Looking to get off the beaten path? Head over to Courtenay, BC, where friendly island vibe, affordable hotels, cozy cafes and nano breweries offer something for everyone.
Take a stroll down Courtenay’s 5th Street and you’ll find quaint boutiques, tantalizing eateries and cozy cafes — and none of the tourist trap feeling. The bustling downtown core is littered with young adults with kids in tow, salty old artists and locals happy to strike up a casual conversation at every street corner. Dig a little deeper, and you will find that everyone here has at one time or another lived in a large metropolis and got the memo that life can be better in a smaller town.
Sold yet? Here’s how to do Courtenay right.
A nano brewery with an indie rock connection
Check out Forbidden Nano Brewery. Wondering what defines a ‘nano’ brewery? The official unofficial definition is a commercial brewery operating with less than three barrels. Co-founder Michael Vincent describes it as a “one part crazy, one part unique” operation. With his wife Natasha at the helm of marketing and sales, a couple of long time friends (one is a master home brewer) and Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire rounding out the crew, it’s easy to root for these guys. For Vincent, Forbidden is a true labour of love steeped in blood, sweat and tears. They don’t make a lot of beer, but the beer that they do procure is incredibly delicious.
The brewery rents space at The Best Western, which means you really should consider staying there so you can sample some flights of beer with a bag of addictive and locally produced Abuelos Corn Tortillas. Post beer, you can tip toe quietly back to your suite for a nap between outings. Don’t miss the Forbidden Brewery signature Pale Ale, which took home second place at the 2015 BC Beer Awards, a pretty epic accomplishment for a nano brewery.
Sinfully delectable pies, cakes, chocolates and hot drinks
No afternoon stroll is complete without stopping to fuel up on hot drinks and sweet treats. Aptly named, Hot Chocolates offers that and a lot more. We recommend the lemon meringue pie – the entire thing. A tall slice might satiate with an Americano, but shortly after you will be pining for the rest, so just do the right thing and buy the whole pie. We did. The artisan ice cream is to die for at any time of the year and the handmade Belgian artisan chocolate is at the core of so many options: truffles, chocolate barks and seasonally inspired chocolate molds. You can custom order from a wide variety of chocolate and have it molded into anything – from trucks to hockey pucks to your loved one’s favourite Star Wars paraphernalia (Han Solo frozen in carbonite?).
Breakfast, brunches and beyond
Atlas Cafe is the place all the locals go
to on the weekend. We know this because it took 45 minutes to get a table. Unlike large city operations that might have you wait outside in isolation, we were offered coffee and orange juice and a seat at the expansive granite bar. Being around brunch-o-clock (aka hangry hour), the slight boost in blood sugar confined our moods to pleasantly anticipatory. Once we sat down, a robust menu of bennies, blue crab poached eggs and scrumptious fritattas offered something for everyone. Get here when you get here, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Something out of the ordinary
What makes living in Canada so fantastic is the people from around the globe who call the country home. Ceylon Cuisine and Spices started out as Sri Lankan food truck and a regular at food markets until owners Manoja and Sudeera Gangodage locked down a retail space in the heart of Courtenay village. When we walked in, Manoja greeted us with a smile and offered us an impromptu tasting of some fresh lentil and curry spiced soups on bread.The tasting gave us a nice boost of energy and made perusing the shop for artisan spices and local art that much more welcome and relaxed.
Visit the website to order artisan cinnamon and curry blends and learn more about the business on their blog.
Home away from home
You already know that the Forbidden Brewery is connected to The Best Western, but don’t let that be the only reason to chose this as home base for your getaway. This full-service hotel has every amenity available, including an indoor pool and hot tub, a billiards room, the Westerly Convention Centre and the Flying Canoe West Coast Pub. Upgrade to the family suite room (all rooms were recently renovated), which features two large screen TVs, two double beds and a pull out couch in the living room. Throw in continental breakfast and you’ve got a winner.
Traveling in comfort and style
Hearing the fog horn while on the Coastal Renaissance Ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo signals it’s time to slow down, relax and reflect on the astonishing rugged beauty of our home. It’s not uncommon to spot a misty spray from a pod of Orca or a glint of sunlight off the bald head of a lone seal. With a generous offering of accessible amenities expect the hour-and-forty minute commute to sail by while the kids play in the arcade and lounge. Pick up a book or a gift at Passages Gift Shop and grab a mouthwatering original burger at Triple O’s. Check out BC Ferries seasonal fare discounts to make your next BC getaway affordable and stress-free.