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Culinary Tour of Vancouver's Cowichan Valley

Picking white turnips and lettuce at Vancouver Island’s Fairburn Farm.

Photo: Tara Donne

Day 3: Duncan to Sooke

Anyone in the valley on a Sunday should make a reservation for Mara Jernigan’s epic Italian-inspired lunch at Fairburn Farm, served on communal tables on the porch. (It’s open both to guests and to people who aren’t staying at the inn.) The six courses might include a stellar salad of just-picked baby greens, a lasagna of chanterelles, braised lamb shanks with featherlight gnocchi, and a plate of Cowichan cheeses with figs and house-made mostarda (a spicy candied-fruit condiment). After lunch, cross back over the Malahat range on Highway 1, then follow Route 14 along the southwestern coast. Here, as the shoreline grows more rugged and the winds more blustery, habitations are fewer and farther between. In the sleepy hamlet of Sooke, stop in at Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery to sample the excellent honey and strong mead. Then check into the 28-room Sooke Harbour House, tucked away on a semiprivate peninsula.

The inn is best known—and deservedly so—for its restaurant, where chef Sam Benedetto works wonders using almost exclusively island ingredients: that means no olive oil, no citrus, no produce that can’t be grown in the inn’s expansive garden. Thankfully, what can be grown here is remarkable: sweet Asian pears; four varieties of kiwi; nasturtiums whose buds can substitute for capers; orange begonias that emit a tart, citrusy juice; and dozens of distinctly flavored geraniums, which taste uncannily of garlic or apple or dill or lime. The daily-changing menu is especially strong on seafood, be it a Dungeness crab soup or sweet Weathervane scallops served with sea asparagus and sorrel. The 15,000-wbottle wine list is overseen by the inn’s charismatic owner, Sinclair Philip—who, along with Jernigan, helped start the island’s Slow Food movement. Toast them both with a glass of smoky-sweet Brandenburg No. 3, an amber dessert wine from Cowichan’s own Venturi-Schulze. Then it’s off to bed with the sound of waves lapping on the rocky shore below.

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