Hastings House tucked away on island off B.C.'s coast

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For getting away from it all, few retreats in North America can match Hastings House Country House Hotel on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. The hotel is a 22-acre paradise of Tudor cottages and California-style hillside suites tucked away among sprawling, manicured lawns; carefully attended flower gardens; rolling meadows; and splendid sheltering trees.

Salt Spring Island is a dot of pine forests and lakes off the west coast shoreline of British Columbia that is home to a unique community of organic farmers, artists and craftsmen, including a daunting woman who awakens before dawn to bake artisan breads in a 12,000-pound brick oven fired by fir, cedar, alder or maple.

Set high above picturesque Ganges Harbour, where graceful sailboats share the littoral with single-engine float planes and lumbering ferries from the nearby mainland and Vancouver Island, Hastings House is at once within easy reach of the mainland yet a world away from the workaday hustle of everyday life.

The property is owned by the energetic Bonny O'Connor and her enterprising husband, Jerry Parks, who see themselves as proprietors rather than landlords. They purchased the place in 1995 after enjoying countless stays here as dedicated and appreciative paying guests.

Hastings House, which was built in 1939 to replicate an 11th century manor house in Sussex, England, comprises 18 luxury suites, many of which are in restored, historical structures.

One of them, the Farmhouse, is a two-story, harborfront affair built around the turn of the 20th century. Another, the Post, was Salt Spring Island's first Hudson's Bay trading post, which now, in its present incarnation, features French doors that open on a vista of the harbor below.

I stayed in the Manor West, a spacious, two-bedroom suite on the second floor of the Manor House, whose attributes included an unusually comfortable queen bed, leaded-glass windows whose iron frames were fashioned by a local blacksmith (as were the door hinges), an alcove with room to sit three persons before a stone fireplace, fresh-cut flowers, a walk-in closet with mini-fridge, a large bath and random-width fir flooring secured by black boat nails.

Other accommodations include six, new Hillside suites, the wheelchair-accessible Meadow two-room suite and the three-bedroom Churchill Cottage, which offers one queen, one twin/king and a single twin bedroom as well as a kitchen.

Wireless Internet access throughout the property is in the offing, I was told. There is a system in place now, but it is all but ineffective except in a cozy, common lounge/entertainment space called the Snug. In-room TV is available only in the Meadow and the Churchill Cottage.

All stays at Hastings House include the delivery of a morning wake-up hamper containing fresh-baked muffins, coffee or tea and amenities such as plush robes, a full English breakfast, mountain bikes if desired, firewood for in-room fireplaces and stoves and transportation to and from the ferry or float plane.

My recommendation is to opt for the float plane: It is loads of fun, and the trip from Vancouver only takes about 20 minutes.

Dinner is not included in the tariff for accommodations, which ranges from $455 for a standard room to $800 for a top-of-the-line Premier unit (single or double occupancy). But Hastings House offers a number of packages that feature gourmet feasts in the property's wonderful Manor dining room.

There, Swiss-trained executive chef Marcel Kauer creates menus that vary daily depending upon the best available local produce, including tender Salt Spring Island lamb, locally caught seafood and organic fruits and vegetables grown on island farms.

One package, called the Bundle of Romance, can be added to any three-night stay and includes chocolates and champagne on arrival, a three-course dinner for two, a picnic lunch, breakfast and afternoon tea each day.

In addition, the plan features two one-hour massages at the property's spa and a copy of the new Hastings House cookbook.

The Bundle of Romance package costs about $425 and is available from March 16, when Hastings House reopens from its winter break, to Nov. 17.

Hastings House is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

For more information on Hastings House, visit www.hastingshouse.com or www.slh.com.

To contact reporter Joe Rosen, send e-mail to [email protected].

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