A Taster's Journey is a newsletter on food, wine and travel. After 15 years of studying, tasting, teaching, and selling wine, I created this newsletter to not only share my passion about wine, but of food and travel as well. Each month I hope to share wines that I am drinking, food that is in season, restaurants that I have enjoyed, and places I have traveled. Enjoy!"

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Hastings House on Salt Spring Island

April 21st, 2004

The Pacific Northwest is a breathtaking part of North America, and tucked on the tiny island of Salt Spring is a real gem: Hastings House. Just outside of Vancouver you board a ferry to Salt Spring Island, and you feel like you are being transported to a foreign land. The ferry leaves the harbor and heads into the open seas. As you look back, you can see the tall buildings fade into the horizon. The ferry motor purrs as the boat undulates on the waves; you can feel your body begin to relax. The sea air is salty and exhilarating. As you approach Salt Spring Island you see a rugged coastline with water crashing up against the rocks. The island almost looks uninhabited with row after row of huge evergreens. Salt Spring is tiny, only 70 square miles with a population of 10,000, but you feel like it is your own private oasis. The boat pulls into the harbor at the far end of the island, but only a ten minute taxi ride to Hasting House.

Hastings House is an upscale small resort that sits at the water’s edge. There is an old English Manor House, a barn, and several cottages scattered around the property. It looks like a postcard, 25 acres of rolling grass, farms, and gardens sitting on a bluff.

Guest Cottage at Hastings House

Guest Cottage at Hastings House

The Manor House was built in 1940 by William Hastings to replicate his 11th century childhood home in Sussex, England. It is a Tudor style with small pane windows, white stucco walls, and a rough cut stone foundation. Inside dark, wooden beams contrast nicely with the plain white plaster walls. The main sitting room has a huge sofa and comfortable chairs in front of a massive fireplace that roars all day long. Upstairs there are 2 guest bedrooms. There are a total of 18 guest bedrooms on the property, but the tasteful placement of the cottages makes for an open, airy environment. I had the pleasure of staying in one of the Farmhouse suites, which are cottages located on a berm, overlooking the harbor. The rooms are large, typically with a sitting area, a fireplace, and a private balcony. They are decorated with antique furnishings, local artwork and eiderdown quilts on the beds. Fresh flowers from the property are placed in each room, and during turndown service every evening the fireplace is set ablaze. The staff goes out of their way to make you feel special.

Adirondack Chairs by the Sea

Adirondack Chairs by the Sea

Although the service is exquisite, and the accommodations comfortable, it’s the outdoors that makes Hastings House truly memorable. Adirondack chairs sit on the lawn overlooking the sea. In the distance you can see the harbor in the nearby town of Ganges, and the sailboats rock back and forth with the tide. You can hear the birds chirping, and the water churning amongst the rocks. You can smell the sea air and the fresh cut grass. You can just relax, read a book, or contemplate the world – total tranquility. Hastings House has a complete spa to further enhance your needs for relaxation. It offers facials, massages, wraps, and other forms of revitalization.

For the more adventuresome, there are many activities. Salt Spring has beautiful trails for hiking, and Hastings House will outfit you with trail maps and backpacks. The island is quite rural, a mix of national parks and large farms. Complimentary mountain bikes are also offered, and it’s a great way to see the island. But be warned that the terrain has some hills, and they seem to only go up. Exploring the coastline is spectacular. It’s so rustic; rock formations jut out from the sea, and sheer cliffs are softened by the ubiquitous evergreens. The shore also has many interesting inlets filled with small marinas, quaint seaside homes, and private beaches. It’s not unusual to see sea otters swimming, or seals catching some rays on the rocks. Kayaks are a fun way to travel, and you can have guided tours; there is even one by moonlight. For those not looking to do so much paddling, you can take a sailboat around the island. If you are lucky, you will see a bald eagle.

The town of Ganges is just a short walk up the road. It’s a quaint hamlet located in the middle of the island with several marinas supporting the local boating community. Ganges, although quite sleepy, is the most active town on Salt Spring Island, and it’s the heart of the artistic community. Years ago this island became a haven for artists, and they open their galleries 6 days a week, exhibiting art, sculpture and pottery. The big event is on Saturday, when a colorful market takes place with over 100 vendors. This market provides us with an

excellent cross section of the local flavor. Many artists exhibit here selling anything from hooked rugs to homemade jams. The farmers, ranchers, and fishermen also participate. Herbs, vegetables, poultry, game, and seafood are all on display; making you mouth water in anticipation of the next meal.

Roaming Chickens

Roaming Chickens

Complementing the magnificent accommodations and the spectacular natural beauty is a culinary dining experience second to none. Great food always starts with the freshest ingredients, and as you walk the grounds you realize that you are in for a treat. Vegetable and herbs gardens are extensive. Perfect rows of chives, and scallions, and carrots make you dream of being a vegetarian. But the poultry and game are no less fresh. You will see lamb, chickens, ducks and cows; you want to start humming Old MacDonald. A full breakfast is served in the Manor House with eggs, fruit and baskets of fresh baked muffins and scones. For lunch, gourmet picnic baskets are made available for your excursions. Keeping with the British theme, Tea is served in the afternoon, but not just with crumpets. I remember trifle being served one afternoon, and a cobbler the next.

The highlight however is dinner, which is served in a beautiful dining room. Tables are adorned with white tablecloths, fine English bone china, and crystal glasses. But this elegance is made less formal by having simple pastel colored walls and a huge picture window framing the sea. The chef Marcel Kauer has won many awards, and the restaurant recently received 114 out of 120 points from Zagat. He develops a five-course menu featuring the fresh local ingredients, and changes the menu daily. There is always a choice of 5 entrees, and baby Salt Spring Island lamb is their specialty. I had a rack of lamb with a rosemary breadcrumb crust that was delicious. A sample meal might be as follows: eggplant and goat cheese roulade and fennel salad; Thai style sweet peppers and coconut bisque; marinated sablefish, bok choy and sorrel; herb crusted Pacific Halibut, vegetable spaghetti, and citrus salsa; and hot orchard quince soufflé with a white chocolate crème anglais. The food is spectacular, and the presentation exquisite. An outstanding wine list ensures that you will be able make this a true five star dinning experience. Whether it be the food, the service, or the accommodations, Hastings House goes the extra mile to ensure an enjoyable stay.

The Pacific Northwest is known for considerable rainfall, so plan to visit May through September, which is quite dry. The daytime temperatures average in the 70s. As I reflect on Salt Spring Island, I have great memories: the spectacular natural beauty, the beautiful cottages, the quaint town and artistic shops, and the superb food. I remember as the ferry pulled away that this was a special place, and I hope that I will return soon.

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