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Salt Spring Island in an edible little work of art

There are many wonderful things about Salt Spring Island. There is the famous goat cheese, packed so beautifully it is like tiny, edible work of art, and the delicious coffee that is on par with the best out there.

There are many wonderful things about Salt Spring Island.

There is the famous goat cheese, packed so beautifully it is like tiny, edible work of art, and the delicious coffee that is on par with the best out there.

And of course it is known for being a hub for artist, attracting talent from across the country. But what finally drew me there was the chance to stay at the historic Hastings House, a beautiful resort that is set on a 22-acre farm.

The trip to the island offered a little taste of things to come. It already felt like a holiday once the ferry departed from the Tsawassen ferry terminal.

For three hours, it slowly snaked between the Southern Gulf Islands, including Mayne, Pender and Saturna. Salt Spring is the largest of this cluster of islands nestled between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

After watching the sun setting leisurely over the inlets, we arrived at the last stop, Long Harbour. From there it was a 10-minute drive to the resort.

The hotel is very close to the centre of Ganges, the main town on the island (it is a mere 20-minute walk or 10-minute drive).

It lies close to the marina and harbour next to a luscious forest. We arrived around 10 p.m. and while exhausted, couldn't quite settle down.

Looking out from our room, we saw the flickering lights from the boats shimmering on the water and a nearly full moon high on the horizon. It was romantic and tranquil, a far cry from the bustle and noise of our city life.

We decided to stretch out the night and take in a bit of that fresh air and meandered down a few wooden steps to the marina.

Right at the bottom we found Moby's Oyster Bar and Marine Grill, which, though close to closing, was still buzzing with the friendly chatter of people enjoying a few last drinks on a Thursday night.

Sitting at the bar, I was equally surprised and delighted to learn that in addition to having a wealth of produce on the island, in part due to the mild climate and fertile soil, there are also wineries on this little corner of western B.C.

I opted for the crisp Pino Gris from Garry Oaks Winery but there were also sips from Salt Spring Island Vinyards and Mistaken Identity. Wine in hand and midnight looming, it was slowly time finish up and settle into our cozy cabin-like room.

Over the next few days I learned a great deal about the property we were staying on, as well as the splendor of the island.

Many of the things the island is associated with, such as art, fresh, organic food and sustainability are reflected in the way the resort is run.

On our first morning we woke up to sunshine pouring through the windows and a view of the local marina and harbour, and to a little hamper outside our door.

In it we found steaming coffee and warm muffins to get our day started - and this was just the appetizer.

The real full English breakfast awaited my partner and I at the main house, the Manor.

This magnificent building is a replica of an 11th-century English house where Warren Hastings, a naval architect, grew up.

He built the replica in 1940, three years after buying the property and moving there with his wife Barbara from Sussex, England. The place has since changed owners several times but their spirit is very much present.

Legend has it that during the Second World War, the couple attracted the attention of a German spy who befriended them hoping to get information from Warren on the landing crafts he was designing.

The stately house is the focal point of the property. It has the main dining area, two suites and a large living room elegantly furnished with antiques.

To add to the already warm atmosphere, the couple built a large cowlshaped Inglenook fireplace that is ever so attractive at nighttime, when the fire is crackling and it becomes the perfect place to relax after dinner and mingle with other guests, or quietly snuggle up on one of the couches.

It's also where complimentary afternoon tea is served around 3 p.m. with freshly baked scones and cookies, adding the touch of that delicious British tradition.

In addition to the home, the young couple also built a barn and farmhouse, setting down roots on what was then a scarcely populated island.

According to Salt Spring Island Archives, it had once attracted people from all across the world who saw it as a place for a fresh start.

Initially inhabited by native people, by 1895 the island's population of 450 included people from Hawaii, Japan, Norway, Australians and AfricanAmericans.

However, it wasn't until the 1930s when tourism began to boom as resorts began to open. It would be a few more decades before the artists and craftspeople, who became so integral in shaping the culture, were lured to this land.

The cedar-clad barn, which originated in the 1940s, was reconstructed in 1981 when the farm was converted to a hotel.

It now has two suites as well as three bed-sitting rooms, all which have a rustic, beautiful feel to them. Part of the reconstruction included the addition of a small, but comfortable, spa offering many treatments and skin-care products from Europe.

A highlight of the place includes a quaint cottage that dates back in the late 1800s and was actually a Hudson Bay Company post.

The studio suite we were staying at was one of seven Hillside suites. Built in 1997, they are just about the newest addition to the hotel.

Although modern, it has a cozy feel and country-style furniture.

Just above the fireplace hung a print by the renowned naturalist and painter Robert Bateman, who also currently resides on the island.

Later, while taking a walk on the grounds, I realized that the hotel has taken great care to feature pieces by local artists, inside the rooms and cottages as well as throughout the property.

There were many sculptures, some featured prominently, while others were placed just so that at first they seem to blend in with the architecture and the immaculately maintained landscape, and only upon a closer look do they emerge as independent pieces of work standing out from the lush vegetation.

(There is also a notto-be-missed sculpture trail in a nearby forest, with contemporary pieces, many of them playful and created very much in harmony with nature.)

What impressed me the most is how much character the estate has preserved and cultivated. History comes alive amid luxury.

Everything is simple, tasteful and harmonious, and it's little surprise that it has been rated as one of the continent's top resorts by a number of publications, including Conde Nast Traveler.

Modernity is mixed with sustainability.

For instance, while much of land that the estate lies on is manicured to near-perfection, there is a portion of it that is set aside to grow vegetable and herbs for the restaurant.

The vibrant flowers that adorn the walkway are cut and used to decorate not just the rooms but are also used to add a delicate touch to an appetizer, amuse bouche or dessert.

In truth it was seeing a few of the creations by the hotel's renowned chef that first attracted me to Hastings House.

Seeing the dishes, which I later learned are made mostly from local ingredients grown on the islands, while leafing through the hotel's recipe book, was the great catalyst for the trip and it was well worth it.

Our three-course dinner reflected the philosophy of the resort, with seasonal vegetables and local meat and fish.

The service was superb and the wine list, which has repeatedly received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, extensive.

We wrapped up our trip by a visit to the Saturday Farmer's Market where we sampled artisan cheeses and baked goods, bought ceramics made by local artists and overall savoured the somewhat bohemian atmosphere.

Returning to the hotel with our finds we walked around the grounds to take in one last look at the hotel and reflect on what were an amazing few days before being ferried away home.

For more information, visit www.hastingshouse.com.

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