It’s the hottest day of the year and we’re driving down a winding country road as we head to the first stop on our Cowichan Valley adventure. Surrounded by trees and nestled in a picturesque orchard is Cobble Hill’s Merridale Cidery, Canada’s first estate cidery.
We’re here for a tasting and tour — something that’s quickly become one of the ‘must do’ activities in this increasingly popular wine region, which has grown to include craft breweries, cideries, distilleries and even a tea farm.
“They’re one of the main attractions of the Cowichan region for tourists as well as locals,” says Merridale Cidery, Distillery and Bistro co-owner and Tourism Cowichan board member Janet Dougherty. “What Cowichan has to offer above and beyond other wine regions is the vast diversity of the products due to the amazing microclimates in the region.”
Merridale also makes gin and vodka — as well as the best apple juice you’ll ever taste — but I’m here for the cider. Like wine, there are ‘old world’ and ‘new world’ varieties. I opt for the sweeter new world tasting flight and savour every sip as the packed tasting bar and bistro do brisk business.
A short drive away is Cowichan Bay, one of my favourite spots on Vancouver Island. The quaint fishing village is famous for the eclectic shops and delicious eateries that line the waterfront and a laid-lack lifestyle.
“Cowichan Bay is definitely relaxing!” says Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay director of sales Robert Green. “Whether you want to cruise the bay in a kayak, have a locally-sourced lunch from one of the local vendors or walk the docks and beaches, there’s something to please most anyone.”
We’re staying the night at the waterfront hotel, where every room has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beautiful bay and Mount Tzouhalem. I’m tempted to just relax in the room and enjoy the incredible view, but we have more exploring to do.
After strolling along the docks and checking out the shops, it’s time for another Cowichan Valley ‘must do’ — a hike to the Kinsol Trestle. A true engineering feat, the trestle built in 1920 spans the Koksilah River just north of Shawnigan Lake and is one of the highest wooden railway trestles in the world. It’s also part of the Trans Canada Trail network.
We follow another trail down to the river, dipping our toes in the decidedly cool water and savouring the tranquility of this amazing place.
For more info: www.tourismcowichan.com
Winery Map: www.tourismcowichan.com/wp-content/uploads/TourismCowichanWineryMap.pdf