It’s no surprise the Gulf Islands are considered a world-class destination. Scattered in the Salish Sea off the coast of Vancouver Island, the destinations are rare pockets of calm in a busy world. The bucolic southern Gulf Islands are a particularly magical place to unplug and enjoy the luxury life in the slow lane—ambling through ancient forests, visiting villages humming with local artisans, galleries, and cafés, and tasting the spoils of countless craft brewers, cider makers, chefs, and farmers. Here, a guide to four unmissable islands: Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne, and Saturna.
Salt Spring Island for: food, wine, and art.
Salt Spring is the largest of the Gulf Islands and a magnet for creative types of all kinds. Take a stroll through the galleries in Ganges and you’ll see the work of some of the island’s 400+ resident artists. Don’t miss Steffich Fine Art for Norval Morrisseau’s colourful canvasses, Bob Masse’s psychedelic rock posters, and kinetic wind sculptures from Lyman Whitaker. There’s an impressive collection of Group of Seven originals and First Nations carvings at the Pegasus Gallery of Canadian Art. The Duthie Gallery and sculpture garden offers art along with comfortable accommodations, and you’ll find luxury lodging—and fine dining—at Hastings House, a historic inn next door. Sip a Salt Spring Wild Cider, made with rare heirloom apples from island farms, and visit the famous Saturday Market for other artistic and tasty island creations.
Pender Island for: wild luxury.
There’s nothing trashy about the sleek Airstream trailers you can bunk down in at WOODS on Pender. The resort owners have thought of everything to make their accommodations comfortable for reluctant outdoor types—from providing crisp linens, to French press coffee and reliable Wi-Fi. Yes, you’re in the woods, on an island, but this carefully-curated camp is all about style, offering lazy afternoons in the hammock or evenings around a crackling campfire, with all the comforts of civilization. Or, should you be sailing, anchor your yacht at Poets Cove Resort and Spa—considered one of the top 10 anchorages in the western hemisphere—and order local ling cod with crab ravioli at the resort’s Aurora Restaurant. Follow up by melting away your cares in the spa’s rock grotto “steam cave”.
Mayne Island for: magical moments.
Mayne has only 1,000 residents, but they are an artistic and musical bunch. Gumboots are still de rigueur on the islands, but the Blundstone generation is moving in, and now you’ll find local ingredients and gourmet groceries at the Farm Gate Store and craft ales at Mayne Island Brewing Co. Discerning decorators should visit Anthony Jamieson’s studio, where he casts spectacular architectural glass panels in a massive kiln. A studio tour also uncovers dramatic landscape paintings by Terrill Welch and functional Quasimodo Pottery. The oceanfront cottages at Mayne Island Resort make the perfect base for island explorations. Don’t miss the lively Thursday night jam sessions at The Groove Island Kitchen, with talented local musicians and shareable plates.
Saturna Island for: waves, whales, and barbecue.
Sail into Winter Cove on Saturna for the legendary annual lamb barbecue—whole local lambs cooked Argentinian-style over charcoal fires—or kayak along sculpted sandstone cliffs to Tumbo Island for a picnic. Watch for whales and sea lions from the cliffs at East Point, or hike up to see the big views from Mount Warburton, all within the Gulf Island National Park Reserve. Parkland residents make up half of this remote island (pop. just 350), but you’ll find innovative cuisine at chef Hubertus Surm’s Saturna Café in the General Store, live music and superb sunsets at the Lighthouse Pub, and killer pie with your cappuccino from Wild Thyme’s vintage double-decker bus.
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