Looking through the window of the Orca Airways plane leaves us in awe of the grandeur of nature. One million visitors make their way to the tranquil community of Tofino every year. It is part of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Your camera is your best friend in this dramatic and pristine landscape. Our destination is the Wickaninnish Inn on Osprey Lane at Chesterman Beach.
This magnificent property blends into the landscape as if Mother Nature gently placed it there. “Rustic elegance on nature’s edge” is an apt phrase that is much in use here. Escaping the weather and bursting into the massive lobby with its blazing fireplace is a dream come true. In my room, I leave my easy chair in front of the fire to step out onto the balcony and just breathe. Below me, waves crash against the craggy rocks. To the right stands a forest of evergreens, and to the left, the vast expanse of Chesterman Beach stretches as far as the eye can see.
Master of the house Charles McDiarmid is in the building, and with his affable personality and knowledge of island lore, he is definitely the man to spend some time with. He will tell you that artists, including the celebrated wood carver Henry Nolla, designed elements of the two buildings, with the aim of blending art, nature and culture. You can even meet local artists at the onsite carving shed. He might suggest sea-kayaking or hiking trails. We have chosen whale watching offered by West Coast Aquatic Safaris. So here we are in a boat with a dozen other hardy souls, dressed in rain gear, speeding along on choppy waters with eyes peeled looking for whales. And there they are, schools of whales, cavorting and diving in and out of the sea, their tails flashing. Once back at our wonderful hotel, this day calls for a visit to Ancient Cedars Spa, where their therapeutic treasures encompass the best of earth and sea.In the Pointe Restaurant, a magnificent room with windows looking out to the sea and sky, a triumvirate of chefs – Nicholas Nutting, chef de cuisine; Warren Barr, executive chef; and Matt Wilson, pastry chef – have conspired to turn nature’s bounty into a parade of spectaculars for our enjoyment. Fresh shucked ‘outlandish’ oysters come accessorized with horseradish granite, vodka and fresh lemon; spot prawn tartare is enlivened with corned veal and mustard. I loath having to leave the appetizer menu, but I am tempted by Peace Country lamb sirloin and spot prawns that share the plate with potato gnocchi, kale and a flavour explosion of smoked almond and nettle pesto. Salmon that was swimming just hours ago comes with luscious little sour cream perogies and beetroot mostardo. I am overwhelmed. I take a short stroll to another window for a different vista. Why is it that we can stare at the sea for hours? I think to myself. Totally refreshing rhubarb reminds me of my country childhood, and is offered here with sour cream ice cream and walnuts, and a platter of house-made petit fours and chocolates, which keep us nibbling happily during our coffee and conversation.
That is what the Wickanninnish is all about. It brings us back to the tranquility of nature at its best, and restores our emotional strength and physical well-being.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.