Southern Gulf Islands offer Mediterranean-style getaways to Metro Vancouver residents

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      (This article is sponsored by Southern Gulf Islands Tourism.)

      Last year, the New York Times included the Southern Gulf Islands at one of its top 52 visitor destinations.

      It's easy to understand why. With a Mediterranean climate, easy access by ferry or plane, and plenty of accommodation, this part of southwest B.C. features exceptional recreational activities on land and on water, a plethera of artisans, and farm-to-table dining.

      "We actually just harvested Canada's first olive oil," Janet Clouston of said by phone. "The people who planted the olive grove looked at the growing area and the topography and the climate and figured it would be a great spot to plant olives—here on Salt Spring."

      One of the Southern Gulf Islands, , actually consists of two islands that are separated by a narrow canal and connected by a bridge. Known as a mecca for hikers, it has a well-deserved reputation for its outstanding beaches, hiking trails, and marinas—as well as its lively community spirit. There's a 27-hold frisbee golf course near Magic Lake and also has an olive grove.

      The other three Southern Gulf Islands are Galiano, Mayne, and Saturna.

      “Each island is unique,” Clouston noted. “Galiano has great wild spaces, but it also has a very good festival and arts scene.”

      Mayne Island once had a thriving Japanese-Canadian community until these residents were moved into the B.C. Interior and interned during the Second World War. The community honours their legacy with an idyllic and tranquil Japanese garden.

      About half of mountainous Saturna, the easternmost island in the chain, is set aside as park land.

      Galiano Island offers an unparalleled view of Active Pass.

      Salt Spring is the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands at 182.7 square kilometres and with a population in excess of 10,000. It has three ferry terminals, which enable people to go directly to Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen, and Crofton.

      “I think the real key to the five islands is the outdoor adventure—hiking, biking, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding,” Clouston said.

      She pointed out that the flourishing agricultural sector ensures that there are excellent dining options on every island. In fact, there’s a deeply ingrained farm-to-table food culture. This is, after all, the first area in Canada that was represented by a Green party MP, Elizabeth May, and it’s about to be represented in the legislature by its first Green MLA, Adam Olsen.

      “We’re all ecofriendly,” Clouston said with a laugh. “We value our communities. We value our green space and the environment.”

      Even the Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce obtained a silver accreditation through Green Tourism Canada, becoming the first organization of its kind in the country to achieve this distinction.

      Ganges is where people often gather on Salt Spring, which is known as a writers hub. Clouston said that there are 100 businesses in and around the community, ranging from cafés and larger retail outlets to bookstores and little bohemian shops offering locally made craft goods.

      One of her dreams has been to make it easier for people to engage in island-hopping. And from June 23 to 25, this will become a reality with Tour des Îles. It will enable people to ride a passenger-only ferry shuttle between the islands for $5 a trip.

      “We’re working on a pilot project to look at inter-island transportation and being able to get people—and their bikes, kayaks, backpacks, and guitars—on these passenger-only shuttles,” Clouston said.

      Accommodation on the islands ranges from camping, teepee rentals, and staying in a yurt to glamping in a vintage Airstream at Woods on Pender, to luxurious options such as Hastings House on Salt Spring Island, Mayne Island Resort, Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa, and Poets Cove Resort & Spa on Pender.

      "There's really quite a lot to offer for every budget," Clouston noted.

      For more information, visit .

      (This article is sponsored by Southern Gulf Islands Tourism.)