The Cowichan people were onto something when they called this fertile valley north of Victoria "the Warm Land." The region, roughly from Mill Bay to Ladysmith, is said to be blessed with the warmest year-round temperatures and more hours of sunshine each year than anywhere else in Canada. Home to a quarter of Vancouver Island's productive farmland, and among the most artists per capita anywhere in the country, the Cowichan Valley has earned another moniker, "The New Provence," thanks to its wealth of wineries, small organic farms, and burgeoning local-food culture.
Highway 1 from Victoria cuts north–south through the valley, while winding side roads lead to studios, wineries, and roadside farm stands. Duncan, the valley's main town, is home to the Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre, one of BC's leading First Nations cultural centers. A 30-minute drive north is Chemainus, a cute if touristy little town decorated with outdoor murals. Ladysmith, at the valley's north end, has a historic town center and a sandy ocean beach. About 10 minutes south of Duncan are Cowichan Bay, a tiny fishing village with houses built on stilts over the water, Cobble Hill, home to a cluster of wineries, and Mill Bay, where you can catch a ferry to the Saanich Peninsula. Lake Cowichan and Shawnigan Lake draw campers, boaters, and summer cottagers. The Cowichan Valley Rail Trail, a long-distance foot-and-bike path, connects the two lakes.
For a Cowichan Valley wine touring guide and map, go to www.wineislands.ca.