Adventure Travel Into Grizzly Bear Territory: Sonora Resort Canada
Even my arrival was exclusive. Less than an hour after jetting into Vancouver's International Airport, I was helicopter bound for Relais & Chateaux's all-inclusive Sonora Resort. Located on one of British Columbia's outer islands, there's no highway, no railroad and no ferry service, so guests come by float plane or helicopter to the island and its eponymous luxury resort.
After flying along Canada's pristine coastline for a short time, we hovered above our digs before touching down on the property's helipad. From that moment it was a matter of one-of-a-kind choices, choices detailed during the private check-in and an accompanying wine and cheese welcome.
"You just missed the orcas," we were told when we ventured onto the multi-tiered deck overlooking Desolation Sound-just off the window lined, polished wood lounge and dining area. Not to despair, this rural resort's offerings are replete with wilderness wonders . . . from wildlife photo ops (conducted at prime times) and eco guided boat tours (equipped with personal headphones and frequent dolphin, porpoise and eagle sightings) . . . to fishing expeditions (known for salmon stuffed waters) and grizzly bear tours (enhanced by the relationship with Homalco First Nations, participants see the grizzlies in their home territory from custom designed 10-foot high viewing stands). As Sonora Resort promises, "Connection to nature is not just a theme here, it's the guiding principle."
Perhaps one of the best spots to observe the swirling waterway (the world's fastest coastal rapids) is from the Island Current Spa's outdoor mineral pools during a therapeutic soak. This pamper emporium is enhanced with its own signature scent, a fireplace adorned couples room and specialized treatments such as the Canadian balsam oil deep tissue massage. Another vantage view is from Sea Lion Point-a short hike from our lodge-where we were mesmerized by sea lions feasting upon the water's bountiful salmon buffet.
Each of the 11 lodges is uniquely themed (for example: Arbutus is alpine wilderness inspired and Coho has a West Coast wilderness motif) and rooms are loaded with perks. Among my coveted amenities were a goose down duvet, binoculars for the made-in-Canada view and a loaded mini frig whose sign read, "Healthy and unhealthy snacks complimentary." Note: Also complimentary are phone calls anywhere (yes, in the world).
Chef Terry Pichor pulls off a nightly culinary coup with his five course tasting menu-allow two delicious hours and be prepared to be impressed. Here's a sample of my meal: spot prawn with Serrano ham, roasted quail with wild honey and coriander glaze and sweet corn ice cream (all paired with wines, of course). Chef also conducts cooking classes alongside pastry chef Nikki Neff who taught us the art of macaroons. Tip: Add salt to every pastry; we used vanilla salt.
Rounding out the activities are a 12-seat movie theatre with a collection of 350 movies and two full-size golf simulators which transport guests to big time courses, though my goal to play St. Andrews remained unfulfilled (too busy, too many options).
Far from standard in-the-wild digs this is luxury at its finest, a fact underscored by the portfolios of the neighbors, auction guru Dave Ritchie and billionaire Dennis Washington, whose summer homes are on nearby Stuart Island. Owned by Brandt Louie, the billionaire head of London Drugs, Sonora Resort blends nicely into these exclusive environs.
Operating seasonally (typically from the end of April through mid-October) Sonora Resort is in sync with its island location. In truth, it isn't that different from other island getaways: the water just more dramatic, the mountain terrain shades greener and the wildlife population densely abundant.
The natural intimacy offered by Sonora Island is only part of Canada's allure as a luxury vacation destination; in contrast, a vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere can be found in Vancouver at the exclusive Fairmont Pacific Rim.