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Journey to the Land of Plenty

Wyng Chow – The Standard

June 28, 2017

Endowed with a bounty of seafood, the Comox Valley nestled between the sea and mountains on the east coast of Vancouver Island is a treat for any epicurean adventurer seeking to live the life of Riley.

Boasting beautiful beaches, charming restaurants, pastoral landscapes, vineyards and wineries, the area situated about 140 kilometers (as the crow flies) northwest of Vancouver has long been part of holiday travel plans for visitors from other parts of Canada, as well as tourists from the United States, Europe and Asia.

This is particularly true every June during the annual BC Seafood and Shellfish Festival, which welcomes a global culinary congregation of chefs and foodies, connoisseurs and seafood traders.

Dubbed the “Land of Plenty” by the First Nations people who settled in the area thousands of years ago, the main communities of the valley are Comox, Courtenay, and Cumberland, along with Denman Island and Hornby Island, and unincorporated settlements such as Fanny Bay – the home of internationally famous oysters.

The valley is billed as a gastronomical paradise, serving up an array of farmed Atlantic salmon, oysters, mussels, scallops, clams and geoduck.

About a 45-minute drive north is the coastal city of Campbell River – a favorite spot for American sports fishermen.

Simple things to do include walkabouts. While there is a plethora of inviting trails for the more robust, a rewarding stroll is the leisurely jaunt through downtown Courtenay’s Fifth Street, dotted with locally owned shops and cafes. Delightful detours include the Comox Valley Art Gallery and Courtenay Museum and Paleontology Centre.

The Courtenay Loop is a great way to start the day, taking visitors along the Courtenay River Estuary for views of the Comox Glacier, Georgia Strait and coastal mountain ranges. And there are always spottings of seabirds, eagles and sea lions to be had.

The Comox Fisherman’s Wharf is an unbeatable place to buy fresh seafood – salmon, halibut, tuna, prawns, oysters and crabs – straight off the boats.

The valley is an agricultural hamlet offering a range of unique products, including 10 varieties of organic blueberries, organic wasabi, Belgian endive, Asian greens and organic meats, from buffalo to venison.

Bounty from the region is showcased at quaint farmers’ markets, featuring locally grown vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and baked goods.

Highly recommended dining establishments include the Blackfin pub, with its panoramic oceanfront view and menu loaded with locally sourced ingredients.

Then there’s The White Whale, a trendy riverside favorite renowned for craft beer and fresh oysters. And a “must” is booking a reservation at Locals Restaurant, where signature dishes like grilled sablefish, or black cod – a Japanese favorite that almost literally melts in your mouth – are in high demand.

Among other attractions, the region’s vintners are raising the profile of estate wineries in the valley. The 40 Knot’s Estate Vineyard is a brilliant example of green tourism, where grapes are handpicked.

Located at the foot of Mount Washington is the Coastal Black Estate Winery, a 243-hectare fruit winery that includes the largest blackberry farm in Canada, and produces fruit wines and meads. If spirits are your thing, visit Wayward Distillation House, the first Canadian distillery to use honey as the base for gin and vodka.

“Our farmers, restaurateurs and vintners love to share their farm-to-fork experience,” said Comox Mayor Paul Ives. “Our valley has something for everyone, from family holidays to romantic getaways, for bikers and hikers, ski hills and beaches and wildlife tours.”

For adventurers, nearby Mount Washington offers scenic alpine trails. For the diving enthusiast, there is an abundance of sights in and around the area’s colorful reefs: ling cod, rockfish, and cloud sponges, or 3.7-meter-long sixgill sharks, Pacific octopi and sea lions. For leisure seekers, the Comox Valley is also a mecca for live music, artisans and the performing arts. Active theater groups, music venues and artisans always have something on the calendar.

For intrepid travelers, a steep path through the ravine in the Comox Valley Regional District’s Seal Bay Nature Park on the Comox Peninsula leads to a beach where you can just relax and unwind, watching the bald eagles, water birds, and other wildlife such as deer, seals, or sea lions. For families, Strathcona Provincial Park is home to black bears and elk herds. Remember to bring your camera to capture spectacular vistas and natural waterfalls.

The Comox-area vacation paradise is a 25-minute flight from Vancouver International Airport, 45 minutes via seaplane, or less than four hours drive via road and ferry from Vancouver.

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