Monday, 10 September 2012

Cowichan Valley-Country Charm At Its Best

The Cowichan Valley, with scenic pastoral landscapes, is located about 50 kilometres north of Victoria. The area is filled with great places to explore by bicycle, so I headed out to check out some of the highlights of the area this past weekend. The valley is full of vineyards, farms selling local produce and fruit as well as small quaint towns, with either a lakeside or country feel. It's easy to see why this area is sometimes described as the "Provence" or "Tuscany" of Canada.

To get here, you can either transport your bike to the Cowichan Valley and then cycle, or if you are feeling like a longer ride, another option is to bike from Victoria out to the Mill Bay ferry in Brentwood Bay and then take the short ferry ride across the inlet over to Mill Bay. This gets you right into the heart of the region.

My first stop for the day was Merridale Estate Cidery, an organic cider house with a great bistro. Take a walk through the apple orchard, go on a self guided tour of the cidery, and then stop in for a tasting of their flights of cider.

 My favorite ciders are the Merridale House and the Scrumpy cider. Watch out for the Scrumpy though, at 11%, it can hit you before you know it.

Merridale's bistro, La Pommeraie, is a great option in the area for a lingering lunch or just a quick drink and appetizer. I love the cider served in the artisan glass goblets. Try one of their cider influenced dishes, like the Scrumpy Chicken Pot Pie. 

Now to continue the bike ride! Head from Merridale Cidery up to Shawnigan Lake Mill Bay Rd. to the lakeside town of Shawnigan Lake. This town is located on the north east end of Shawnigan Lake and has some scenic areas to stop along the ride. If the weather is nice, there is even a swim area.

 Continue then onto Renfrew Rd. until you come to the Cowichan Valley Trail. I took about an hour to cycle from Merridale to the Kinsol Trestle and the route along the road is mostly rolling hills. Turn right and head towards the historic Kinsol Trestle. At a height of 44 meters and a length of 188 meters, it is the tallest timber trestle in Canada. 

Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley 
This trestle had carried trains until 1979, and had fallen into disrepair over the years. There had been talk of removing and replacing the old trestle, but local residents and businesses fought to restore it. The trestle was repaired , and still has 60% of it's historic timber. Now a pedestrian and bike trail connecting the Cowichan Valley Trail, the Kinsol Trestle is well worth a visit.
Trains Chugging Across the Old Trestle 

View From The Top Down to Koksilah River Below

Plenty Of Room For Cyclists and Pedestrians 

Now, you can either cycle back the way you came or continue a loop if you want to ride further. I continued across the Kinsol Trestle to Riverside Road (access the road from the parking lot on the other side). Now I did not know it was going to be a gravel road, but feeling adventurous, continued on anyway, hoping I was going the right way. Luckily most of it was a downhill slope, and it eventually turned into a paved road. There are many farms in the area, and the view was very scenic. 

Turn onto Koksilah Rd and meander some more, crossing at the highway to the other side. There are many wineries and farm stands also, if you wish to stop along the way. I saw these charming sheep along the way, with them running over to greet me (or see if I had food I suspect). 

Keep cycling and turn right onto Telegraph Road, then right again on Cowichan Bay Road, crossing back over the highway towards Cobble Hill. I love how the turn of the century school house in town is now a coffee house called "Old School Coffee".  Very cute. Continue on until you come to Cameron Tagert Rd and then look for the signs back to Merridale, where we began. The whole ride took me about 3 hours, 15 minutes. It will obviously be longer the more you stop, so budget your time wisely. 

 Try this for a start, or make up your own agenda. The possibilities are endless, pack a picnic and give it a try!

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