Words and photos by Chris Istace, Canadian Travel Writer
A Canadian Winter can often be harsh and cold with only brave souls venturing out to take in the usual suspects like skiing, skating and snowshoeing. The Cowichan Valley is the exception to the rule where one only be reminded of the origin to it’s name “The Warm Land”, from the First Nations Coast Salish, who named the area Quw’utsun’ or Cowichan.
Through the winter months the extremely mild Cowichan weather often feels like an escape for visitors to the area with the seasonal average temperature sitting at 6° Celsius. Outdoor markets, festivities, hiking, biking and sight-seeing all remain year round attractions for tourists and locals alike.
While our things to do list for the warmer months is easy to check off we wanted to put together eight enjoyable activities to get you out and about. These will certainly be a hit for young and old alike while capturing your imagination and even putting you in the festive spirit. We hope you consider making the Cowichan Valley your next day trip or vacation destination.
Arts and Culture is a simple way to describe the nicknamed “Mural Town” of Chemainus. A charming afternoon is spent experiencing the artisanal small shops, antique shops and beautiful art galleries. Wander from block to block viewing the more than 40 world famous murals and sculptures. Finish off your afternoon with supper at the Playbill Dining Room followed by a live performance at the Chemainus Theatre Festival. Shows during December often have a seasonal festive theme and are a real treat.
Ladysmith Festival of Lights
At the northern reach of the Cowichan Valley lies the town of Ladysmith and during the season is dubbed the “Light Up Capital” of Vancouver Island. The entire community comes together to make this holiday tradition a success with over 1000 hours yearly to make the 200,000 plus lights to come to life. The Festival of Lights starts with one of the largest Christmas Parades in late November and remains lit until January 10th.
Hike or bike local mountains
The Cowichan Valley is blessed with beautiful forested mountains that define it’s boundaries towering tall at all corners of the region. The warm Mediterranean climate prevails through the winter months allowing for year round unobstructed hiking, cycling and mountain biking on the extensive trail networks. Snow is occasionally experienced and is often short lived at lower elevations. From the world class Maple Mountain MTB trails to the stunning vistas of the Mount Tzouhalem hiking routes the adventures are endless.
Duncan Farmers Market
The heart of the historic “City of Totems”, Duncan is home to the largest outdoor farmers market on Vancouver Island. This market takes place Saturdays in the Market Square and proudly boasts being open year round. An awesome selection of local produce, wineries, teas & coffees, artists, jams & jellies, baking, butchers as well as crafters, artists and artisans. There is always live music and is a cultural meeting place to visit with old and new friends alike.
Cowichan Bay is a beautiful seaside village that brings the charm of a rich maritime heritage and the friendliness of boutique shops from food to arts. An entire afternoon is easily spent visiting the Maritime Museum discovering so much detail of a rich history and early beginnings of time on the ocean, fishing and the Cowichan Valley. After the museum a stroll along the quaint shops , beautiful galleries and showrooms as well as quick treats and fine dining. Don’t forget to explore the docks and shoreline to see the many ships, unique float homes as well hopefully a glimpse of the local wildlife from eagles to otters.
Westholme Tea Farm
When the West Coast weather is cool and the clouds hang heavy over the valley a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life beside a warm fires sounds good. The Tea Farm is an organic farm in the countryside region of Westholme built upon a century old homestead in the original barn. Enjoy over 100 loose blended teas as well as sweet pairing combos from local artisanal bakers in the teashop. You can also enjoy the works of Margit Nellemann, world-renowned sculpture and potter in the Gallery. In 2016 the Westholme Tea Farm produced the very first estate grown single origin Canadian Tea.
Christmas Express steam train
Seasonal cheer, history and childhood wonder all come together at the BC Forest Discovery Centre through the month of December. The 100-acre property transforms in a Christmas Wonderland adorned with twinkling lights and displays, Santa and festive treats. The most exciting part of visiting the Forest Discovery Centre is the Christmas Express. The century old steam train dubbed the “Christmas Express” takes you on magical tour onboard it’s Christmas light decorate passenger cars with holiday music playing in the background. The twinkling lights and festive cheer rings throughout the buildings and on the train with eyes lighting up as the steam whistle blasts into the night’s crisp foggy air.
Known for it’s beautiful organic farms, growing list of award winning wineries and craft breweries the Cowichan Valley is also home to the award winning Merridale Cidery. The farm is home to the apple orchard, cidery, distillery, bistro, bakery and farm store. Just outside of the quaint community of Cobble Hill, an old-fashioned agricultural community, Merridale calls home. Throughout the month of December the Orchard transforms with it’s wonderful Enchanted Courtyard light up, Capture Christmas and the Holiday Dinner Series. Visit with the whole family and enjoy a day in the countryside.
We hope you enjoy your visit to the Cowichan Valley region over the winter months and holiday season. Reach out to us at TourismCowichan.com for further information on this list or any other questions you might have.
And remember this holiday season… Slow Down – Savour Life