Adventures on Vancouver Island’s Spirit Loop
Words Susan Lundy
Photography Landon Copplestone (Courtesy Tourism Langford)
Take the Pacific Marine Circle Route, add in a passion for nature, a need for relaxation and a palate that’s craving divine flavours, and you’re ready for the Spirit Loop—a driving tour that explores the Vancouver Island communities of Langford, Sooke, Port Renfrew and Malahat.
This is a well-loved route that my husband and I have traversed many times. But as we undertook our journey in late April—amid typical west coast sun-rain-sun weather—we were astonished by the array of new-to-us sights and experiences, and elated by the Spirit Loop’s celebration of everything west coast.
It’s tough to decide what stood out the most.
Was it the views? Because they were spectacular. On our first evening we dined in the newly renovated Masters Lounge at Westin Bear Mountain Resort, gaping at the expansive edge-of-the-mountain view as seen through the retractable glass roof and walls above and beside our table.
Then there was the inky ocean vista from the rocks at Sheringham Point Lighthouse in Sooke, and the mesmerizing, top-of-the-world scene from the Malahat SkyWalk. And almost capping it all was the view from the window-encased bathtub at the Malahat’s Moon Water Lodge, where the sight line extended up and down Finlayson Arm. In the distance, we could see the hive-like structure of the Malahat SkyWalk jutting out from the trees; and it was here in the morning that the sunrise stretched pink fingers from the horizon straight into the room.
So the views stood out, definitely. But the hikes were great too. At Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail in Langford we followed an easy-to-navigate path through a dense thicket, where the sun shone on lichen-draped trees and it felt like an enchanted forest. The trail led us to a waterfall-viewing platform and a suspension bridge. Later, we strolled the windy-sunny-rainy Whiffin Spit in Sooke, then scrambled down a hillside path to the Sheringham Point Lighthouse, wandered the rocky beach in front of our dockside cabin at Wild Renfrew, and explored the beautiful blossoming trees in the orchards at Merridale Cidery & Distillery in Cobble Hill.
But perhaps most surprising was our hike along Sombrio Beach—a surfers’ paradise near Port Renfrew—where we followed directions just off the beach to an absolutely spectacular waterfall and water-carved canyon.
Food and drink options on the Spirit Loop also stand out as highlights, starting with our impeccable dinner at Masters Lounge, where a three-course meal paired with wine by master sommelier Bipin Bhatt had us swooning over both the flavours and the artistry of the presentation. Elevated even higher by the view, it was a royal feast.
Bridgemans Bistro, nestled along the Mill Bay shoreline at the foot of a marina, was also a revelation. Views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the chill atmosphere and excellent food will, going forward, forever command a Mill Bay detour from Highway 1. It claims to pay homage to the blue-collar sensibility of the hardworking, adventurous bridge worker, offering “dishes that are imaginative yet grounded in the unique hard-working communities we serve.”
At House of Boateng in Langford we met chef-owner Castro Boateng and got the story behind his restaurant’s menu, which merges flavours of West Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific Northwest cuisine. (More info below.) Not only did we relish our breakfast here, we walked up the road to Castro’s store and purchased a bottle of HOB hot sauce. Recommended!
We also found spirits on the Spirit Loop, first at Sheringham Distillery in Sooke, where we sampled the distillery’s unique west-coast take on gin, liqueur and aquavit. Divine.
At Merridale, we discovered that in addition to producing a full line of ciders, Merridale was one of the very first craft distilleries in BC. We ended up tasting a flight of spirits and a flight of ciders, and headed home with a bottle of Rumb—a very tasty rum-style spirit made with honey instead of cane sugar. Our tasting took place in a beautiful indoor setting but (had the sun been shining) we could have sat outside in the picturesque orchard picnic area.
Accommodations? Options are plentiful, and all our overnight spots were pet-friendly. Our experience included a spacious, upscale room at the Westin Bear Mountain. (While the rooms are lovely now, they are all scheduled for renovation. New owners at the Westin are renovating much of the hotel, and if the new Masters Lounge is any indication, the results will be spectacular.)
In Port Renfrew, we stayed at Wild Renfrew in a sweet two-room cabin accessed off a dock and in close proximity to great food at the Renfrew Pub. We spent our final night at Moon Water Lodge, and while the location just off the highway on the Malahat might not be optimum, you can solve the problem by hopping in the bathtub, drinking in the views (and perhaps a glass of something bubbly) and forgetting all about everything else.
The final stop for me on the Spirit Loop left me in excellent spirits. Back at the Westin Bear Mountain, I stepped into Amatista Spa and slipped into the velvety world that is their signature West Coast Body Wrap, using award-winning BC-made Beauty Through Balance products. This luxurious, detoxifying body treatment features Pacific seaweed, sea salts and pure green tea, as well as a Canadian glacial mask, with ingredients harvested from the mountains on Vancouver Island. The experience was so deeply relaxing, I drifted into a light sleep, dreaming I was wrapped in a cocoon, while my face was gently rubbed and my scalp massaged.
A true west coast experience and a perfect conclusion to the Spirit Loop journey.
We had so many amazing feasts on the Spirit Loop, but a meal at House of Boateng is really something special. There is a lot of love and creativity here, with West Coast flavours enhanced by an African influence. Take the highly-popular Hippie Bennie, which has an African-style chickpea base with a hollandaise sauce featuring wild BC mushrooms and nettle. I’m not generally a big breakfast person, but my gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian African Bowl (jollof rice with Senegal flavours, pickled vegetables, scrambled eggs and smoked eggplant puree) was so good, I may have to change my morning ways.
Our pet-friendly, two-bedroom cottage at Wild Renfrew gave us lots of space to spread out. It was comfortable with a seaside, west-coast vibe, a full kitchen and space outside on the deck to curl up, drink a morning coffee and watch the play of the ocean. The Renfrew Pub, located on the same property, is a waterfront restaurant and homey gathering place, obviously popular with locals. The menu has many good options, and our selections were delicious.
Malahat SkyWalk starts with an easily-accessed 600-metre “TreeWalk” through a beautiful arbutus forest. It leads to a gentle-elevation spiral ramp that winds upwards 32 metres to a sightseeing lookout. The views are spectacular, extending over Finlayson Arm, Saanich Peninsula, Mount Baker and distant coastal mountains. There’s also a cool slide to zip back down on, and construction is underway for a nearby food and picnic area. This is a world-class attraction, and definitely worth a visit.
Merridale Cidery & Distillery creates delicious and intriguing ciders and spirits that are handcrafted sustainably with integrity, curiosity and care at a beautiful family farm. Here, you’ll find a cidery, distillery, eatery and tasting bar, all located amid grassy knolls and a gorgeous wooden building. The landscape—with its apple orchards and lush picnic area—produces an immediate exhale. This is a place to relax, linger and savour the flavours of cider, spirits and excellent food options. We can’t wait to go back.
(To learn more or watch a mini documentary on the Spirit Loop, visit spiritloop.ca.)