Salt Spring Island is a lush, bucolic gem that blends forests and mountain lookouts with valley vineyards and the very best of seaside living. Over the years John and I have come to appreciate many aspects of the Salt Spring, from piling wood onto our fireplace at Hastings House in winter, to cycling around the entire northern tip of the island while on a mission for fish & chips (my muscles took a long time to forgive me for the latter).
Guided Tours on Salt Spring Island
The island is easily enjoyed without a vehicle, which comes in handy when you take a floatplane direct from downtown Vancouver into Ganges Harbour, and even the artisans and farmers come right into the village on market days. However, having a vehicle — especially driven by someone who knows the island quite well — can be a real treat.
This is where Ryan and Jackie from Western Splendour Tour Company come in. They will host you for a History and Culture Walking Tour; Activity and Adventure Tour with kayaking, crabbing, hiking, or golfing; The Family Tour with rainforest walk, picnic, and exploring tidal pools at Ruckle Park; a Best of Salt Spring Tour with farm visits, rainforest walk, wine tastings, and more; or the Salt Spring Wine Tour that includes a visit to three vineyards, a cheese maker, and a walking tour of Ganges.
There’s also the seasonal Saturday Market Express which is a full 10 hour day of farm, studio, and artisan visits.
While on Salt Spring for Chefs Across the Water my mother and I had a sample of the tours offered by Western Splendour as Ryan picked us up from Hastings House and took us to several fascinating destinations, which I had not previously visited.
Galleries in Ganges
After hopping out of the van at Grace Islet, Ryan began the history and culture portion of the walking tours they offer in Ganges Harbour / Village of Ganges. We walked along the boardwalk, took photos, and popped into several local galleries such as Steffich Fine Art and Gallery 8, which had recently opened an exhibition. Gallery 8 also featured a popular series of sheep portraits — portraits of actual sheep on an island farm which have become mini celebrities due to their artistic depictions. If there’s one place where sheep can be recognized like rock stars, it’s Salt Spring!
Salt Spring Sheep
Next stop, naturally, sheep! We drove up-island to Sunset Farm Studio where a few recently-sheared sheep grazed out front just past the honour-system farm fresh egg vendor stand. Inside the studio I picked up a pair of wool socks for my dad and wondered if I had just met the sheep from which these socks were produced, which was highly likely. They also sell blankets, slippers, knitting wool, curious, and meats.
The next stop was French Country Fabric Creations where owner Darlene Lane offers an escape to Provence. Her home is a replica of the gardener’s cottage at Versaille in France and her studio is packed with bright and colourful fabrics, table cloths, place mats, cushions, handbags, tea tray, and much more. She imports “wipe clean” fabric from France that is supple yet coated with acrylic to make it very easy to maintain.
Lunch by the Water
Feeling a bit peckish, we ordered sandwiches at Fernwood Road Cafe once we got to the north west tip of the island. Hummingbirds danced around a collection of feeders as we had lunch outside at a picnic table before taking a stroll to the end of the Fernwood Point government dock. Through the crystal clear water we watched sea grass lean with the tide as a heron waded out to grab its own spot of lunch.
Sips Under the Vines
Changing our course, we drove south past Ganges and straight down Salt Spring Vineyards around the middle of the island in a valley at the foot of Mount Maxwell. There we enjoyed four wine tastings paired with local cheese and chocolate.
I loved the Blackberry “Port”, and picked up a bottled to bring home with me, as it was less sweet and syrup-like than other berry wines I’ve had before. The Evolution Red was also really enjoyable as it was developed on Salt Spring specifically for this growing climate. Working with Horticulturist Valentin Blattner, the winery has created unique varietals for Salt Spring instead of trying to force others to fit in on the island.
Views from the Mountain
Our last stop — as four hours just seemed to fly right by — was up Musgrave Road where, by request for a ‘viewpoint’, Ryan drove us up a chunky gravel road so that we could see Salt Spring, the Salish Sea, and neighbouring islands.
Our tour was fairly customized but what I appreciated the most was the history component when we were walking around Ganges, learning about First Peoples, the first settlers, and the formation of the island’s communities. On top of that, Ryan gave us a lot of freedom to explore at each stop, providing us with ample information but allowing us to walk around, shop, talk to merchants, and take photos at our leisure.
The next time John and I are on the island I’ll be tempted to book us either the Activity and Adventure Tour or the Salt Spring Wine Tour so that we can get out on the water, up on the mountain, or quench our palettes, without having to worry about driving home.
Western Splendour‘s tours range from one hour walking tours to six hour driving tours around the island. Drop-ins are welcome on the Ganges Village walking tour ($15 adults) however you should book either of the other tours in advance ($75 adults). Children are welcome on the History and Culture Tour ($10 for age 12 and under) as well as the Best of Salt Spring Tour ($50 for age 12 and under). All other tour options and pricing can be found online.