ENDOWED with a bounty of seafood, the Comox Valley, nestled between the sea and the mountains of Vancouver Island, is a treat for any foodie.
More so every June, when the locale hosts the BC Seafood and Shellfish Festival — a global culinary congregation of chefs, connoisseurs and traders, and thousands of visitors.
This place with its beautiful beaches, charming restaurants and pastoral landscapes has always been part of my annual travel plans when my kids were growing up and never failed to yield surprises every time I visited.
Lately, my excursions there have been about seafood, wine tours and what nature has to offer in this patch of paradise.
Dubbed “The Land of Plenty” by the Komoks First Nations people who settled in the area thousands of years ago, the main communities of the valley are Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland, boasting things you’ve never done before, all within a 30-minute drive.
So if you are like me, always on the lookout for a gastronomic getaway, here are my favourite things to do and places to see in the Comox Valley.
But be warned of an old saying in the area: “strangers have been known to arrive and never depart for lesser destinations.”
BC Seafood and Shellfish Festival
Ranked among the best coastal celebrations in North America, this event in June features some of British Columbia’s top chefs who serve up an array of oysters, mussels, scallops, clams, fish and the much maligned geoduck.
This festival is packed with events and tours but do not miss the Fresh Fest, Comox by the Sea Celebration, Seafood & Wine Pairing and the Salmon Capital Seafood Taste. I would also recommend the BC Salmon Farm tours, half-day wildlife tour and the crabbing tour to get a full feel for the sea-to-table experience. Go to www.bcshellfishfestival.com for details.
While there are many inviting trails for the more robust among us, a rewarding stroll is the unrushed jaunt through Downtown Courtenay’s 5th Street, dotted with locally-owned shops with beautiful window displays and cafes.
Delightful detours here include the Comox Valley Art Gallery and the Courtenay Museum and Paleontology Centre.
The Courtenay Loop is a great way to start the day and takes you along the Courtenay River Estuary for views of the Comox Glacier, the Georgia Strait and coastal mountain ranges. There will always be glimpses of seabirds, eagles and sea lions.
Another leisurely stroll begins at the Comox Municipal Marina along Marina Walkway, over to the Comox Harbour Promenade and back to the Comox Fisherman’s Wharf — a great place to buy fresh seafood off the boats.
Innovative farmers and artisan producers with a passion for sustainability bring out the best in this agricultural hamlet that boasts among a range of unique products — 10 varieties of organic blueberries, organic wasabi, Belgian endive, Asian greens and organic meats from buffalo to venison.
For me, the best way to feel, taste and get a lesson on local produce is to visit the Comox Valley Farmers Market. There are about 70 vendors during the peak season outdoor Saturday market, selling and telling you about the local food movement.
Keep an eye out for special diet goods such as paleo, gluten-free and dairy-free products.
There is really no decent way to rank the quaint and delicious offerings by the chefs in the Comox Valley. So I will tell you about three places I always indulge in while here.
With a spectacular panoramic oceanfront view, the Blackfin pub is the place to go after a refreshing walk around the Comox Fisherman’s Wharf.
Chef Nigel McMeans uses locally sourced ingredients and don’t forget to ask of owner Edd Moyes, who is on standby to regale you with local tales.
The White Whale, a trendy riverside favourite, is a great place for craft beer and fresh oysters by Chef Aaron Rail.
When you are heading to the Comox Valley, one of the first things to do is to try and secure a reservation at Locals Restaurant. Here, the uniqueness of the Comox Valley is served on mouthwatering plates by Chef Ronald St Pierre and wife Tricia.
The regions vintners, budding and bold, are raising the profile of estate wineries in the Comox Valley. As a more recent entrant in this field, I would suggest you do the tasting and let someone else do the driving.
The 40 Knot’s Estate Vineyard is a brilliant example of green tourism where grapes are handpicked and resident sheep mow the grass.
Their Pinot Gris exhibits tremendous potential. Another local must see is the Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery. For a taste and tour of the uncommon, the Coastal Black Estate Winery, is a 600-acre fruit winery at the foot of Mount Washington.
It is the largest blackberry farm in Canada and produces fruit wines and meads. If spirits are your thing, Wayward Distillation House is the destination. It is the first distillery in Canada using honey as the base for vodka and gin.
Now that you are coming
Go to www.discovercomoxvalley.com or call the Vancouver Island Visitor Centre at 1-855-400-2882 to find out the best ways to get here and what you can expect, do and see.
a former journalist with Malay Mail, who now lives in Canada, occasionally shares his travel secrets with us.