With a plethora of festivals offered in almost every Vancouver Island community, it takes something very special to stand out. The North Saanich Flavour Trails Festival has accomplished just that.
Organizer Jen Rashleigh describes it as a celebratory “rural ramble and a feast for the senses”; a great description but one that only provides a hint of the festival’s unique character.
The Flavour Trails Festival spans three days (Aug. 16-18) and what makes it so extraordinary is that there is no central festival site. Instead, the celebration has grown in the European style in which folks get to explore the fabulous agricultural diversity of North Saanich and meet the growers, harvesters, fishers, vintners, brewers, chefs and producers that are behind the amazing bounty of food and drink in the community.
Festival goers set out, brochure in hand, to explore the 23 venues; never quite sure what they’ll find, but certain that they won’t be disappointed.
The festival starts out on Aug. 16 with a four-course farm-to-table dinner.
Every part of this dinner will have been grown, harvested and prepared by local producers who have come together to present an explosion of freshness and flavour that simply can’t be replicated anywhere else. Each of a selected group of farmers has prepared their specialty, and the love they have for their produce is obvious as they create culinary masterpieces that will be hard to forget. (The event sells out quickly, so make plans to get your tickets early next year.)
On Saturday morning, though, it’s time to take to the road and go exploring.
Of course it’s common for visitors to take their own cars from one venue to the next, but this year there’s another option that rounds out the truly European flavour of the festival.
Simply take your car to the Bike Corral at 9911 McDonald Park Rd., and you can rent a bike (or an e-bike for an easier ride) and travel to venues with the wind in your hair. It’s also the starting point for the Flavour Cycle, a guided tour led by Steve Ducks of TIDES cycling tours.
There’s another option that somehow just fits the cycling experience, and that’s coupling your ride with a pre-made picnic basket for two.
“It’s sort of a bragging basket full of local produce from our own producers,” said Rashleigh.
The basket is the perfect way to complete that “rural ramble” experience.
As the weekend winds down, yet another uniquely country experience awaits.
Sure, we’ve all attended pancake breakfasts, but The McTavish Academy of Art at 1720 McTavish Rd. elevates the experience with its own country flair.
Pancakes are loaded high with seasonal berries and locally made berry syrups, then topped with mounds of fresh whipped cream. Following the breakfast, a field dance, featuring live musicians and real square-dance callers, will get folks up and dancing in a way that hasn’t been seen for many years. It’s a perfect way event for the kids and those of us who are still kids at heart.
But what truly makes the Flavour Trails Festival an exceptional experience is rooted in its history. Early settlers knew that the modified Mediterranean climate and the fabulous soils of North Saanich made it a grower’s paradise, able to produce fruits and vegetables with more flavour, and greater variety than anywhere else in B.C.
The farmers and producers on the tour reflect that early passion and it’s the personal, one-on-one contact that will give festival goers a behind-the-scenes peek at the food and drinks of North Saanich that just might be the start of a long-term relationship with the region’s food.