With so many destinations under pandemic-related travel restrictions, many people who want a short escape from their day-to-day routine have been looking at close-to-home getaways. Last month, when the government of British Columbia was encouraging residents to explore destinations within the province, my husband Alan and I made a short trip from our Vancouver home across the Straight of Georgia to Vancouver Island.
Our destination was the Comox Valley, north of Nanaimo. Less of a well-known tourist draw than the Pacific Coast town of Tofino, or the provincial capital of Victoria, the Comox Valley has wooded trails, oceanside coves, and several small towns to explore.
Our base for our weekend getaway was the Old House Hotel & Spa in the Comox Valley town of Courtenay. Here’s the scoop on this apartment-style property.
The Old House Hotel & Spa
Although the main road in front of the hotel is a busy suburban artery, The Old House Hotel & Spa is set back from the roadway, just above the Courtenay River. The rooms on the higher floors at the back of the property look out toward the river and surrounding greenery.
This lodging would be comfortable for families, with large suites, an outdoor heated pool, and a guest laundry. There’s a hot tub on the pool deck and a second hot tub indoors.
The hotel has a fitness center, as well as a spa, OhSpa, which offers discounted services for hotel guests. Both the fitness center and spa are operating by reservation only, due to Covid-19 restrictions, and staff monitor the pool to comply with physical distancing guidelines.
Guest Rooms and Amenities
The majority of the hotel’s 79 units are studio or one-bedroom suites. A couple of two-bedroom units are also available.
Our room, a king “riverview” studio, had a sitting area with a fireplace, a large bathroom with both a stall shower and a deep soaker tub, and a compact terrace overlooking the pool and out to the river beyond.
While the decor is fairly standard — white linens, dark woods, dark leather upholstery — the rooms are spacious, with the studios averaging 450 square feet and one-bedrooms around 550 square feet.
All rooms have either a kitchenette or a full kitchen. In our studio suite, the kitchenette was equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, one-cup coffeemaker, as well as a set of dishes and silverware and a small dining table.
You probably wouldn’t want to prepare complicated meals here, but you could easily put together a simple breakfast, pack sandwiches, or warm up a take-out dinner.
Dining at Locals
The hotel’s dining room, Locals Restaurant, does indeed cater to locals (and to visitors), using ingredients from around Vancouver Island whenever they can.
We had weekend brunch at Locals, which goes beyond the standard bacon and eggs, with dishes like baked cornmeal and cheese polenta with poached eggs and chorizo-potato hash. I especially liked the photogenic (and delicious) “Pacific Seafood Stack,” a tower of prawns, crabmeat, and seared albacore tuna layered with sushi rice, sprouts, and pickled ginger.
What’s Nearby in the Comox Valley?
The Old House Hotel is located right on the Courtenay Riverway, a walking and running route that hugs the waterfront.
It’s about a 15-minute walk, or an even quicker drive, from the hotel to downtown Courtenay, where you can find several interesting places to eat and drink, including one of the town’s craft breweries, Gladstone Brewing Company. Our favorite meal was at Nikkei Ramen-ya, a tiny Japanese noodle shop where they make their own noodles.
Courtenay has several other craft breweries and distilleries; Wayward Distillery is the first distillery in Canada to produce spirits made entirely from BC honey. The town also has a popular year-round farmers market, Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, where we enjoyed chatting with the vendors of colorful produce and picked up snacks of locally-made bison jerky.
For hikers, Courtenay is a good base for exploring the rainforest trails and mountain views in Strathcona Provincial Park, the first provincial park to be established in British Columbia, back in 1911.
If you’re looking for apartment-style rooms in a quiet destination with plenty of outdoor activities nearby, the Old House Hotel & Spa in the Comox Valley is a comfortable choice.
Please check current health-related travel restrictions before making any travel plans. Destination British Columbia’s “Know Before You Go” page is a good place to start. The Government of British Columbia’s Traveller Information page has more details for travelers who live outside the region.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Destination British Columbia arranged my stay at the Old House Hotel & Spa for review purposes.