The Cowichan Valley has been named as a Top 20 Place to Visit in Canada by vacay.ca’s travel experts, something local tourism operators say is significant to continue to build the region’s profile. In their fourth annual list, the travel website places the Valley at No. 13.
Cathy Mailhot, marketing coordinator for Tourism Cowichan, said she’s delighted because she knows the area is noted "not only for our festivals and events, but also as an unheralded and unique travel destination. It is the merits of our year round experiences – unique and authentic activities that visitors can be a part of – that put us on the list.
"It is exciting and gratifying that the entire region is being recognized as a destination. Most of the others on the list are well known, established cities with huge marketing budgets. Cowichan Valley is the only Vancouver Island destination to make the list," she said.
Vacay.ca journalists came to review the region with high expectations – for example, they are familiar with Cowichan Bay’s international Cittaslow designation and they weren’t disappointed, Mailhot continued.
"Our agritourism experiences scored very high with the journalists who judged the Valley. They only had time to visit a few including Merridale Cider, Venturi-Schulze Vineyards, Teafarm and True Grain Bakery, but they are also so impressed with what’s going on at other agriculturally
significant operations like the Alderlea biodynamic farm cafÃƒÂ©, OUR Ecovillage, Saison Market, and Fairburn Farm, and others, that they want to return," she said, adding, "Words like tranquil, relaxing, charm and personality were used repeatedly in their reviews."
Marilyn Venturi of Venturi-Schulze Vineyards, has only one quibble with the list.
"I think we actually should be way up higher," she said. "I’m a Canadian but born in Australia and my husband’s a Canadian but born in Italy. We moved here back in 1987 and wouldn’t live anywhere else."
She agreed that getting onto lists like this is great, both for individual businesses and for the Valley as a whole.
"It’s interesting that in order to make a list like this, somebody has to work to get people to notice. That’s where the various tourism organizations on Vancouver Island have been good. I know they did bring through many journalists in the past year and local businesses were supported during these familiarization tours. We’re definitely making an impact."
She cited Tourism Vancouver Island, Tourism Cowichan, and even Tourism Victoria.
"All of them working together seem to be doing a great job.
Tourism Cowichan is excellent.
And I think a big boost has also been the new Visitors Centre. It’s gorgeous. They’re doing a lot of work there, getting the community involved."
There are so many different aspects to the Cowichan Valley for visitors to enjoy.
"I really believe that along with the whole culinary and farming thing, plus of course the experiential aspect, the tourism things, that it’s our whole pristine environment that really seems to have put us up there. The variety of what we offer here in the way of outdoor activities is truly amazing. And of course, tourism is very important to the economy."
Besides such obvious attributes as the wine and food circuit, hiking
and biking trails and the Little Town that Did, there are unique spots like the Kinsol Trestle.
"That’s one of my favourites. I’ve learned about all of these wonderful tourist destinations over the years and than I said, ‘let’s start exploring our own backyard’. The Cowichan Valley is amazing."
One spot not far from her own vineyard is another favourite.
"Going down to Cowichan Bay is special; there’s kayaking and whale watching. There are always people there and I think it’s thanks to individuals in that community. And [area director] Lori Iannidinardo is just totally amazing as an ambassador for her region when she travels with Cittaslow, introducing our region to others," Venturi said.
"It’s no surprise that we’re getting recognition internationally. Cowichan Bay was the first Cittaslow community in North America. A lot of people don’t know anything about it, but it was hard to get that," she said.
Victor Vesely of Teafarm was also thrilled at the recognition.
"Considering who else is on the list, it’s important to see some highlighting of some of the smaller sights and sounds of an area. I think it’s quite significant for the Valley because vacay.ca has quite a high profile Canada-wide. It’s a great vehicle for finding out what’s hip and happening and what he articulated in the article captured the essence not only of Teafarm but also of what the Valley has to offer and why he thought it was one of the most memorable places he visited."
You can see the complete Cowichan Valley story by vacay’s Adrian Brijbassi at vacay. ca/2015/01/why-bc-s-cowichanvalley-is-spot-on/