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Part one in a three-part series on "glamping" (glamorous camping).
As I wait at Vancouver Airport to board the seaplane that will take me to the remote Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (a 2008 Smart Luxury Winner) on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, I waver between being nervous and excited. The adventurer in me is thinking of all the fun things that await me out there in the wild and all the stories I’ll bring back home to New York to tell at dinner parties. The cushy comfort-seeker is wondering what possessed me to go camping to boondocks where cougars and bears roam around freely. Then I remind myself that I’m in fact going “glamping” (glamorous camping) in the heart of UNESCO-protected Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve. Not the same thing as setting up camp in the middle of nowhere!
A 45-minute flight on a floatplane takes me and a handful of other Clayoquot guests across the Pacific and the mountainous interior of Vancouver Island, above snowcapped peaks and glacial lakes. We land on water – what an exciting way to arrive! – and are greeted by the Clayoquot family. The managing director John Caton and his wife Adele are among the people and dogs welcoming us as we board a horse-drawn carriage for a ten-minute ride to the camp. We’re served cocktails and superb appetizers followed by an orientation session with John. We learn what to do should we have a close encounter with a bear. After my first bear sighting that very first evening – a black bear briefly appeared out of the forest on his berry-picking mission – I feel calmer. Not as terrifying as I thought.
For the next three and a half days, I feel as if I’ve entered another world. A world where it’s all about great food, undisturbed sleep, fun adventures, friendly smiles. My spacious tent is a waterfront oasis on a cedar planked floor decked out with a Persian rug, a four-poster bed, antique furniture, down duvet, and remote-controlled fireplace. The compost outhouse is right next to my tent; the rustic but private shower cabin (with organic toiletries provided) is some twenty steps away.
Each dining experience is a memory to take away – from wholesome breakfasts to barbecue buffet lunches and gourmet dinners paired with premium wines selected by the in-camp sommelier. The talented chef Timothy May concocts what he describes as “modern natural cuisine," mostly locally inspired – I almost overdosed on the wild salmon and halibut caught in these waters – and full of surprises (from bison burgers to grilled oyster chowder). The seating arrangements are different at every meal. I loved having dinner at the bar of the 3,000-square-foot cookhouse watching the chefs do their magic in the open kitchen as much as I loved sitting in one of the private dining tents enjoying my lunch of grilled halibut.
And then there were terrific treatments at the Healing Grounds, a safari-style massage and therapeutic centre with the soul of an outpost spa. The seaweed body wrap made my skin rejuvenated like that of a newborn. The massage in one of the riverfront tents, as the wind was picking up in the age-old trees outside, was an hour-long glance at what heaven may look like.
The long list of available adventures roughens the luxurious edges of the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. A 49-foot tree platform gives guests a birds’-eye view of one of the oldest temperate rainforests in the world. A 935-foot-long zip line allows guests to literally fly over the rainforest. A specially designed paintball course has recently been added to the extensive roster of activities that include rock climbing, kayaking, fishing, whale watching, hiking, horseback riding, archery, skeet shooting, bear watching and mountain biking. During my three-night stay, I managed to pack in whale watching, two hikes (one that traversed an offshore island following the trail of a resident First Nations community and another that made me use ropes to reach a lovely waterfall), sea kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding, a yoga class (these are available every morning in the gym/yoga cabin) and archery. At the end of my stay, I wanted more!
One of the greatest things about Clayoquot is that stays are tailored to meet each guest’s desires. What that means is that you don’t have to pre-book any activities. Instead, John Caton will sit down with you at dinnertime and discuss your options for the following day. If you happen to wake up the next morning and you’ve changed your mind, no biggie. I made a super-last-minute change from river kayaking to horseback riding one afternoon and they made it happen with a smile on their face.
This exemplifies the resort’s philosophy – individualized personalized holidays with everything included. This unique experience comes at a high price. Typically, rates start at CDN$4750.00 (US$4265.00) for a four-day, three-night package beginning in May; the season lasts through September. Four- and seven-night packages are also available, as well as group and children rates.
When I heard that Clayoquot was offering a “Make Us a Deal” package to recognize their prospective guests’ limitations in this down economy, I was immediately intrigued. “We are saying to clients who are calling: ‘make us a deal’,” said John Caton. “ Sure it may be easier to offer everyone four nights for the price of three, or a big discount, but for many of our guests, a personalized value add can make a difference on whether they come this year or stay at home.”
In some cases, families would like to bring grandparents along to share the experience with grandkids. Clayoquot Wilderness Resort says: bring them along and they can stay for free. Others mention the flights to Vancouver are holding them back. The resort is offering to pay for those flights. They want extra spa treatments thrown in? No problem. Can only afford four nights but would prefer to stay for seven? The resort will see what they can do. Can’t arrive into Vancouver early enough to catch the chartered float plane over to the remote resort? The resort will cover the night in Vancouver.
More information on Clayoquot Wilderness Resort can be found at www.wildretreat.com or by calling 1-888-333-5405. Click here for ShermansTravel.com's Top 10 One-of-a-kind Camping Trips