On rare occasions I get goosebumps as I’m approaching a hotel. In my job as a travel writer, it’s a tell-all moment when my intuition takes over and a wave of anticipation rushes over me. Over time, I’ve learned to take this “travel sixth sense” seriously because it always indicates something extraordinary is about to take place.
If you call extraordinary eating local fare from an award-winning chef, catching my first salmon (and bringing it home to share with my family!), watching bald eagles from the windows in my guest room, and visiting the spa daily, then I’d like to introduce you to Sonora Resort.
The place: Discovery Islands, British Columbia, Canada
Just a 50-minute helicopter or seaplane flight up the coast from Vancouver, BC, there’s a secluded and striking place where nature rules. Far from the city’s tower-filled skyline, this is Canada above the populated 49th parallel. Here, 800-year-old cedars stand firm, grizzlies rule the wild, seals bask in the sun, whales frolic, and visitors seek serenity in the wild.
The hotel: Sonora Resort
Sonora Resort sits on a corner of Sonora Island at the mouth of Bute Inlet, one of the deepest inlets in North America. In this slice of ultra-Canadiana paradise, it’s just you, nature, and a touch of Relais & Chateâux luxe.
I arrived by floatplane at sundown as the light was slowly shifting from warm to cool tones causing the ocean to sparkle like a fireworks show. I hail from Canada so I should be used to the pristine scenery, but true beauty never ceases to amaze.
Upon landing, I wanted to linger on the dock and take in the sensory experience—think: rushing water, eagles calling, fishing boats bobbing in perfect formation—but smoked salmon profiteroles and a fizzy orange cocktail were waiting for me in the lounge.
Once I was escorted to my room, passing the spa, 12-seat cinema, and tennis court, I stood for awhile at my floor-to-ceiling window staring at the sea. While I could have stayed there forever, it was now dark and I was due in the dining room, where I sat at a timber-made table overlooking the inlet’s inky vastness.
“Please enjoy this bread made from our five-year starter,” my server told me as she handed my table a warm sourdough demi loaf with sea-salted butter. While I’m well aware the cardinal rule of tasting menus is to never fill up on bread, I couldn’t help myself, so I forced my pants to make room for the mushroom consommé, crème fraîche-topped beet risotto, melt-in-your-mouth spring salmon, and house-made chanterelle mushroom gelato—all paired with British Columbia wine.
During my last bite of dessert, I suddenly felt underdressed (even though Sonora abides by wilderness-casual dress code). Executive Chef Terry Pichor’s garden- and ocean-sourced tasting menu was so detailed and debonaire, it’s as if I should have shown up in formal wear!
“May I suggest an earl grey tea and scotch to open the throat?” my server inquired the next morning. For a moment, I thought about it (why not?), but I had a big day ahead and I didn’t want to get tipsy before viewing bears the size and strength of small tanks.
Viewfinder Tip: For optimal outdoor temperatures and wildlife viewing, Sonora Resort is open seasonally from May to October, so plan your Canadian adventure accordingly.
En route to grizzly territory, I passed a few nonchalant cabins owned by titans of industry and A-list celebs who have specifically chosen the region for its seclusion. I soon realized that everyone—humans and animals alike—live the good life in the land of the wild and free. Under a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and rushing rivers, the bears, too, ate gourmet. All they had to do was swipe a paw in the water—literally wiggling with salmon—to reel in a snack.
Later on, back at the resort, I channeled my inner bear and relaxed in the water in an experience a little more refined than my furry, river-roaming friends. Enter the spa’s water therapy circuit, complete with outdoor hot and cold mineral pools perched over the bay, as well as a steam and cedar sauna. Word to the wise: Build in time daily for this tranquil distraction.
While Sonora is a resort in every sense of the word, its beginnings harken back to fishing, an activity still popular in the deep waters of this secluded West Coast stretch. So, in an effort to put my Canadian heritage to the test, I paired up with Mike, one of Sonora’s guides who has been fishing in the area since the ‘70s.
Trolling at a speed of 1.7mph, Mike told me his biggest asset is coaching when the fish bite. As a fishing newbie, I was keen to heed his instruction.
Two hours later, as I was relaxing with my feet slung over the side of a gleaming-white Grady-White boat, the bell jingled indicating fish on the line! With the reflexes of a CIA agent, I sprung into action, screamed, and followed Mike’s tutelage.
Ten minutes later, out of breath and overjoyed, I held a 7-pound Coho salmon. (Talk about ending my stay on a high note.) Watching it get packed up for my journey home, I recalled my goosebumps on arrival and knew they were for good reason.
What hotels or resorts give you goosebumps?