets for another year, put away the patio furniture, and bring up a load of firewood to the house, so we can light the Russian fireplace at Cobble House.

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October is time for mushroom picking! Sign up for a guided tour, cooking lesson and lunch at Amuse Bistro, and stay at our nearby Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast. After your 3-course lunch at Amuse you probably won’t need a full dinner, so stop by Hilary’s cheese and one of the wonderful bakeries in the Valley, and pick up a bottle of local wine for a light dinner. Our Bed & Breakfast rooms come equipped with some basic dishes and cutlery, and a small fridge to chill that bottle of white wine.

 

We are open throughout the year, so come and enjoy fall in the Cowichan Valley. Happy Thanksgiving!

Vancouver Island British Columbia is blessed with a mild climate and many golf courses, so you can enjoy the game of golf for a large part of the year. Cobble House Bed & Breakfast is centrally located in Cobble Hill, in the Cowichan Valley about halfway between Victoria and Nanaimo, and the Valley has a number of golf courses for every level of golfer to experience.

Just 10 minutes away from our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast you can book a tee time at Arbutus Ridge Golf Club, 18 holes, par 71. The Club has a four star Golf Digest Rating and has a 10 stall driving range and practice putting green. Daytime green fees are in the $45-$64 range.

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The newest course in the Cowichan region is Duncan Meadows on the northwest side of Duncan, along Highway 18. It has a reputation as a player’s course, with many lakes and ponds. Green fees are in the range of $40-$55 for this par 72 course. This past July, Duncan Meadows host

ed the 2011 Royale Cup Canadian Women’s Amateur Championships.The Cowichan Golf & Country Club on the south side of Duncan is the oldest golf course in the Valley. It has been in its present location just off the Trans Canada Highway since 1947, and is an 18 hole, par 70 course. Green fees generally range from $42 – $52. The Mount Brenton Golf Course in the mural town of Chemainus, which calls itself the Island’s “friendliest golf course”, is almost as old, having been around since 1948. This is a par 71 course with green fees ranging from $25-$45.

If you continue west on Highway 18 around the south side of Cowichan Lake, you will reach the 9 hole March Meadows Golf Course in Honeymoon Bay. This is the home course of LPGA professional Dawn Coe Jones who still sponsors the junior golf tournament held at the club each year. Green fees for 18 holes are in the $33-$42 range.

Whichever Cowichan golf course, or courses, you chose to experience, you’ll find unique and different challenges on each one. Another thing you’ll find is beautiful scenic views of the Cowichan landscape, be it ocean or rolling hills and mountains. Come and play the game of golf in the Cowichan Valley, and find your choice of Cowichan Valley Bed & Breakfasts nearby to complete your stay.

July 28th was a day many people on Vancouver Island had looked forward to over the last several years. It was the official opening, or actually the re-opening, of the historic Kinsol Trestle near Shawnigan Lake in the Cowichan Valley. There was a great crowd in attendance at a well organized event.Kinsol new 6

Almost a year ago I blogged about the trestle when the rehabilitation work had just started and I took a trip to have a look. A construction cam was installed and allowed you to see the progress over the past year, and it was great to see things coming together. Funds for the rehabilitation were supplied by many individual donors as well as both the federal and provincial governments, the Island Coastal Economic Trust, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Trans Canada Trail Foundation. A major missing link in the Vancouver Island portion of the Trans Canada Trail is now complete. The trail now runs continuously from the south end of Shawnigan Lake up to Lake Cowichan and from Duncan to Ladysmith. The section from Duncan to Ladysmith was opened just a few weeks before the opening of the Kinsol Trestle.
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There is still work to be completed around the trestle, including a pavilion listing all the donors to the project. A completed walkway takes you down all the way to the river on the north end of the trestle. Looking up at the 44 meters high trestle from the river is pretty awe inspiring, especially if you consider how the trestle was built back in 1920, without any of the huge cranes or other equipment now used for the rehabilitation. The rehabilitation created local jobs, used Vancouver Island lumber and the project was led by a local Cobble Hill company.

We have hosted numerous cyclists at our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast over the years, as they cycle and visit the wineries, or pass through on their way up-Island. The completion of the Kinsol Trestle on the Trans Canada Trail will definitely be an added attraction in the Cowichan Valley for both cyclists and hikers as well as visitors who are interested in seeing this piece of Vancouver Island history for themselves.

Recently I enjoyed checking out one of Duncan’s tourist attractions, the Pacific Northwest Raptors Centre. It was my first visit, although it’s been on my list of Cowichan Valley attractions to check out for several years. A number of guests at our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast have been to the centre and have enjoyed their visit, so I have been able to recommend it to our guests.raptors 4 barn owl

It was a perfect day to take a few hours off and I timed my arrival for the 1:30 pm flying demonstrations. This is a must as this is the highlight of a visit to PNWR. This afternoon’s demonstration started with Hera the immature bald eagle. What an impressive bird up close! Then we saw a Harris hawk, a barn owl, a turkey vulture (which is not a raptor) and finally a one-year old peregrine falcon. It was wonderful to see these magnificent birds up close and learn more about them and see the different ways they fly. I learned quite a bit, including “what is a raptor”!

Pacific Northwest Raptors is primarily an educational center. The birds are captive bred and trained to raise awareness and to give the public an opportunity to see them up close and learn more about them, and feel inspired about saving them and their habitat. In the past PNWR has also been involved in rehabilitating injured wild birds but they very unfortunately recently lost their license to do so While some of the birds are in cages, they fly free every day and are also taken out to give the visitors a closer look as well as the opportunity to ask questions. The staff at the center is very friendly and helpful and they obviously love what they do.
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You can now also see some of the PNWR birds at the Church & State winery, near the Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Pacific Northwest Raptors has also collaborated with the Vancouver Aquarium this summer for “Birds Up Close” and you can see eagles, hawks, falcons and other birds trained at PNWR at the aquarium until September 5th.

As our Cowichan Valley accommodation is located on a forested acreage, we often see barred owls around our property, so I was very interested to learn more about them and other raptors. They too are magnificent birds and a clearer understanding of them is important in helping them to survive and flourish so we can continue to enjoy them in their natural environment. While my preference is always for all wild creatures to be wild and free, I think Pacific Northwest Raptors is an important link in creating a greater understanding of these birds. They are open daily from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, with flying demonstrations at 1:30 and 3:30. It is really worth a visit.

On Saturday June 25th, 2011, our village of Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island is having a Community Celebration to mark a century of operation for the Cobble Hill Market. A variety of community organizations will be hosting entertainment and stage events open to the whole family.

The building that houses the Cobble Hill Market was built in 1911 by Tom Walton, and was therefore initially known as the Walton Building. When the building opened it was operated as a grocery store downstairs while the upstairs became a popular dance hall as well as a meeting space for clubs and a gaming parlour. There are apparently lots of local stories about the dances held there in the evenings! During the day, the upstairs space was used by Mrs. Walford Gosnell to teach art classes.

Eventually the upstairs was converted into living quarters and many families lived there while operating the downstairs store. The current owners immigrated from Hong Kong and have operated the store since 1995.P1000912_1

Quiet Cobble Hill village was once quite a busy community and a center for shipping goods via the railway. The current Cobblestone Inn Pub is on the site of the former Cobble Hill division of the Cowichan Creamery, around which many community events revolved until the 1940′s. There was shopping at the Bonner Block, and the village also boasted the busy Wilton Place Hotel. The Cobble Hill Post Office and Bank building is still in existence as the Black Coffee restaurant at nearby Whippletree Junction on Highway 1, on your way to Duncan BC. Whippletree is a funky collection of specialty shops and restaurants in historical Cowichan Valley buildings moved there from around the Valley.

At our Vancouver Island Bed & Breakfast in Cobble Hill, we had the pleasure several years ago of hosting the grandson of one of the two families our road is named after. We live on Cameron-Taggart Road and if you travel south on our road you’ll come across two farms now owned by the Wikkerink families. Orginally, however, these were the Cameron and the Taggart farms, with the Cameron farm on the west side of the road and the Taggart farm on the east side. Our guest was Bill Taggart who was showing his grandson around the area where he grew up. The Taggart children attended the Sylvania school at the end of Cameron-Taggart Road. This building is now a Lions hall.

Every area has its interesting history. Mr. Taggart shared with us some old photos and a book “At the foot of the hill” about the history of Cobble Hill and it was so fascinating learning more about the history of our immediate area and being able to relate it to the places you come by on a daily basis while operating our Cobble Hill Bed & Breakfast.

June is a great month to take that trip to Vancouver Island you’ve been thinking about as you’ll get the best ferry rates to the Island.  BC Ferries is offering a Coast Saver Seat Sale on all scheduled sailings to Vancouver Island on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 2nd to June 26th.  Sailings from the Vancouver area to Victoria or both terminals in Nanaimo qualify for the Seat Sale rates.  You can make every weekend in June a long weekend and explore different parts of Vancouver Island!  The rate for a car and driver will be $39.95 one way, and the rate for an adult passenger will be $9.95, which works out to an approximate 30% discount.

bc ferriesAnother great BC Ferries deal which is available year round is the CirclePac ticket which offers a 15% savings on a circle route between Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, and Vancouver Island.  Your CirclePac ticket is good for 30 days, and you purchase the ticket at the first terminal you sail from and then show it at subsequent terminals.  You might depart from Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver and sail up to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast.  Spend several days exploring the Lower Sunshine Coast and then take the ferry to the Upper Coast and Powell River.  From there you’ll sail across to Comox on Vancouver Island.

You can easily spend several weeks exploring Vancouver Island if you have the time, but you’ll at least want to take several days to get a taste of Island life.  Recreational opportunities abound whether you’re interested in golfing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, horseback riding, spelunking or swimming, Vancouver Island offers it all.  There are world class attractions, beaches and provincial parks, historical and cultural highlights, fine arts and crafts, excellent dining and an ever expanding wine region centered around  the Cowichan Valley.  As a Cowichan Valley accommodation, Cobble House Bed & Breakfast is a great central location from which to explore not only the wineries and specialty farms in the Valley, but Victoria is only an hour away, as is Nanaimo, and both are departure points for the next stage of your CirclePac route, which will take you back to your Vancouver starting point.

Hope to see you in the Cowichan next month!