For someone who's lived in Vancouver nearly their entire life (short of the first five months where I was born in Hong Kong), I've never explored much of the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia, off the western coast of Canada. I did finally spend a week on Saltspring Island with family a few years ago where we rented a cabin and played on the beach. Life seemed idyllic on this popular island although I've never understood why a direct ferry route doesn't exist between Saltspring and the Mainland. This makes it tough if anyone were to consider buying vacation property there, but I'll tackle that topic in a future post.
So like many of you, I lead a hectic city life. Juggling a full-time job, being a mom to two young boys, owning a textile design company, a vintage accessories company and running this blog, there aren't many minutes left in the day just for me. So lately I've been desperately seeking solace - somewhere - that's not too far to venture, but yet far enough away from everything that's keeping me 'connected'. That search led me to Galiano Island, the neighbour to Saltspring and Mayne Islands, and the first one you see heading out from the Mainland.
I had never really considered going there before. All my friends who went to Galiano were there for everything related to yoga. It almost seemed too tree-huggery, spiritual or hippie for me. I didn't think there was anything there that spoke to me at all.
I do think that when you're driven to the brink, you experience a type of epiphany. Like I did. I was literally at the brink of exhaustion recently and my boyfriend - the kindest, absolute gem of a man I could ask for, and who loves me unconditionally - booked a weekend for us at the Galiano Inn and Spa. It sounds grand but it's not - it's incredibly quaint and low key - and precisely what the doctor ordered.
Keep in mind, this is a tiny speck of land in the grand scheme of all things Canadian. The folks at the Galiano Inn & Spa describe the island as roughly the size of Manhattan with a few less people. Heh. Try 1.6 million less people. There are approximately 1,200 full time residents on Galiano Island and you'll notice it when you drive around there. It's a long and skinny stretch of land measuring 27 km in length and no more than 6 km across; in fact, there are some parts where it's just over 1 km across.
In June (and essentially most of the year except July and August), it's pretty deserted on Galiano, according to local residents. Even just spending a weekend here driving around, you'll notice the same characters in the town and throughout the island. There are many retirees but also young families. Robin, the head bartender at the town's famous Hummingbird Pub who moved to Galiano a few months ago from Toronto, couldn't have picked a better spot to raise his small child. He told us that Galliano was a great place for families and you can see them running around near Scoops, a favorite local hangout where ice cream cones are so generous they're a meal, and only $3.50 per scoop. You won't get that in Vancouver.
There's only one road that takes you from one end of the island to the other - while branching out into other spots as well. We spent some time in Montague Harbour, where many of the seaplanes from Vancouver land following a 20 minute flight from downtown. Sheltered and perfect for boaters, the harbour is a central spot for kayakers and anyone who wants to spend time watching island sunsets. There are numerous homes around here too, dotting the shoreline and proving that a restful life does indeed exist only an hour (by ferry) east of Vancouver.
The road continues northbound where you get to some amazing scenery and hikes. We didn't get a chance to hike this trip (as we were primarily in the spa!) but we'll definitely be back. If there are residents, you don't see them from the road as the homes here sit on acreages so people really don't see their neighbors but everyone still knows each other's names. Funny how that works.
What was more striking to me upon touching foot on the island was my ability to breathe - this may sound weird but I felt an immediate sense of calm. There was something in the air - a life force maybe? - that slowed my heart rate, slowed everything down. I didn't feel this on Saltspring and I certainly have not felt it in the many years I've been in Whistler or in the Okanagan. Maybe it was the water or something in the air from the Salton Sea, but it was magical. My body and mind literally said 'Enough' and decided to let go; decided to relax and this was where I was going to do it. It's an incredible feeling when your body (and mind) take over and you simply give in. I've heard of drug-induced stories that say the same thing but in this case, it was just a state of calm that I was craving and finally experiencing.
And because it was June, this was considered 'low season' and we basically had the Inn - and its spa - nearly all to ourselves. We stayed in an oceanfront villa where the views are exceptional. With generous outdoor space to roam, sit, paint or blog - plus a hottub and fireplace - yes, all outdoors - this was a little slice of heaven. I did do some work during my time there but I don't think I could have been more relaxed in responding to emails or difficult conference calls. And with a view like that, how could you not slow down?
We also spent some time at the spa, both of us getting massages and I also had a seaweed wrap and Vichy shower. I felt like a lump of butter and went back the second day and did the couple's floatation treatment which is becoming so popular these days. I could barely function when we were done - I just wanted to nap; which, I suppose is the point.
So if you're craving peace and quiet and beautiful scenery, I highly recommend a trip to Galiano Island. It's a tiny gem that's only an hour by boat but feels like a continent away. It's only been a few days away from this island but I already miss it.