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Tasting the Saanich Peninsula

Royal retreat.

When Harry and Meghan moved to Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula last winter, locals weren’t puzzled by the royal couple’s choice.

After all, with its quiet country life and the bounty of locally produced food and beverages, who wouldn’t want to live here?

It’s also not puzzling that Victoria’s Magnolia Hotel & Spa—recently voted the top hotel in Canada by TripAdvisor—has created a curated journey so its guests can enjoy the peninsula, too.

Here’s how to journey through the verdant peninsula.

Just a 20-minute drive north of Victoria, our first stop is Michell’s Farm Market, in business since 1862. These days Michell’s grows everything from apples to zucchini on more than 500 acres and also raises cattle for its pasture- and grain-fed beef. Open year-round, Michell’s is a must for corn on the cob in summer, U-pick pumpkins in autumn, cabbage and kale all winter, and the first mustard greens of spring.

Directly behind the market we notice people lining up to eat at Harvest Rd., a small outdoor grill owned and operated by Jenni Brown—a sixth-generation member of the Michell family—and her husband, Brendan.

Forget the 100-Mile Diet. This is more like the 100-metre diet, with just about everything coming from the surrounding fields. As I bite into a juicy burger, Brendan says, “It’s a wonderful feeling,” explaining that the grill is especially popular with cyclists biking the adjacent Lochside Trail.

Our next stop is Sea Cider, where we admire the views over Haro Strait while enjoying a flight of ciders and a charcuterie board loaded with local meat, cheese, and hummus.

Fermented organic apples are sometimes combined with other fruit or ingredients to produce ciders ranging from honey yellow to deep red. We leave with a bottle of Bramble Bubbly, a sparkling cider with a touch of sweetness from blackberries, and another of Raspberry Anne, a cider fortified with apple brandy that we look forward to sipping this winter.

 

Moving on, we stop at the Roost, which started out as a bakery and has expanded to include a bistro and winery.  Speaking of the 100-Mile Diet, it was here where the authors of the book by the same name sourced their red spring wheat back in 2005. Today, the options are almost endless, from soups and sandwiches to scones and pies.

Farther north, we arrive at the Fickle Fig Farm Market, which makes and sells its own food while offering an outlet for other farmers and artisans. From house-made buns and bagels to pickles and ice cream, this place feels like a celebration of everything the peninsula produces. You can even buy yarn spun from the shear wool of their own sheep.

Next door, at Howl Brewing, repeat customers line up with their empties for refills of small-batch craft beer. We stash two in the cooler for later: a German-style dark lager and a Norwegian farmhouse-style ale flavoured with—get this—strawberries, cucumber, and mint. The hand-labelled bottles speak to the brewery’s ever-changing menu.

Heading south, we find “winegrower” Mike Rathjen serving tastings at Rathjen Cellars in the heart of the peninsula. With Vancouver Island’s long, slow growing season, he tells us that wines here taste more subtle than, say, those from the Okanagan. He follows the European method, focusing on growing the best fruit possible and “not forcing the wine to be something it’s not.”

Our final stop is Country Bee Honey Farm, specializing in honey and beeswax products. Stroll the wildflower meadow, observe a hive of bees, feed the goats, and admire the preening peacocks. This place makes the hard work of farming look fun.

Spending time in the Saanich Peninsula allows you to taste the landscape, and we encourage you to try it for yourself.

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