Ganges, Canada

Photo: Hastings House Country House Hotel
Photo: Hastings House Country House Hotel

Do you consider island destinations for the summer and the winter? You go to the Channel Islands, the Mediterranean islands, or the Lofoten islands during the warm months. You switch to the Caribbean or Southeast Asia once it gets cold at home. But what about the shoulder seasons? We found an island in British Columbia that’s an ideal fall getaway.

Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands, which sit in between Canada’s west coast and Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia. The island was originally inhabited by the Salesian people. Pioneers arrived, settled, and farmed the land in the mid-19th century. African Americans, escaping racism in California, shortly followed. Brits and Irish, Aborigines and Hawaiians, and draft dodgers during the Vietnam War also found a haven on the island. Everyone who loved nature was—and is—welcome. Today, Salt Spring Island attracts sailors, kayakers, hikers, and artists.

You arrive in Ganges on the northeast coast. The island’s largest village is home to wharfs, a coastguard station, and a seaplane aerodrome. Boats of all sizes fill Ganges Harbour. Art galleries line the narrow streets. At the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market, you must “make it, bake it, or grow it” to sell it. Plus a picturesque little hotel, the Hastings House Country House Hotel, stands along the edge of the waterfront, only steps from the center of town.

Photo: Hastings House Country House Hotel
Photo: Hastings House Country House Hotel

The Hastings House was built in 1940 to resemble the owner’s family home in Sussex, England. Towering Douglas firs, an extensive garden, and quiet spots with ocean views dot the property. Sheep and chicken are raised for the kitchen. Bees dance between colorful flowers to make honey. Adirondack chairs sit outside the spa, as each treatment begins with a flower-petal foot bath when the weather cooperates. Deer and raccoons walk over the lawns as if they own them. While an otter or a seal occasionally lounges on the rocks at the edge of the water.

You’re staying in the Post Cottage near the garden. The standalone cottage offers two rooms and plenty of privacy under a huge pear tree. The interior is comfortable with a Franklin gas stove in the living room and a deep soaking tub and fluffy white robes in the bathroom. French doors lead to the lawn and one of those idyllic ocean views. It’s just a short walk to a full English breakfast in the morning, afternoon tea in the living room, or the table d’hôte menu in the dining room.

You’ll probably return for tea—and definitely for dinner—but after breakfast, it’s time to explore the island. Hike rough, windy trails up one of the Gulf Islands’ two highest peaks, Bruce Peak or Mount Tuam, for beautiful views of the foliage. Walk among the gnarly arbutus forest in Ruckle Provincial Park along the southeast shore. Kayak to nearby Russell Island to see the Mahoi House, where the original Hawaiian settlers lived. Browse one of the islands’ 30 galleries, like Duthie or Blue Horse Folk Art. Then start your tastings: goat cheese at Salt Spring Island Cheese, Heather Ale at Salt Spring Island Ales, and Zweigelt at Mistaken Identity Vineyards.

Just don’t miss dinner back at the Hastings House. Venison carpaccio, wild Pacific red prawns, herb-crusted wild Pacific halibut, and, most excitingly, local fall fruit crisp are on tonight’s menu. It not only looks, but also tastes, like fall on Salt Spring Island.

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