Poised on a rocky outcropping in Tofino, British Columbia, rising above the surreal, sandy shores of North Chesterman Beach is a landmark property that exhausts all superlatives. One that will, for better or worse, set the bar for every hotel stay in your future travels.
It’s The Wickaninnish Inn, member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association of the world’s finest hotels and restaurants. The resort a friend passionately urged me to stay at, and another dreams of visiting one day with her budding family. With its long list of awards and honours, including the top resort in Canada by readers of Travel + Leisure in 2014 and Condé Nast Traveler in 2013, this destination on the Canadian frontier has earned its iconic status as the resort on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Now I’m no stranger to luxury accommodations, having experienced the hospitality of multiple high-end properties as a former employee of an esteemed, top hotel chain. There’s something about The Wickaninnish Inn — affectionately known as “The Wick” — that edges it close to perfection. Perhaps it’s the inn’s deep connection to the history and land of Tofino, a town of 2,000 residents on the rugged shores of the Pacific Ocean. Or its commitment to the local community and the highest standards of both design and unwavering service — without the pretentiousness. Or the superior culinary offerings and spa treatments that border on the sacred.
It’s a tough act for any hotel to follow.
Named after a powerful First Nations chief, The Wickaninnish Inn is a harmonious — and very deliberate — philosophical union between the natural elements, art and culture of Canada’s west coast.
It’s a true eco-resort (even with on-site composting) that brings the old-growth rainforest indoors, with woodwork designed by the late, much-loved and eccentric master carver, Henry Nolla. Next door, his legacy lives on at the carving shed where guests can meet the local artists who studied under his tutelage.
The resort’s cedar entrance and giant wood beams in the public spaces are thanks to Henry, but the inn also relies on the handiwork of other artisans for its unique character, including the driftwood furniture found throughout the property.
It should come as no surprise that The Wickaninnish Inn is also home to a voluminous art gallery. Roam the public spaces and you’ll find yourself on your own, self-guided tour of paintings, photography and sculptures by Vancouver Island artists.
My friend Jas and I travelled to Tofino to experience the great outdoors but, after checking into our room, it was hard to leave — even for a couple hours.
Every guest is guaranteed an ocean or beach view from the floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as all the modern comforts you would expect from a deluxe resort, including a private balcony, in-room safe and flat-screen TV — even a gas fireplace and Bose music system with a selection of CDs.
Then there’s the vast, exceptionally appointed bathroom: a double-sink counter, deep-soaker tub, automated window blinds and (sigh) heated floors.
But it’s the small — yet no less significant — touches that made us feel truly at home: the endearing, wood-carved door signs; binoculars to watch the waves roll in or the surfers who dare to ride them; the heritage Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket; Brita-filtered water pitcher (although I challenge anyone to find cleaner drinking water than in Tofino); flashlight for night-time beachcombing; and a guest book, specific to our room, signed by guests before us.
And we loved the rainproof jackets and pants for protection against the Tofitian rains.
Forgot your rain boots? For those unprepared for the west coast climate, ask for a pair in your specific size, and they’ll be delivered right to your room. Jas and I made full use of our rain gear during our search for sea life on the beach, but only after the ocean tide found its way into her own boots the previous morning (in which case, the boot-drying closet can be found next to the Driftwood Café).
The Driftwood Café offers a relaxed setting for specialty beverages, and light or casual fare to enjoy at a table, the impressive driftwood bar, in front of the wood-burning fireplace or on the beachfront patio.
To sip on local wine, cocktails and spirits, make your way to the On the Rocks Bar and Lounge overlooking the ocean, and pair your drink with one of the seafood-inspired bar snacks. And scotch lovers rejoice: here, you’ll find an extensive selection of single malt scotches.
The 75 guest rooms offer outstanding beach and ocean views, but enter The Pointe Restaurant and, from under the 20-foot ceilings, you’ll face a sweeping, 240-degree panorama of the Pacific in all its untamed glory. It is, in one word, magnificent. It’s where everything — rustic sophistication, a spectacular view, exemplary service and award-winning cuisine — comes together for the most memorable dining experience I can remember.
Led by Executive Chef Warren Barr, the culinary team proudly collaborates with the Tofino-Ucluelet Culinary Guild to offer diners innovative, farm- and sea-to-table cuisine by locally sourcing farm-fresh ingredients and coastal seafood from the surrounding waters. Pair your dishes with a glass of Pacific Northwest wine from their extensive list recognized by Wine Spectator, or a pint of local craft beer.
Our Wickaninnish gastronomic adventure began with brunch: The Pointe Breakfast and a Mexican-inspired Tostada Benedict.
Dinner was the main event, paired with local wine and savoured long enough to watch the sky fall into darkness.
It should go without saying that, if you don’t stay at The Wickaninnish Inn as a guest, you should at least reserve a table at The Pointe Restaurant to experience their exquisite culinary creations.
Ancient Cedars Spa
Earth and sea are honoured at this oasis so tranquil, you’d think you discovered a hidden escape on the edge of the world — but it’s by no means a secret anymore. In 2012, the Ancient Cedars Spa was voted the top year-round resort spa in Canada by Condé Nast Traveler readers and, prior to that, the best hotel spa worldwide by readers of Travel + Leisure in 2008.
From the recently renovated Steam Cave, the semi-private yoga sessions in the Rainforest Haven Room and the distinctly west coast treatments inspired by the indigenous people of Vancouver Island, this world-class sanctuary is every spa-lover’s dream.
But you’ll want to read my post about the spa to find out all the luxurious details and why my treatment was so profoundly elevating, it brought me to tears (really).
More Than a Fair-Weather Destination
Even during the winter storm season made famous by owner Charles McDiarmid, visitors are lured here from November to February to witness the raging, 30-foot ocean waves pound into the sandy beach and rocky coastline. In fact, McDiarmid, a Tofino native, intuitively had this exact phenomenon in mind when he built the inn. He believed — and rightfully so — visitors would be as enchanted by the sea’s ferocious beauty as he was. I gushed to a friend how beautiful Tofino is in April. Forget the spring, she told me — the storm-watching season calls her instead.
Now that I’ve returned home to Toronto, I say this to every one of my Canadian friends: make your own journey to Tofino. Experience for yourself the natural, mystical wonders of your own country.
And, even for just one night, stay at The Wickaninnish Inn, a rare treasure as Tofitian as the pristine forest behind it and the surfers who brave the waves from the same shores.
A place that thinks of all the details so you don’t have to.
I received a discount for my four-night stay and a hosted meal at The Wickaninnish Inn, but rest assured that all opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.