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ROMANTIC HOLIDAY SEASON RETREATS
Getaways Over the Back Fence

By Lauren Kramer

If long Christmas dinners with the family are not your idea of a holiday celebration, take the advice of John Muir: "Throw some tea and bread in an old sack and jump over the back fence."

The 'back fence' of BC offers countless enticing getaways this time of the year, retreats tucked away into nature where you can watch the rain pelt down from the bubbles of a hot tub, listen to the haunting bark of seals, feel the wind in your hair on a bracingly cold beach walk or snuggle inside a cliff-side luxury tent as waves crash on the rocks just meters away.

Just across the Peace Arch border, if you follow a road that winds and curves and then climb a steep hill, you will see a long, narrow strip of land that extends like a cheeky tongue into the ocean. Right at the tip of that tongue lies the Semiahmoo Resort, a place where the Pacific Ocean is the year-round star attraction.

A decadently comfortable backdrop for some inspiring views, Semiahmoo at Christmas offers a dreamy perspective of the rolling waves from rain-spattered windows as loons and cormorants bounce on the choppy waters.

In the rough weather that often accompanies this festive time of year, there's a lot to keep you occupied without ever having to leave the property. The resort boasts a movie theatre, full spa and a health and fitness club with indoor tennis and racquetball courts, regular yoga classes and heated outdoor swimming pool. Crackling fireplaces invite a long game of Scrabble, and two on-property restaurants cater to fine dining and bar fare.

This is a place of quiet serenity, one where jackets and ties rub shoulders with sweaters and jeans. It's a place for long walks on the spit with the sea spray misting the rocks, and relaxing martinis at sunset. It's one of those places you seldom hear about - perhaps because it's a Pacific Ocean jewel in the rough.

Another such jewel is Sooke, a town known less for its tourism than for the sheer magnificence of its untamed coastline.

Here, you can walk for hours along the Juan de Fuca Trail, or venture further north on the West Coast Trail while breathing in the salty tang of the sea and watching majestic bald eagles perched on their treetops.

But when the chill forces you indoors, it's good to know there are places like the five-star, 28-room Sooke Harbour House, where you can defrost in sublime luxury, enjoy a hot tub overlooking the Pacific and indulge in a first-class meal of northwest cuisine. Sooke Harbour House is one of those rare establishments that has achieved a perfect combination of luxury and the ability to blend seamlessly into its rugged environment. Restaurant staff grow herbs, salad greens and edible flowers in the garden, serving them at mealtimes in an unpretentious dining room with huge glass doors and windows. They provide the kind of service you'd expect at any of Vancouver's finest hotels.

The bedrooms are a personification of the west coast, decorated with locally crafted antiques and artwork, wood furnishings, huge fireplaces and a bottle of port to enjoy as the view of the crashing waves takes you on a romantic reverie.

Venture to Rockwater Secret Cove Resort on the Sunshine Coast, and you'll find yourself hoping for a storm. That's because the resort's tent house suites are the ultimate location from which to appreciate the ferocity of bad weather, while sequestered in warmth and comfort. Surrounded on both sides by forest, the thirteen tent houses are accessed by a treetop boardwalk, a passage to and from the real world.

At the resort, the restaurant hums with activity as Chef Steven Ewing prepares such delicacies as sesame crusted Pacific albacore tuna with wasabi kewpie aioli, followed by caramelized lemon sabayon tart.

But back in the suites, guests get a tent-like experience, but without the penalties of having to 'rough it' even for a second. Inside the canvas walls of a 320-square-foot enclosure, expect slate floors with radiant heat, a Jacuzzi bathtub for two, flush toilets, a comfy king-size bed with down comforter and pumped up pillows and securely locked doors.

Only thing is, you're in a tent - sort-of. That means, when the rain comes down, you hear every last drop. Combine a windy downpour with the pounding surf and you get an orchestra of sound, which adds dollops of romance to an extraordinarily cozy, intimate accommodation.

If You Go:

  • Rockwater Resort's Tenthouse Suites range from $199-$349 per night, including continental breakfast. For more information call (877) 296-4593 or visit www.rockwatersecretcoveresort.com. The tenthouses are perfect for couples, but if you're keen to venture out with the family, the old seaside cabins are still available this summer.
  • Rates at the Semiahmoo Resort (www.semiahmoo.com; 800 770-7993) range from US$149- US$199 per night.
  • Sooke Harbour House (www.sookeharbourhouse.com) rooms cost between $339 and $499 per night, including a full breakfast and gourmet picnic lunch. For reservations call (800) 889-9688.

Photos:

1. Sooke Harbour House herb garden and view. Photo: courtesy Sooke Harbour House
2. A romantic suite in Sooke Harbour House. Photo: courtesy Sooke Harbour House
3. Luxury tent suite at Rockwater Resort. Photo: courtesy Rockwater Secret Cove Resort.
4. A couple stroll along the rocky shore line of the Sunshine Coast. Photo: courtesy Rockwater Secret Cove Resort.

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