I was completely and easily seduced by Galiano Island. You would be too if you were surrounded by white-shell beaches, lush forests, stunning vistas, and very little traffic.
One of the least developed of British Columbia’s pristine Southern Gulf Islands, Galiano has only about 1,050 full-time residents. They, and their guests, enjoy a laid-back, chilled vibe on this delightful stretch of territory that runs 27.5 kilometres (17.1 miles) in length, idling in the Strait of Georgia just east of Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island.
Yet, for such a tiny and under-populated island, its gastronomy scene is impressive. Galiano’s culinary terrain is heavily influenced by fresh, local and sustainable fixings. Chefs, farmers, and fishermen work together toward a green future, where island ingredients are the featured attraction on daily menus and reflect the agriculture and people of Galiano.
Small BC Island with Exciting Food Scene
The environmental aspects and quality of its cuisine are the reasons why Galiano ranks among the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2020.
Leading the way is the much lauded Pilgrimme Restaurant. In the summer, people wait weeks to get a reservation. Lucky for me, I was fortunate enough to be invited. I was immediately taken by its location, tucked away in a secluded forested setting and housed in an intimate wood cottage.
Ever since executive chef/owner Jesse McCleery opened his tiny eatery in late 2014, he has amassed several national accolades. When asked why he believed Pilgrimme has been so successful from the get-go, McCleery credited Copenhagen’s famed Noma for setting his path. McCleery worked at the Danish restaurant that has been named the best in the world, as well as lodges in Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest. Those experiences bolstered a food philosophy focused on taste-of-place experiences that diners have embraced in droves.
The Pilgrimme menu is built around what McCleery discovers while foraging the woods, on the seashore or in local farmers’ gardens. Daily, this innovative chef creates a seven-course tasting menu ($75). The standouts on my December evening were many, including the heritage corn, albacore tuna, garnished with leek and duck yolk, and the fig leaf ice cream presented with buckwheat, pear, and kombucha. One splendid flavour followed another during this culinary adventure.
The following day, I dined at the Woodstone Manor, where the owners joined forces with three-time Michelin-star executive chef Sekihata Katsuyuki to produce locally inspired dishes that are as informal, yet polished as their surroundings. Calling upon his French and Japanese training, Katsuyuki serves dishes that made my palate sing. The prawn bisque with champagne, garnished with edible flower petals, paired beautifully with the lox salad that looked too pretty to eat.
An island institution, dinner at the Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa’s cozy Atrevida Restaurant, which features warm wood, contemporary art and subtle décor, was yet another treat. Executive chef Dean Hillier’s seasonal menu illustrates his deep respect for locally sourced, organic produce and wild seafood. I started with delicious crab cakes that allowed the crab meat to take centre stage, while the baked sablefish on a bed of quinoa was outstanding.
A Foodie and Outdoor Lover’s Paradise
Galiano Island is a treat for any epicurean or outdoor adventurer. Everything I wanted to do, whether it was hiking, walking, spa’ing or eating, was all within a few minutes’ drive from the Woodstone Manor.
What is a sojourn without a spa treatment? Minutes from the ferry terminal at Sturdies Bay, the Galiano Oceanfront Inn & Spa presented me a unique experience at its Madrona del Mar Spa.
Imagine this: I am cocooned inside a cedar cottage within a verdant garden featuring a waterfall and pond. The cozy retreat, with candles, aromatic scents, waterfall sounds, and flowers, offers up even more reason to bliss-out. I opted for the hour-long massage with blackberry port (from Salt Spring Island Vineyards). Afterwards, I curled up in a comfy chair while enjoying a glass of this smooth port.
With miles of rugged, picturesque rural beauty, Galiano provided plenty of opportunity for me to explore the incredible vistas. One morning, I awaken to nothing but clear skies beaming down over the cobalt-blue waters. Lacing up my hiking boots, I headed to Bodega Ridge Provincial Park. An easy 30-minute hike and I was at the top of Galiano, walking along a rocky ridge more than 1,000 feet above the sea.
Another great hike is to the summit of Bluffs Park, at the south end of Galliano, where I had front-row seats to spectacular views of Active Pass, which separates Galiano from Mayne Island and is known for its resident orca and humpback whale populations.
Rounding out my adventure was a three-hour paddle with Gulf Islands Kayaking. What’s more fun than navigating sheltered waters catching sight of sea lions frolicking in the waters, while seals appeared to look at me with complete, could it be, disdain, as they sunned themselves on a rock?
Although I didn’t take part, it is important to note that Galiano is home to a citizen-driven project dubbed Galiano Biodiversity, that has residents and visitors update online their “discoveries” or questions about the many species of flora and fauna on Galiano.
2020 Highlights on Galiano Island
The Nettlefest happens from April 16-19, after the wild nettles make their first appearance of spring. Visitors can discover how to forage and cook nettles, while gleaning information on the plant’s health benefits. A lunch brings out everyone’s inner chef — plus, a few well-known ones, too.
The annual Blackberry Tea takes place on October 10, and brings Galiano’s wild crop of blackberries into the kitchen at the Galiano South Hall.
The Mushroom Festival (November 7-8) is where residents and visitors alike bring in hundreds of mushrooms to the Community Hall for experts to identify. And there is a mushroom-themed lunch, books on mushrooms, and tips on foraging.
More About Visiting Galiano Island
Getting There: Galiano Island is accessed by a BC Ferries sailing. For visitors coming from Vancouver, the best option is to board at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal for the short scenic ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia. For more information or to book a reservation, visit BC Ferries or call toll free 1-888-223-3779 (1-888-BCFERRY).
Where to Stay: The Woodstone Manor re-opens on February 13, 2020, after a seasonal break for its staff. Location: 743 Georgeson Bay Rd, Galiano Island, BC. Accommodations: It’s the attention to detail throughout Woodstone Manor that makes it special. All 12 rooms are beautiful, with wide plank wood floors covered with Persian rugs. Rooms also feature heavy silk drapes, gas fireplaces, and many charming touches that will make you feel spoiled. The manor’s good looks are matched by the rolling green pastures with horses grazing, lying against a backdrop of forested hills from the outdoor stone patio with roaring fireplace. Room Rates: The starting price is $225 per night for two (including breakfast and wifi).