Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
DUNCAN, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Each day, Katy Ehrlich makes four soups in large batches at her delightful eatery, Alderlea Farm and Cafe. Her husband, John, meanwhile turns out more than 40 pizzas in a wood-fired oven he built himself. They serve their guests in a farmhouse overlooking their 10-acre property off of a country road west of Duncan, the largest city in Cowichan Valley, the region of British Columbia that is becoming a destination for culinary travellers and those seeking getaways rich with authentic experiences yet light on tourist activity.
Alderlea Farm and Cafe is one of those destinations that typifies the area, where boutique wineries, artisan retailers, independent chefs, and a growing number of artists congregate, escaping the cost and stresses of urban life for an existence closer to nature and to living from the heart.
“I can’t resist it. I’ve got all these wonderful vegetables I feel like I’ve got to make these soups each morning. The ones on the menu are favourites with our customers,” says Katy Ehrlich, who spent years as a school teacher before devoting herself to the agrarian life.
The Ehrlichs are among the farmers who are increasingly seeing locals and visitors to the valley become interested in their enterprises. John Ehrlich says Alderlea’s cafe has doubled its revenue in each of the past eight years and expects the success to continue. Even those visitors to the area who don’t make it to the valley’s farms will almost certainly taste produce from them.
Codes Corner Organic Farm, which is about 10 kilometres (6.5 miles) away from Alderlea, has been operating for more than a quarter-century, serving restaurants as well as consumers who drive up to its property. Like the Ehrlichs, Bill and Denise Code have expanded their business to include produce sales on their farm. They don’t have a restaurant but they do sell products made from their fruits and vegetables that attract visitors to their property.
Tasting one of their cherry tomatoes that pop with flavour and freshness is only one benefit of a visit with the Codes. Another is chatting with Bill Code, who is a medical doctor and author. His latest book, “Solving the Brain Puzzle: A Complete Layperson’s Guide to Achieving Health”, includes topics focused on food and nutrition based on his experiences as a farmer and researcher. Codes Corner Organic Farm supplies establishments such as the restaurant at Unsworth Vineyards.
Visiting farms brings visitors closer to the food they consume and adds more appreciation for the restaurants that are dedicated to serving local fare. One of the finest places to dine in the Cowichan Valley is Genoa Bay Cafe, where the scenery matches the cuisine. Overlooking the marina at its namesake bay, the cafe features seafood sourced from the waters surrounding Vancouver Island as well as vegetables from the farms of Cowichan Valley. The wine list is also decidedly local, showcasing with confidence the wines of Vancouver Island, one of the most interesting viticulture areas in Canada. Genoa Bay Cafe is also a worthwhile destination because it makes you feel like you have escaped. It’s tranquil, pleasant, and excellent in every way — including the drive along the rural eastern seaside of the island.
Less hard to find is Prima Strada, a franchise of pizza restaurants that has done all the right things to stand out from the crowd. With two locations in Victoria and a Cowichan Valley spot in the town of Cobble Hill, Prima Strada is dedicated to honouring the traditions of Italy. The restaurant, whose pizzas are baked in an imported wood-fired oven, is one of the very few in Canada that has earned Neapolitan status for creating pies with authentic ingredients and using cooking techniques founded in Naples. Though true to Italy, Prima Strada also celebrates Vancouver Island’s culinary scene, including with house wines made especially for the restaurant by Averill Creek Winery in Duncan, underscoring again the stature of the food and wine coming from this wonderful part of British Columbia. The more you explore the more you realize the level of community appreciation for the suppliers and craft producers in the area. Year by year that appreciation seems to be spreading as more visitors discover the valley’s gems for themselves.
MORE ABOUT VISITING THE COWICHAN VALLEY
Getting There: BC Ferries gives travellers multiple options for reaching the Cowichan Valley. Its terminals at Duke Point and Departure Bay are about 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Ladysmith, the northernmost town in the valley. The Swartz Bay terminal, which is popular for those ferry passengers accessing Victoria, is about 50 kilometres by car (30 miles) from Mill Bay at the southern end of Cowichan Valley. Check ferry departures and routes at the BC Ferries website.
Where to Stay: The newly opened Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Ladysmith Oyster Bay is a family-friendly property with some top-notch features, including large suites with plush beds and attractive communal areas, including a pool and indoor waterslide that will keep kids giddy. Located off of the Trans-Canada Highway, the hotel provides easy access to Duncan and the rural communities and businesses that define the Cowichan Valley. Nightly Rates: Rooms start at about $150 during the fall season.