In Part 3 of our Cowichan Valley road trip series, we we head back on the open road for Duncan, British Columbia. Here’s the scoop on where we dined, stayed and played….
More than 80 First Nations totems highlighted our scenic drive through Duncan – an indication of the community’s rich Coast Salish History.
It sort of felt like we were back in the Fraser Valley, as we passed miles of sprawling countryside, lush vineyards and scenic back roads en route to our next stop – The Raptors Wildlife Sanctuary.
This non-profit environmental conservation program strengthens the connection between the forces of nature and human innovation to create sustainability through conservation and education.
Founded by Gillian Radcliffe in 2002, the team at The Raptors is comprised of a small group of caring biologists and falconers on Vancouver Island, who bring people closer to birds of prey. Their goal is to educate, illuminate and encourage a sense of personal responsibility for the future of these essential creatures we share the planet with.
We met eagles, hawks, owls, falcons and vultures (among other birds) and watched them fly above and around us, free of all constraints.
Jason and I really enjoyed the unique opportunity to see up close how amazing these birds are and learn about the critical roles they play in the ecosystems we all share. We are planning another visit to this Vancouver Island gem this Spring as Molly is sad she missed seeing the owls. Flying demonstrations are offered daily from March through December.
Visit their website at www.birdsofprey.org.
For lunch, we headed into town to a popular casual dining destination – The Old Fork.
The restaurant opened back in 2013 inside the Ramada Duncan, quickly becoming a staple in the Duncan community as a fun, hip spot to grab a bite to eat.
The eatery’s recipe for success: Take a mix of old-style Southern goodness, blend with modern restaurant professionalism and a hearty splash of Vancouver Island foodie sensibility.
Chef Scott Walmsley dropped by our table to note that the most popular fare on the menu is the Huevos Rancheros, Reggie’s Old Fork and their classic bennies.
There are also great vegan, vegetarian and celiac-friendly options.
As much as we wanted to dig into their signature menu items, Jason and I optioned for something on the lighter side – their crab cakes and salad, which were simply divine.
Almost all of the restaurant’s menu items are served from scratch (even the jams, hot sauce, hollandaise sauce and ranch dressing), using local foods and ingredients and are prepared by red seal chefs.
We learned that The Old Fork is part of a Mealshare program – participating restaurants donate a dollar of the price of select menut items toward a local charity and the international charity Save the Children.
Next, it was time to explore Merridale Ciderworks, which is nestled in the mouth of Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley.
This family friendly destination is a huge hit with tourists and locals alike – and it wasn’t hard to see or taste why.
Since it was December, the entire property was lit up in a dazzling display of holiday lights and displays –it felt like stepping inside a Hallmark holiday movie.
Merridale’s Cider House, located in the heart of the orchard, was like nothing we had ever experienced before. It is the perfect spot to relax, and learn how to pair cider with meals inspired and created from locally sourced ingredients and taste premium small batch wines from local vinters.
Merridale’s proprieteor Janet Docherty (at far left in photo on right above) lead us on an informative tour of the cellar, which included a cider tasting for Jason. We strolled by the picturesque orchard, which Janet noted was a hot spot for children to find faeries. Come summer, the property is busy accommodating weddings and visitors to their onsite luxury yurts.
“Here at Merridale, everything starts in the orchard,” she explained.
“We use sustainable farming practices without the use of herbicides or pesticides. We believe that we are custodians of our farm for future generations and we focus on maintaining or enhancing our community in all we do.”
When it comes to making cider, Merridale uses cider apple varieties that Janet says have been proven for centuries in England, France, and Germany to make the best variety.
“All of our ciders and spirits are made from 100% pure juice, and only the first pressing is used. We ferment our juice slowly and naturally, to delicately bring out all of the flavour the fruit has to offer.”
It just so happened that we had decided to visit Merridale on a very special evening. We discovered that the farm was offering a one–of-a-kind Christmas experience – a feast for all the senses!
After sunset, we headed for the outdoor deck, which was adorned in twinkling lights.
With a hot cup of cider in hand, we snuggled under a warm blanket, ready to savour a unique alfresco theatre experience under the stars.
In a captivating performance entitled “Standing on Your Head,” Vancouver Island actress, Charolotte Denton, brought to life the story of a young woman who shares how she found peace with the holidays after experiencing a tragic loss.
After the act, it was time to head to the gastropub for a family style holiday feast of farm-to-table cuisine, complete with all the trimmings.
I’m still dreaming of their melt-in-your-mouth homemade Squash Ravioli with chanterelles, greens, hazelnuts and crispy sage. Every bite was absolute Heaven.
To plan your visit to Merridale Ciderworks, visit www.merridale.ca.
It was just after 10 p.m., when we wrapped up our evening at Merridale and headed for our accomodations at the Farm Table Inn — a hidden gem just outside of Duncan that’s popular with tourists and locals alike.
We were greeted by a friendly brood of hens, a curious orange tabby cat and owners Evelyn Koops and George Gates.
Read all about that savoury experience and more in part 4 ~ coming soon!
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Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. However, our trip was generously sponsored by Tourism Cowichan