Art is a way of life at Sooke Harbour House. Eat, sleep, drink and dream at this jewel-like inn perched on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and you will be embraced by regional art – or at least kissed on the cheek by its presence. Art, produced by the community, is everywhere.
The Ocean Sculpture fence of cedar and copper cannily hides the parking lot. Servers bring bread in handwoven vine baskets (you can have your breakfast in bed if you wish). In the Emily Carr Room, a pine bed features a headboard with curvaceous evergreen branch, reminiscent of the bold Canadian painter’s style. Totem poles and masks, designed by the region’s First Nations families, stand and hang throughout the 28-room inn on the sleepy Juan de Fuca Strait.
Attention to beauty, local originality and detail, a guiding passion of inn co-owner Frederique Philip, extends past each room’s threshold. Each room glows with a wood-burning fireplace, a small bottle of port, a basket of freshly baked cookies, antique books, and a view of which Thoreau would approve. Book a spa treatment in your room or watch the eagles fly by. (Room rates range from $340-$599 for the top-of-the-line Bird’s Nest, but the inn offers deals on the internet at www.sookeharbourhouse.com.)
Living art comes by the place naturally. Walk through the hotel’s vivid organic flower garden (check out the 10 types of rosemary and ask for a garden tour). Marvel at the leathery kelp along the ocean edge at the hotel’s doorstep, honor the silvery Olympics. If not arty, the otter family provides daily entertainment from the 55-seat dining room.
And then there’s the artistry of the food.
Sinclair Philip, Frederique’s husband and co-owner of the 31-year-old inn, remains a dogged and dedicated food and wine expert who knew the meaning of “localvore” and “Slow Food” before the terms were coined. When the Philipses lived in rural France four decades ago, they ate from their garden. The tradition is carried on at Sooke Harbour House. Whichever ingredients local farmers, gardeners, foragers and fishermen bring to the inn in the morning, those foods will be served up in some delightful form at night.
The dinner menu changes daily (lunch is served on Sunday). What doesn’t change is the originality of the dishes: They are extravagantly fresh in ingredients and concept, and presented to seduce the senses. Dinner is served in courses and matched painstakingly with wine, if desired. Sinclair, whose cellar has 7,000 to 8,000 bottles, trains his sommeliers with an iron hand.
Most diners choose the four-course $74 dinner (without wine), though a seven-course “gastro” dinner is available for $120, with $80 for wine.
For Thanksgiving the hotel will serve ham and bronzed heirloom turkey (from up the road, of course), along with a rosemary and Gravenstein apple stuffing, accompanied by a wild-cranberry and plum chutney. Expect wild mushrooms (one of Sinclair’s current passions), delicata squash, pumpkin pie and such flavors of sorbet as evergreen or huckleberry. Dinner costs $74.95 (Canadian), without wine and will be served from 5:30 till 9 p.m. About 15 percent of Sooke’s guests have food allergies so don’t hesitate to make special requests.
Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners, will be similar. For details check the website at www.Sookeharbourhouse.com
The New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner Dance, where bubbly will be popped at 7 p.m. under candelabras aglow with real candles, celebrates Sooke’s end of the year blowout. A four-course dinner at 8 p.m. follows and then LustLife, a local jazz band, will play in the Garden Room as guests dance, creating even more island allure for the Sooke Harbour House. Cost, without lodging, is $159.
Sooke Harbour House is 45 miles west of Victoria at 1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke, British Columbia, V9Z 0T4 1-800-889-9688. Website is www.sookharbourhouse.com. Be sure to reserve.