To those in the know, the proper pronunciation is: Clah-quot. Within British Columbia’s Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, on the westernmost edge of Vancouver Island, is a native wilderness of storybook beauty. Misty mountains, far-reaching fjords, and a coastal temperate rainforest, Clayoquot shelters more than half of B.C.’s wildlife species, and stores more carbon per hectare than almost any other forest on Earth. Situated at the mouth of the Bedwell River is the Relais & Châteaux Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, an enclave of great white-canvas guest tents, spa tents, dining tents, and lounge tents as well as a timber cookhouse all offering a delicious paradox of indulgent luxury and remote, untamed wilderness.
Managing director John Caton, along with his wife, Adele, didn’t intend to produce the “glamping” phenomenon when they created their northwest refuge, but the pair had a hunch guests would connect with the pristine wilderness, and have been welcoming visitors to the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort for 17 years. John had his hand in the music industry, but after a major heart attack at the age of 39, he decided things needed to change. “We were living in Ontario at the time,” says Adele, recounting the beginning, “and people were always staying over at our farmhouse. John set up a tent in the bush, furnished it, and one night said to me, ‘Tonight we sleep in the tent.’ ” One night became two, and soon after the couple was looking for land to realize their vision.
Open May through September, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is accessible by boat or a 45-minute seaplane from Vancouver. The Catons and their team welcome visitors at the dock upon arrival before a horse-drawn wagon transports travellers to camp. Embedded below the rainforest canopy, 28 canvas tents dot the landscape, each furnished with unexpected comforts (ensuite bathrooms and heated floors). The tents are each the size of a studio apartment, appointed with heirloom furniture and antique-store finds; the china in the dining tents belonged to Adele’s grandmother.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort was founded with the environment in mind and has been developed sustainably. In addition to installing recycling-water systems and composting toilets, the founders invested in salmon habitat restoration. Each spring, thousands (36,000 last year) of salmon fry are released into the mouth of the Bedwell River so the cycle will build for the spawning season.
Dubbed the Northwest Safari, a visit to this part of the world has a different Big Five: whales, bears, bald eagles, sea lions, and sea otters, all waiting to be discovered. If there is one requisite activity, it’s the Walk the Wild Side excursion, a spectacular look at the unspoiled land and sea during a six-hour guided outing that combines hiking, beachcombing, and whale- and bear-watching. There are plenty of activities to choose from, more than can be experienced in the regulated three-, four-, seven-, or 11-night stays at camp: skeet shooting, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, archery, horseback riding, rock climbing, paddleboarding.
Mealtime at the cookhouse is when the intimate group of guests swap tales of the day as executive chef Ryan Orr showcases the fare of the region while sommelier Tereza Roux pairs the best of B.C. wines; American and European vintages are listed as well.
The latest offering from Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is accessible only by helicopter. Perched almost 1,400 metres (4,500 feet) above sea level is Cloud Camp, where a trinity of tents (sleep, dining, and lounge) are nestled on the rocky shoreline of an alpine lake. Cloud Camp gives new meaning to private. If you should so choose to be closer to the stars, this is the ultimate of blissful solitude.
Back at base camp, a guest-book comment warns: be expected for the best trip of your life. Or, as John puts it: “I built this so all could come play with me. I want others to join me on this little piece of heaven on Earth.” John Caton has invited you. Now, you go.