The Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, British Columbia, has been on my bucket list forever. A Relais & Chateaux member hotel, this property has earned a long list of awards over the years for exceptional accommodations and dining. I always erroneously assumed that The Wickaninnish was adult-oriented, given its superlative reputation; I was thrilled to discover at ILTM 2015 that it’s actually family-friendly, particularly over the summer months when there are loads of interesting all-age things to see and do.
The inn is set on the spectacular, pristine Chesterman Beach on the edge of a rainforest, and the wild and unspoiled views from guest rooms and public areas are truly breathtaking in every sense of the word. On our first morning, a bald eagle flew by my window while I was having morning coffee … I knew we were in for a very special wildnerness experience.
Located on the remote West Coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a storm-watcher’s paradise over the winter months, as extreme weather blows into North America from the Pacific Ocean. I can’t imagine a more decadent place to be “stuck” inside. Conversely, summer brings sunshine and the waves recede, leaving a huge stretch of sand on Chesterman Beach. It’s a beachcomber’s dream, with all kinds of seaborne treats washed up on the shoreline.
Given the proximity to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Clayoquot Sound, there are miles of fascinating landscapes to explore on foot or by boat in this area. Bear watching, whale watching, and birding are all amazing here. Tofino is perfect for photographers , with picturesque terrain in all directions.
Tofino is an iconic surf destination, and our 12-year-old, Devon, had his first lesson in front of the Wickaninnish Inn; he had a smile plastered on his face for at least a day after the lesson ended. The hotel works with a number of professional surf outfitters in town who offer private and group lessons for ages 7 and up. Given the wild backdrop, at first it was intimidating to send Devon into the ocean here, but after his lesson started it was immediately clear that Tofino is an ideal place to learn how to surf. at least on a mild summer day.
During our four-night stay, we also tried whale and bear-watching and loved both activities. Even so, we barely scratched the surface of things to do in this part of Canada. A weeklong stay is optimal.
The star of the show in Tofino is the Pacific Ocean; sea-facing guest rooms and public spaces are magnificently integrated into the setting, showcased through enormous windows. We stayed in a Beachcomber Suite, which overlooks Chesterman Beach from the bedroom and bathroom.
The inn’s suite setup is perfect for families, with separate living rooms that have a sofa bed, wet bar, and TV. Chesterman Suites have full kitchens with a bi-level loft set up. All rooms have a fireplace and balcony.
Rooms are luxurious in an understated way, with neutral colors, natural finishes, and soft lighting. Decadent touches include cozy blankets to use on the balcony and candles around the deep soaking tubs. There are many different room types from which to choose — honestly, there’s not a “bad” room in the house here.
The culinary experience at The Wickaninnish Inn is a property highlight. The Relais & Chateaux designation is well deserved. The fine dining restaurant, The Pointe, is surrounded by dramatic ocean views on all sides; it’s the kind of place where you want to linger for hours at time. The seasonal menu showcases organic, local ingredients. Entrees are sophisticated but not overly fussy, and everything we sampled was absolutely exquisite.
There’s a weekly tasting menu paired with wine, as well as an a la carte menu. Roasted Halibut with Side Stripe Shrimp, Shellfish and Potato Emulsion, Leek Tomato Raisins and Grilled Sourdough is just one example of the masterful creativity at work here. Custom kids’ options, as amazing as the more adult-oriented selections, are prepared on request.
Meanwhile, Driftwood Cafe offers all-day coffee, drinks, and light snacks; after 4p, it offers small plates for sharing. The menu is limited, but the venue is extremely casual and perfect for families who want to play games and have a very relaxed dining experience.
The Ancient Cedars Spa is small and simple, but it has all guests need to decompress and be pampered. Like everything at The Wickaninnish Inn, the serene inside perfectly complements the spectacular setting outside. I tried both a message and facial; both treatments were excellent and professionally managed by qualified therapists.
There’s a steam cave and Jacuzzi available for those who don’t want full treatments, but still want to enjoy this relaxation zone.
Getting to Tofino takes time; there is no way around it. The sweet reward for the effort, however, is that there are relatively few people who make it this far and as a consequence, this pristine corner of North America stays that way.
We flew into Vancouver and enjoyed three fabulous nights at the Four Seasons Vancouver before renting a car and driving to the ferry to Nanaimo. This drive takes about 45 minutes and then the ferry is about 2 hours. From there the drive is 3 to 3.5 hours. It goes through beautiful scenery and is enjoyable … but it’s definitely a multi-step process.
Guest can also take a seaplane directly to and from Tofino to save time. We departed via Victoria, a drive of approximately 4 to 5 hours, and then we took the few-hour ferry to Seattle and flew out from there, although plenty of flights are available from Victoria).
My parents are in their 80s with limited mobility. It’s difficult to find venues that will be interesting, exciting, and special for everyone. The Wickaninnish Inn accomplishes this beautifully. It’s as enjoyable from a chair in the library lounge with a good book as it is from the the middle of a bear-watching expedition in Clayoquot Sound. Everyone comes together for unbelievable meals. Perfection!
With or without kids or grandparents in tow, The Wickaninnish Inn should have a place on every “extraordinary places” bucket list.
Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino was provided a media rate to review the property for families. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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