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The Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, Vancouver Island, Canada

I first heard of The Wickaninnish Inn when my longtime friends, Martin and Dale, traveled there during the winter for storm-watching season. Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and minutes from the small village of Tofino, where there are, proudly, still no stoplights, The Wick sits right on the rugged point of Chesterman Beach. Storm-watching has become a true selling point for The Wick and Martin and Dale keep going back.

Although our birthday party traveled to the Wick in summer, alas no storms, we made the picturesque drive from the Seattle area – flying to The Wick is also an option – including a splendid ferry ride through the San Juan Islands from Anacortes, Washington to Sidney, British Columbia. On the return trip my travel party witnessed three orcas gamboling by, a rare sighting by ferry. From Sidney, we drove through Nanaimo and into a mountainous wilderness on curvy roads surrounded by stunning vistas. The Wick is just north of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, within the pristine UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Clayquot Sound.

After driving into the resort, we were met by one of the two gracious concierges, Damien, who helped the front desk check us in and showed us to our suites. I was part of a birthday celebration and was in the mood for positive revelry from the get-go. Damien’s courtesy helped everyone with that. We stayed in the Frank Island Suites in On The Beach, the newer building, a short walk from the original On The Point building. There are 75 deluxe rooms and suites between the two of them, and I was able to take a look at the new room upgrades planned for completion in February 2012. All rooms have views of the ocean, islands, old growth forest, and beach. What I noticed first upon entering were all the windows and the spectacular view beyond, the waves rolling in, and in the far distance, surfers riding the waves in wetsuits. There are surfing lessons available to guests! I was on the third floor and the corner was made into a kind of treehouse platform with wraparound windows, a little nook perfect for reading or just watching the peaceful view.

The birthday party took advantage of all The Wick has to offer, and we visited the other concierge on duty, Jason, for some tips. Jason is a Member Les Clefs D’or Canada and we ended up following his sage advice. He said not to miss the magical hike to Schooner’s Cove, only a ten-minute drive from the inn, and to definitely set up a boat charter to view the black bears in their natural habitat with Mike White, owner of Browning Pass Charters. We saw five bears that day, coming out to hunt for crab at low tide, picking up heavy boulders as if they were movie-set fakes, and quickly grabbing the crabs and swallowing them whole. They weren’t afraid of us, even when the boats on the tours gathered ten yards from shore! I think our party took thousands of photographs that week and most of them had bears in them. Schooner’s Cove is only a short one-kilometer walk through old-growth trees, but you walk the entire way on a cedar plank boardwalk, meandering through the small hills, over creeks, up valleys, steps, with benches to stop and marvel at the enormous trees, until you reach the most idyllic crescent beach. It is private, quiet, and picturesque – the perfect place for meditation.

Returning to The Wick from any of these off-inn adventures, the pampering continued at the Ancient Cedars Spa, located in The Point building right on the rocky outcropping, where the rolling surf noise brings its many guests to a tranquil zone. This spa was voted the #1 Hotel Spa worldwide by Travel + Leisure readers and I can see why after my feet were gently placed in a soothing copper bucket of warm water with large green massage marbles to begin my massage treatment, sitting outside on a terrace looking at the open stretch of ocean.

We dined at The Wick’s restaurant, The Pointe Restaurant, several times, including the unforgettable birthday dinner, where the chef created a personal six-course tasting menu based on the wishes of the birthday party. Chef Nicholas Nutting, assisted by Sous Chef Warren Barr, created dishes inspired by the surrounding area, using fresh seafood, crab, mussels, clams, oysters, salmon and halibut combined with produce from local farmers’ markets. One of the two most memorable items on the regular menu began with a starter of Medicine Farms Mustard Greens, Grilled Salmon Belly, Sweet Corn & Fresh Horseradish and finished with a hearty entree of Freshly Foraged Porcini & Morel Mushrooms, Black Garlic Glazed Lamb Rack, New Potato & English Pea Ragout. Truly delicious. There is an award-winning wine list and I especially enjoyed the dessert wines. The bar also has a complete list of adventurous cocktails. One evening we partook of a Crab Bake right on the beach, which is offered to guests of the inn three times a week. It felt like we were camping out, the crab pot filled to overflowing and sides — the tomato salad was divine — from the kitchen brought out family style. There was even a campfire to melt marshmallows!

The managing director, Charles McDiarmid, had a dream to open The Wickaninnish Inn after spending time at The Four Seasons. He followed through on this dream wonderfully with an attention to every detail, from the first moment a guest arrives to when the sad departure day eventually comes. I cannot recommend this Relais & Châteaux property highly enough. There is a classic style to The Wickaninnish Inn, with its truly incomparable natural setting and deluxe accommodations that would welcome any guest.

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