While a weekend getaway may only last a few days, the fun really begins the moment you decide to take that much-needed break from reality.
For Jason and myself, that was back in December, and it really helped us get through the holiday hustle and bustle knowing it wouldn’t be long until our sweet escape.
Neither of us had any idea what to expect for our trip to Sooke, B.C., but sure had fun doing some research about the area prior to boarding the BC Ferries.
“Do you think we’ll need bathing suits and towels for the ‘forest bathing’ experience?” I asked Jason, while sneaking an extra pair of shoes into my suitcase.
“Umm, Kristyl, you do know we’re not actually ‘bathing per say’ right?” he laughed, and then brought up the definition on Google:
“Forest Bathing, is a form of healing that involves simply wandering along forest trails and spending time in other natural places.” (Source: Shrinrin-Yoku Forest Medicine).
The idea of staring up at a star-soaked sky, inhaling the fresh salty ocean air and wandering hand-it-hand with Jason through a lush rainforest sounded like sheer bliss. Even so, I was a little nervous about this particular child-free trip.
This would be our first getaway, just the two of us, since I decided to take serious inventory of my unhealthy habits, which led to an extended break from drinking (read all about it here). Our last big trip to Mexico, a year prior, was fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was also a blur of late nights, fighting and discontent, camouflaged by spray tans and bleached smiles.
A lot has changed in a year –I feel more content, self-aware and less anxious these days since corking my nightly wine habit of 2-4 glasses after the kids went to bed.
Even so, I couldn’t shake my insecurities regarding my new sober status.
Would conversation be strained and awkward over a candlelight dinner without the familiar buzz of a perfectly aged cab Merlot? Would I have the willpower to resist the complimentary bottle of ruby-red port awaiting our arrival in the suite? Would we still have fun and connect if he was sipping scotch while I stayed stone-cold sober in our private jacuzzi tub overlooking the ocean?
I wasn’t too sure.
As we drove up the gravel driveway that led to the Sooke Harbour House, which is located under an hour from downtown Victoria, we saw a charming white building adorned with colourful hanging baskets, art made from driftwood and climbing vines. At first glance, one might easily mistake it for someone’s private summer home, but the inside is a whole other story.
The establishment was built in 1929, and was then, a small B&B of five rooms with small cottages all around the main house that was purchased by Frederique and Sinclair Philip in 1979. Today, it stands as a small boutique hotel of 28 guest rooms with an international reputation.
The moment we stepped inside, it felt as though we had entered an art gallery.
Just about every square-foot of space was home to a bevy of original artwork, local antiques, and handcrafted furniture. Many of the eclectic pieces were made of sea glass that had been found from the shore right outside the B&B.
Each guest room has been individually decorated, but all have sweeping views of the ocean.
We learned that our particular room is where Richard Gere stayed during his visit not that long ago — a spacious and airy suite that contained a wood-burning fireplace, jetted tub on our private patio, kitchenette, steam shower, infrared sauna, and a floor-to-ceiling view of endless water.
As Jason headed to the car to grab our luggage, I spied a CD player and assortment of music that was left for guests to use, which was a welcome distraction from the mini bar.
This time around, I didn’t want to dull my senses during our trip — I wanted to enjoy every single moment — and remember it all.
Hot cup of fresh coffee in hand, I opened the large patio doors and headed for our deck. The only noise came from the stereo inside playing Diana Krall’s ‘Peel Me a Grape,‘ and the hypnotic sound of the waves crashing into the rocky shoreline.
“Breathe Kristyl, you’ve got this,” I whispered to myself, taking in a deep restorative breathe.
As if on cue, a family of deer sauntered into the garden, staring at me as they nibbled on the grass below.
Any fears I had about not being able to unwind without a glass of wine (or bottle) dissipated along with these beautiful creatures who dispersed into the forest.
I didn’t notice Jason had returned to our room until I felt a pair of arms tightly circle my waist.
“That is quite the view ,” he said. “And I’m not just talking about the ocean.”
We wanted to do some exploring before our dinner reservation, so we took our time wandering through the various hallways inside the B&B — home to the art of more than 150 local artists and crafts people from Sooke, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Victoria, and the Lower Mainland.
Pieces have been selected that reflect the ocean, surrounding rainforest, gardens and food, and anything else that ties into the Sooke Harbour House philosophy of local, eclectic and sustainable.
One of my favourite little nooks was the library, which was filled to the brim with everything from the classics to self-help, travel and poetry.
Art at the Sooke Harbour House isn’t just confined between the walls of the building — it spills out onto the outside paths and gardens, as well as the pathways along the beach.
All kinds of whimsical pieces of drift wood art were to be spied on the property, giving it an enchanted, fairy-tale feel.
Whiffin Spit Park is conveniently located just steps away from the Sooke Harbour House.
Accessed off of Whiffen Spit Road, Whiffin Spit Beach, part of Quimper Park in Sooke, BC, is a naturally formed spit that has been reinforced and well-maintained to allow for public access. To one side of the Spit is the beautiful, protected Sooke Basin and to the other side, the open waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Aside from being a romantic spot to soak up the natural beauty of the area, Whiffin Spit is steeped in some pretty fascinating history.
It was named after a clerk on the Herald, a British Royal Navy’s ship, which surveyed the Sooke region back in 1846. Around 10 years later, the Muir brothers, John Jr., Robert & Michael, started the first successful sawmill near the base of Whiffin Spit. Fast forward to 1923, a bible colony set roots in the area and operated their own school, meeting hall, bakery, other shops and a fish reduction plant on Whiffin Spit.
As you can see, there are various statues and plaques that pay homage to the area’s past.
With all that walking and fresh ocean air, we had worked up quite the appetite. It was time to go back to our room to get changed for dinner at the Copper Room, which is located onsite.
If you’re craving a literal taste of the region, Sooke Harbour House’s restaurant is an absolute a must for foodies.
The room, which was dimly lit by actual candles and a functioning log burning fireplace, was filled with couples and various intimate parties. A hostess led us to our cozy table with an ocean view and explained that the menu utilizes all of its ingredients from a network of local organic growers, making the most of seasonal produce and regional plants. This includes seafood, natural meats and pickings from the hotel’s own herb and flower garden.
Shortly after, my virgin Caesar arrived at the table, adorned with an edible sea plant – a refreshing change from your typical pickled bean.
Jason ordered a glass of wine, and had a difficult time deciding which to get as Sooke Harbour House has a wine cellar housing more than 2,000 varieties, with a focus on wines produced in British Columbia.
“This is exactly what I needed,” said Jason, reaching across the table to squeeze my hand.”
“Me too… probably more than you know,” I replied, feeling completely zen and buzzed from the romantic setting around us.
We both had the three-course chef’s tasting menu and every single course was fresh and memorable. Jason ordered the filet, while I optioned for the halibut, which was cooked to perfection and topped with the most delicious strawberry salsa.
The restaurant left us feeling well nourished and love drunk. It was time to retire for the night in our dreamy suite, put a log on the fire and take a soak on deck jacuzzi tub that was enveloped in blissful darkness…
I hope you enjoyed part 1 of ‘Serenity in Sooke.’ Make sure to read the next chapter, which details our experience on the trail at East Sooke Park with our own private guide, Ryan LeBlanc of The Natural Connection. We immersed ourselves in the natural world, body and mind, followed by a cozy, intimate dinner at a small family owned and operated farmhouse/restaurant just outside Sooke, in a rural community called Metchosin where the focus is farm-to-table meals. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it! READ HERE.
Disclaimer: While are meals and accommodations were complimentary, all opinions are 100% my own.