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GULF ISLANDS HONEYMOON AND ROMANTIC GETAWAY

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Between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, there's a picturesque archipelago of 200 Gulf Islands. Only eight have permanent inhabitants. Of these, four (Salt Spring, Saturna, Mayne and Galiano) are especially enticing to honeymooners.

Aerial views of Third Sister Island with Chocolate Beach and Second Sister Island with red and white lighthouse. Ganges Harbour, Salt Spring Island.
Aerial views of Third Sister Island with Chocolate Beach and Second Sister Island with red and white lighthouse. Ganges Harbour, Salt Spring Island.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Attractions? Romantic inns, fresh seafood, award-winning wines, a Mediterranean climate, soaring eagles, pristine forests, wildflowers and untrammelled beaches (where yours are the only footsteps in the sand).

Their biggest lure is island time, a mellow state of mind induced by the island's only timekeepers — the tides and the schedules of the ferries, which stitch the islands to each other and the mainland. Island time is the perfect antidote to the hectic whirl of wedding events.

Where to stay

Called the "gem of the islands" by Hideaway Report, Oceanwood Country Inn, on Mayne Island, overlooks flower gardens and a private bay. Several of the 12 rooms feature fireplaces, whirlpools and private decks. The restaurant wine cellar has an extensive West Coast wine list.

A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Hastings House occupies 10 idyllic hectares on Salt Spring. Historic and hillside buildings house 18 individually decorated suites, with fireplaces, soaker tubs and CD players.

Two chairs in front of Hastings House, Salt Spring
Two chairs in front of Hastings House, Salt Spring
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Before your Gulf Islands trip, luxuriate at the Amethyst Inn in Victoria BC. The 1885 Victorian bed and breakfast is so romantic that couples get married in the front parlour. The 16 high-ceilinged rooms and suites boast four-poster beds, fireplaces, Jacuzzis and hydrotherapy spa tubs-for-two.

Where to eat

On Galiano, the funky Daystar Market sells healthy deli sandwiches, local produce, organic coffee and freshly baked scones.

Saturna Island is perfect for picnicking. Our favorite spots? Saturna Beach and East Point, which offers views of Tumbo Island, orca whales and snowy Mount Baker. Saturna General Store sells David Wood cheeses, Haggis Farm breads and fruit to make your own picnic lunch.

On Salt Spring, Barb's Buns sells mouthwatering ginger scones, pesto pizza and Belgian chocolate cake. For a big splurge, indulge in a five-course candlelight dinner at Hastings House. A typical menu? Eggplant and goat cheese roulade with fennel salad, Thai-style sweet pepper and coconut bisque, marinated sea bass, garlic sautéed lobster on garden greens and white chocolate crème Anglaise.

Where to shop

The islands are artists' havens. (Famed wildlife painter, Robert Bateman, lives on Salt Spring.) Take a self-guided tour of 32 artists' studios, in Ganges, with a free map. Also on Salt Spring, Artcraft exhibits pottery, baskets, jewellery, wood, metal, glass and woven works by 200 artisans, from mid-June to mid-September.

Mouat's sells comfortable, casual clothing. Between mid-April and mid-October, meet local artists, food vendors and farmers who've "made it, baked it or grown it," at the colorful Saturday Market in Centennial Park.

Kayaking in Ganges Harbour
Kayaking in Ganges Harbour
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Where to party

The liveliest nightlife is in Ganges. Moby's Pub is a casual seaside spot for live entertainment, Sunday dinner jazz and open-mike nights. The Tree House Café offers warm-weather dining and live music under the stars and the spreading branches of a large plum tree.

Where to kayak

Even first-timers can kayak in Ganges Harbour with Island Escapes Kayaking or Saltspring Adventure Company Rentals, based at Moby's Pub. Chocolate Beach, on Third Sister Island, is a good place for a picnic.

Saturna Sea Kayaking has a guided trip to Saturna Beach, where you paddle past curious seals, listen to the cries of black oystercatchers and spot purple starfish. From the beach, it's only a short hike to Saturna Island Winery, where a tasting room offers samples of award-winning vintages.

Bikes park in front of the Saturna General Store and Café.
Bikes park in front of the Saturna General Store and Café.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Where to cycle

Lined with lavender and pink foxglove blossoms, the sun-dappled Porlier Pass Road, on Galiano Island, begs to be explored by bicycle. Ride the length of the 27.5-kilometre-long island, stopping for the view from the 20-storey-high Lover's Leap.

Douglas firs form a cathedral over East Point Road on Saturna Island. Crashing waves and the scent of salty air entice riders to explore the beach, bordering the road. Tiny hermit crabs scuttle over strands of sea lettuce.

Pools shelter pretty butter clam shells and weathervane scallops. It's a welcome break, after climbing the long and challenging hill dubbed the "Missing Link."

A couple admire the view from The Bluffs, Galiano Island.
A couple admire the view from The Bluffs, Galiano Island.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Where to hike

Don't miss the 10-kilometre hike up and down The Bluffs on Galiano Island. From the ridge on top, gaze at the same panorama of islands and waterways admired by Coast Salish Nation aboriginals, hundreds of years ago.

The 400-metre-high Mt. Warburton, on Saturna Island, offers equally splendid eye candy (and feral goats!). A hike along the beach at Saturna's East Point reveals petroglyphs and honeycomb weathering. One hole, eroded into the sandstone, resembles an open whale's mouth. Great photo-op!

In Ruckle Provincial Park, on Salt Spring Island, you'll feel like Hansel and Gretel in a primordial forest, dwarfed by western red cedars the height of four telephone poles, and surrounded by a sea of ferns, in a dozen shades of green.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Size & Population: Salt Spring Island (180 sq. km.) — 10,500; Saturna (96 sq. km.) — 350; Mayne (21 sq. km.) — 1,000; Galiano (57 sq. km.) — 1,300.

Weather: With more than 2,000 hours of annual sunshine, the Gulf Islands are nicknamed 'Canada's Hawaii.' Average annual rainfall is less than half of Vancouver's. Late spring, summer and early fall are the best times to visit. Summer temperatures average 20 - 30° C.

Telephone area codes: 250, unless toll-free.

Tourism BC: www.hellobc.com

More things to see & do in the BC Gulf Islands:

Saturna Island Vacation

Galiano Cycling Tour

Hiking BC Saltspring Island Tsawout Native Reserve

Hiking Ruckle Provincial Park Saltspring Island