Escape to Cowichan Bay, B.C.

Meet Cowichan Valley, an undiscovered land in British Columbia where food is ultra-local, vineyards are low-key, and canoes replace taxicabs

Cowichan Bay, B.C. Canoe

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Your guide to the slow life in Cowichan Bay

This salty seaside village is North America’s first official Cittaslow (Italian for “Slow City”), as ordained last year by the worldwide association (followed by Sonoma). Slow city. Slow food. Slow is my new speed.

Sprawling Cowichan Valley isn’t as polished as its Northern California slow-city counterpart. Its country roads are lined with small farms, ordinary houses, a few tasting fee–free vineyards.

But on the Affinity Guesthouse's 22 acres, it’s pure bliss. Swallows sing. Bald eagles float by. Otters play in the Koksilah River—flowing right by my feet.

Next: Find out where to stay, eat, and explore when you row into town.



Cowichan Valley, B.C. map

Getting there

From Seattle, take the Clipper ferry (from $75 U.S.; 

Or fly to Victoria; it’s an hour drive from the airport on B.C.-1; or take the Brentwood Bay–Mill Bay ferry ($6 U.S. per passenger, $14 U.S. per vehicle; More info:

Cowichan Bay Villiage, B.C.

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Visit the village

Head into Cowichan Bay Villiage to explore the town life. Hand-scrawled signs offer free-range eggs! fresh-cut herbs! (Payment by honor box, of course.) Some yards are filled with abandoned cars and old boats, and tanning salons sit beside organic bakeries.

Here a bike sits outside True Grain Bread, a bakery whipping up handcrafted challah made from organic grains milled on-site. 1725–B Cowichan Bay Rd., Cowichan Bay; 250/746-7664.

Cowichan Bay, B.C. Resturants

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Where to eat

Hilary’s Artisan Cheese & Deli Apple and aged cheddar soup; cheese boards paired with binoculars and harbor views. 1737 Cowichan Bay Rd., Cowichan Bay; 250/748-5992.

Vinoteca Food & Wine Bar Lunch on the porch of a 1903 farmhouse, with an antipasto plate and a flight of rosés. 5039 Marshall Rd., Duncan; 250/709-2279. 

Cowichan Bay Farm Everyone gets their chickens, duck eggs, even lambs from the teeny shop at Lyle and Fiona Young’s family farm.

Amusé Bistro A simple, ingredient-driven restaurant loved by locals. $$$; 1753 Shawnigan Mill Bay Rd., Shawnigan Lake; 250/743-3667.

Stone Soup Inn New true farm-to-fork restaurant/B&B from chef Brock Windsor. A bit of a drive, but every single bite makes it worth it. Cooking classes, forages too. $$$; open Thu–Sat; 6755 Cowichan Lake Rd., Cowichan Valley; 250/749-3848.



Cowichan Bay, B.C. Vineyards and Wines

Photo by Thomas J. Story

What to drink

Stand out  vineyards: Blue Grouse (4365 Blue Grouse Rd., Duncan; 250/743-3834) and Averill Creek (6552 North Rd., Duncan; 250/709-9986). Try the Pinot Gris on Averill’s patio with valley views.

For the whole family: Swing by Merridale Cidery (1230 Merri­dale Rd., Cobble Hill; 250/743-4293) to try eight ciders, made from apples plucked from their orchards.


Cowichan Bay Outdoor Acitivites

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Outdoor adventures

Canoe to dinner (or on multiday camp trips) with Dwight and Vanessa’s Gumboot Guiding Canoe Tours. From $34 U.S.; reservations required; 866/748-7430.

Hike the woodsy Cowichan River Footpath that goes on forever.

Forage for  local treasures like cookbook author Bill Jones, known as the mushroom guy; he hosts Saturday dinners too, at Deerholme Farm.


Cowichan Bay: Bed and Breakfasts

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Where to stay

The one swanky resort in Cowichan just went belly up -- but you you're better off at a family run B&B anyway. Sink into the slow life at one of these inns.

Affinity Guesthouse Two rooms with river views, in a separate house (pictured) from the hosts. Delicious quinoa crêpes. From $145 U.S.

Fairburn Farm Old farmhouse with a big porch and valley views. Go now for chef Mara Jernigan’s final culinary boot camp (Sep 28–Oct 3; $1,930 U.S.) at Fairburn. From $170 U.S.


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