There for a while, when our kids were small and we were choosing a hotel, we’d search for the ones with a free breakfast. At first glance, those spreads looked scrumptious. But once they got to my fork, the cold scrambled eggs, processed syrup, tasteless melon and sugary cereals left me unfulfilled and feeling a little guilty serving it to the kids. I might have experienced one or two free hotel breakfasts in my lifetime that were amazing; but even then, though they were complementary, I am sure I paid for it with my room rate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all about breakfast. And at the Old House Hotel & Spa, I was glad to discover there is every option but a free breakfast buffet. At this all-suite hotel, stocking up my own kitchenette and selecting my own breakfast fare from the nearby Thrifty’s grocery store or Edible Island Natural Foods allows me to wake up and enjoy the morning in my homey room or on my deck.

And if I am up for a walk with the dog, I can satisfy my craving for Starbucks and their bite-sized egg whites and almond milk lattes by simply crossing the street. Just inside Thrifty’s there’s a smaller Starbucks too, but I prefer the one with umbrellas and a place to secure my pup.

I am also a sucker for finding the local “Best-eggs-in-town” café. As the Courtenay story goes, the best eggs benny on the island are served at the Hen & Hog Café. Like most local hotspots, it’s small and lines are part of the experience, but the food is more than worth the wait. And the line generally moves quickly, so Hotel guests are rarely disappointed.

Old House HotelIf you’re tight on time, the hot beverage machine in the Hotel lobby serves up an amazing selection of hot drinks. Fresh cream is in the fridge! Plus, there’s always a bowl of fresh fruit, so you can grab an orange or apple if you’re on the run. I’m told you can pre-order a small breakfast box as well!

So there you have it. No need to grumble about “no free breakfast.” Celebrate the choices and no thawed danish and cold bacon buffets!

Maybe our Outside the Old House Front Door blog should be renamed “Inside” the Old House Front Door, because this adventure doesn’t require you to leave the Hotel at all.  It starts “inside” at Ohspa, with my first and completely rejuvinating experience with Glacial Bay organic clay.

I am no stranger to body wraps of medicinal earth. The Dead Sea salt and mud in Israel were unusual, if not a little painful. The mud used in a five-star spa in the hills of New Mexico did have a wonderful cleansing effect, though I never should have booked the service with a friend. The sight of her wrapped in plastic with cucumber eyes sent me into hysterics.  The clay another friend and I dragged from the riverbanks was really not good for body treatments, or for sculpting as it turns out! The list goes on.

Recently, however, I was intrigued by several conversations I had with people who had used a bit of the glacial marine clay.  Their stories suggested that just a small amount yields a healing blow to shingles, acne, eczema and cuts. So, I booked a Glacial Clay Body Wrap with an open mind and quiet expectations. Long story short, I walked out feeling light, cleansed, and in a great mental and physical flow. And, rather than have the euphoric feeling slowly fade, it got stronger as the day went on.

The body-wrap process is unlike any other I’ve had.  The use of minimal plastic and several blankets does not feel restrictive but rather like being wrapped in a huge hug. While letting the clay work its magic, a foot and head massage plunged me deeper into complete relaxation.   (Thanks Jessie!)  Washing off the clay in a steamy shower and with a larger-than-life cloth is half the fun! Or on second thought, maybe climbing back into the nest of blankets for an Eminence lotion treatment is even better.

You might ask, “What makes this hand-harvested clay so special?” This requires wearing your science hat for just a moment. As rare deposits of glacial clay travel down river to settle in estuaries along the coastal region of British Columbia, minerals are energized through hydrolysis.  This creates a negative charge to which positively charged bacteria is attracted, making it ideal for deep cleansing and detoxification. And this is just scratching the surface of all its properties. As one concerned about protecting our beautiful marine environment, I wondered, “Can I feel good about using the product?” Turns out the answer is “Yes!”  The company has self-imposed yearly harvestable quotas that do not exceed the natural replenishment rate.  You can find out more about their practices here.

Right now, Ohspa is the only spa on the Island carrying this amazing product which gets magnified tenfold by the entire body wrap process.  I never thought I’d like anything more than the Ohspa customized Eminence facial, but I have to say, I met its match!  If you think you’re in for a little body mask, guess again, the Glacial Marine Clay Body Wrap is a total health and well-being escape. As for my own personal testimonial, just a small amount of this clay put on a skin tear and one blemish overnight results in remarkable healing the next day.

It is a breezy, sunny Sunday afternoon, and we’ve decided to finally make good on a promise to Patti Wilson, one of our favourite Locals Restaurant waitresses.  She is a vibrant woman whose short, wildly cool haircut, funky glasses and sense of humour radiate energy, creativity, fun and kindness.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise when I learned that several of the beautiful stained-glass panels and all the candle holders in Locals are her creations.  Numerous times, after finishing the delicious meal she served us, we made promises to visit her studio just outside Courtenay, that until today, went unfulfilled. 

A trip to Patti’s studio is a short drive out of town. It’s worth going there just to see her welcoming home, social gardens, green house with tree-size tomato plants and log-hewn planter boxes.  Anyway, back to the studio: a closed in porch off the barn-garage, a space overflowing with comfort. Victorian-esque furniture and colors, wood stove, twinkle lights and twirling scenes of color and design invite you into a world that is cozy, festive and happy! Stepping into this room of eye candy is delicious. It takes several scans before I can focus in on the beautiful scenes and creatures that are her unique creations.

Patti will tell you her stained-glass work is a hobby, but I assure you, her work is no amateur pastime. It is a unique and refined reflection of her life spent with partner Brian on the West Coast of our island, in thick forests and on grassy knolls, in buzzing Seattle and places in between. My dream is to adorn our home with one of her bigger panels that depict mountains and a stylized cedar.

However, on this visit, I settle for a rectangular votive holder that revealed a similar landscape, on a much smaller scale…with the moon breaking the edge.  I also walked out with birds and oblong stars – all in the $30- $40 range —gifts chosen with much deliberation, I might add.

What I really love is seeing how these stained-glass pieces pick up the background outside the windows in which they are hung.  The creations change with the seasons, the day’s weather, evening shadows and yellow rays of daybreak.  Their beauty is enough to break my heart, in a good way.

I highly recommend choosing your selection from her studio, though items can be purchased on her website. The experience of being with Patti in her element adds a dimension to this art which makes your purchases that much sweeter.  On my way out, Patti points out upright shelves of glass filled with panes of glass just waiting to be granted a new life as an adored art object. Before I leave, I already want to return and settle into one of her big chairs with a glass of red wine (which she loves too) and just be among the collection of reflections of places and times and creatures, some of which have tendrils stretching back into my own past on the island. If Brian is around, you’ll find he figures so nicely into your experience as does Ollie, their “getting-up-there-in-age” adorable little pup who tolerated ours.

I had to look up this quote by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, because I only remembered pieces, but this is worth sharing:

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is                                      revealed only if there is a light from within.

Is it no coincidence then that Patti is a reflection of her stained glass, and an explanation of why they are both beautiful?  You can call her to make an appointment or find her online here.



Outside the Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

For the longest time, I have set out from the Old House to walk the spectacular trail that borders the Courtenay River and its sister K’omoks Estuary. It plays out like a movie that completely relaxes and uplifts me, that is until the very end where a parting scene delivers a bit of a sucker punch.  But as I recently found out during my visit with Bill Heidrick (a new Project Watershed conservation friend worthy of a blog just about him), an amazing sequel is about to play out… and I think every Old House guest should know about it.

Living alongside the K’omoks Estuary, even if only for a night or two, is a rare experience, and truly, I think it’s one of the greatest offerings the Old House Hotel & Spa offers. Whether you’re walking the coastline or peering out your window at the River, there is always a show to behold. Spectacular views — different at high and low tide — and the inner workings of an ecosystem alive with raucous, colorful displays from eagles, seals, river otters, kingfishers and fish on the run are captivating.

But a piece of this paradise is amiss: a four-hectare field of concrete leftover from the old Fields Saw Mill lies just on the other side of the River. Back in the day— 1947 to be exact — an unfortunate trade was made: critical habitat that sustained salmon and other wildlife was walled off and buried to erect a lumber processing operation. The mill has long since closed but with it have gone some healthy populations of fish and vegetation.

I had never walked the abandoned site, but accepted Bill’s invitation to do so upon hearing fantastic news: a restoration plan is underway. The sun, seldom seen in the past weeks, serendipitously shone on us as well as the sign posting the site’s new name: Kus-Kus-Sum (Translated, it means burial place and pronounced like Couscous-Um!) As Bill and I looked back at the adjacent robust Hollyhock flats, the barren site on which we stood seemed to long for reconnection with its other half.  I could almost feel from staring up into the eagle-decorated sitka spruce and down into the clear tidal current from which it is walled, that waterways and sea grasses and chinook salmon are raring to return. And if things continue as they are going, the amazing Comox Valley community will ensure they will.

The Kus-Kus-Sum ambitious restoration plan — overseen by Project Watershed and the K’omoks First Nations and supported by an incredible list of commercial and government (including the City of Courtenay) partnerships — is to bring back the area’s original combination of salt marsh, waterways, riparian zones and forested areas.  Once restored, it will provide the community with abundance in the form of wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, carbon sequestering and recreational and educational activities.

The cost is $6.5 million, of which $500,000 has to be raised by the community before the end of 2019. They are more than one-fifth the way there, but they still must meet their periodic funding goals to secure the property sale.  The remainder of the funds will come from grants and government programs.

The Comox Valley community, led by the K’omoks First Nations people and Project Watershed’s amazing team (also responsible for a multitude of other nearby restoration efforts) is on a roll to “unpave this parking lot” and restore “paradise.” (Yes, Joni Mitchell, you are an inspiration still!) The fundraising events are super creative. All contributions matter to this project: small, large, matched and anonymous. (I loved hearing about the secret gift matching donor called the “Estuary Angel.”)  But I am most amazed by the tireless, passionate folks from everywhere in the Valley and beyond who are completely committed, Bill for starters.

In the spirit of protecting a connected planet, helping local conservation efforts is so important. So, you’ll be happy to know that the Old House Hotel & Spa is helping the effort. Please consider donating to Project Watershed and the Kus-Kus-Sum project too! There are so many really wonderful fundraising events in store, so look them up while you’re in town.  I truly hope you will be able to see restoration in action in the coming years, culminating in a place that will complete the spectacular K’omoks Estuary.


Outside the Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

There is place in howling distance of the Old House Hotel, that will likely change you forever. People have come from as far as Belgium to see one single animal, Tundra the wolf at the SWELL WOLF EDUCATION CENTRE. As close to wolf as you can get (90%), this amazing female’s hazel-green eyes look right through you.  She, with the gentlest of dispositions, has inspired more humans, softened more hearts belonging to children and adults alike, than I dare to count.

Tundra is one of those unique individuals whose soul and purpose are so closely matched that they speak to you as if you were the only one to experience it.  She is a gift.  She is an animal whose presence immediately makes you aware of the emptiness her passing and the extinction of her species would leave.  You want to celebrate her, share her with everyone you can.  That’s the way her pack leader, Gary Allan approaches it.

You will find him traveling with his celebrity wolf, from Tofino to Vancouver, from schools and First Nations ceremonies to nature centers and coastal communities, educating folks about the irreplaceable value wolves have in managing our ecosystems. Other times the visit simply breathes hope and wellness into people who desperately need the healing power of wolf.  He puts to bed myths about menacing wolves and shares the inspiring truth: as top predators, they are astoundingly gentle in their nature when it comes to raising their pups, living in packs and generally living peacefully with humans when given enough room to roam.  (And, yes, wolves, need a lot of room to do their part for balancing nature.)

Tundra’s people/animal pack actually numbers five. Two other dominant wolf dogs live there and are just over three years old. Nahanni is an Arctic wolf, and Mahikan is a black wolf; both are almost “full wolf” and astoundingly beautiful and fascinating to observe.  While somewhat elusive, they are still very interested in humans. Few people on the planet can or should handle such an immense responsibility; Gary is one them. He  lives, eats and sleeps the care of his wolves.

Also one of North American’s most committed wolf conservation advocates, he and his devoted wife Sally share their house with Tundra. You haven’t seen a large dog bed until you’ve seen Tundra’s!  Having recently relocated the Centre from Malcolm Island to their property in Nanaimo, they have created a beautiful studio for wolf video viewing, long conversations and wolf introductions. Even though I have seen Tundra several times, I still felt my heart explode when she came through the curtained doorway and welcomed me with a nibbling lick.

This on-site education is a fantastic segue to what most consider to be the most transforming part of visiting the Centre. Traveling by car, you arrive at the local river trail.  Here Gary and Tundra leash up, and a walk becomes an effortless conversation about all things wolves.  Tundra takes the lead, stopping at the river where she fills her belly with water and bathes in the coolness.

Whether Gary brings Tundra to the community or Jane Goodall, as he has, or you visit them, these interactions are a commitment to wolf education that seek to set the world right.  All of this, funded solely by donations, is an urgent effort to speak for wolves, to bring home the message that British Columbia’s wolf populations hang in the balance, and that we as stewards, have to act quickly to protect them. An eye-opener is that unchecked deer populations as we have in the province and the island spell trouble for other wildlife, landscapes and ultimately humans.

But perhaps the greatest revelation is how purely, deeply lovely, a wolf can be… what beautiful wolves Tundra, Mahikan and Nahanni are.  I’m convinced that Gary’s mission for as long as he is on this planet, will be to shed light on wolf misinformation and to create more wolf advocates. I strongly suggest a visit to the SWELL Education Centre, less than a two-hour drive south from The Old House. Tundra’s lone howl, or accompanied by those of her pack, will stay with you forever.


Outside The Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog by Lisa Lauf


If you’re staying at The Old House, it is likely that you’ll be dining in at some point or maybe the whole time!  You might crave a quiet morning with breakfast in bed or a happy hour in your room enjoying locally-made wine, cheeses and meats.  Perhaps movie night by the fire with a local brew paired with popcorn dressed with special salt is your idea of a great autumn night.


My advice is to make your first stop, after checking in, a quick walk to the new Thrifty’s grocery store which is something like “Whole Foods meets your local grocery store.”  In fact, if I had a dime for every person who has said this is the best Thrifty’s in British Columbia I would be a rich woman.  This delightful escape just opened recently, and is kitty corner to the Old House. (Below, I recommend an enjoyable alternate route rather than through the intersection.) Or you can have them delivered to your door.

There is much to highlight in this Thrifty’s to beat all Thrifty’s, but the five big surprises here are:

  • Ready-to-go food: Choices include a healthy smoothie bar, Starbucks, sushi and pizza.
  • Natural Products: This health food and natural products department is filled with great items; some you would never find in the States.
  • Fill-your-container stations: Pour your own healthy peanut butter, infused oils and vinegars
  • Bigtime organic: You’ll love their organic selections of meat, citrus, other produce, breads and tons more.
  • Bulk everything! Less waste and packaging and you take only what you need.

I love the products they love. Among those they support are:

  1. BC First: Thousands of products in their stores are locally grown.
  2. Fair Trade: They value social and environmental responsibility.
  3. Sustainable Seafood: As a Westcoast company, they know that our world’s oceans and seashores are spectacular but fragile, plentiful but limited, so they support sustainable seafood from shore to store.

You also won’t want to miss their fantastic selection of coconut and milk ice creams or the flower shop that begs you to take a few blossoms home to personalize your room. No doubt there are other great little shops in Courtenay and Comox featuring local fare, but if you want to spend less time shopping and more time exploring, this store will not disappoint.  Check it out!

 Directions from your room to Thrifty’s: I suggest not going toward the intersection, but instead, walking out the front door of the building where you checked in. Turn right and walk past the Dentist office until you come to the walking trail. Turn left on the sidewalk.  Follow it under the bridge and immediately turn left again which takes you past Rexall Drugs. Cross the street Riverside Road, into the Thrifty’s parking lot.

Outside The Old House Front Door
A Comox Valley Explorer Blog

To be sure, heaven on earth can found in hundreds of places here in the Comox Valley. It could be found floating along the gentle current of the Puntledge River, beachcombing an expanse of Williams Beach, sunbathing on the rock of Seal Bay as boisterous marine friends bark the day away. Maybe it’s kayaking just offshore or letting your bike rip after an uphill workout in Cumberland.

But if I had to choose mine, it would be hiking the 8k Helen MaKenzie – Battleship Lake Loop accessible from Mt. Washington’s Raven Lodge. Lakes, streams, meadows, the promise of a wild animal sighting, all on a clear summer sky-blue day — ya, it’s tough to beat. 
My first hike there was one of those “it just keeps getting better” experiences. Gentle curving boardwalks through acres of grasslands and wildflowers, gave way to gentle inclines that weave their way through tent platforms and forest. Before long, Battleship Lake appeared as a harbinger of more beautiful watery spectacles that lie ahead. Further on, Helen McKenzie Lake welcomed all explorers with gentle rock formations upon which to enjoy a packed lunch or to heat up after a brisk swim. But beware of the gray jays; they tried to snatch our lunch on more than one occasion. A two-hour hike could easily turn into four after resting a good long while with a good book and a towel. 
My steps felt lighter than air as we continued traversing babbling brooks, bridges, ponds and forests that often opened up for a rare and beautiful treat of the greater Strathcona Provincial Park. I must admit, the hike was over before I was ready, but the pups, having covered four times the ground that we had, were grateful to see the car. Next time we’ll be adding the Far East trail! An overnight would be a great adventure. 

One of the best kept secrets in Courtenay is the actual place you go to get information about the best kept secrets in Courtenay and the entire island!   The The Vancouver Island Visitor Centre, just off Route 19 and Comox Valley Parkway, might have been more aptly named “The Vancouver Island Experience” because it’s an attraction in itself. From the road, this circular building with a grass-covered roof topped with an eye-catching airplane is a fantastic advertisement for the Centre.

Once inside, you’ll want to head straight into the interpretive centre. Any one loving “selfies” will enjoy the opportunity to sit on a mountain bike or chairlift seat, all set against realistic backdrops, as though you were really biking or skiing.  Even a segment of a kayak puts you right on the water.  Kids love climbing into the center of a large fir trunk to owlishly peer out of a hole at the guests below. I recall my first time visiting here and messaging the images I’d taken to my stateside family, inviting them to hurry up and visit.

On a more interactive level, videos, photographs, graphics and First Nations Art provide tons of information and inspire conversation. I love the Vancouver Island marmot exhibit, as this is one of my favorite animals, now endangered, but on the conservation radar of our residents.

I had the opportunity to observe a couple new in the area who were visiting with their family whose favourite attraction was the interactive map, (pictured above) strategically placed within the center’s core presentation area.  The size of a foosball table, you can call manipulate compelling  images and information.  The topographical map also is aa hit and shouldn’t be missed.

But that’s not all.  The retail shop is stocked with unique, locally-made products. I am going to go for the First Nations inspired tea and tea tins next time I’m shopping for gifts. Also, the board room makes for great meeting space.

At the end of the day, every information centre needs to share information. The racks of brochures and booklets are full and easy to peruse.  Even the selection of natural history and children’s books is super compelling, I had to grab a few and scan them while sitting in  reading nook, complete with a fireplace.  A good centre also needs friendly staff, and the people there were  welcoming.  Had there been a bigger food outlet, I would have stayed longer!

I am hoping the signage off Route 19 will get better as one is likely to overshoot it or undershoot it driving in any direction.  The entrance is quite south of the actual building and you’ll be looking for Small Road .  If you haven’t visited lately or at all, head on over, it’s just minutes from the Old House and likely en route to any of your planned adventures!

Outside The Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog 

I must admit, I love adventures.  I’ll also admit that there is often angst associated with embarking on them – the packing, the I-think-might-be-getting-a-cold syndrome before leaving, the last-minute work assignment, the dog just threw up scenario, the I’m-out-of-shape fear factor, and many other nagging possibilities that could justify backing out.

Each year, it’s not unusual for the call of bright blue sky, oodles of powder and a breathtaking view of Mount Washington to encourage me to prod my family, “When are we going skiing?” It’s also not unusual for a manic work week to kill the thought, leaving my energy deflated like a popped balloon and for the million-and-one reasons not to go start to take hold.  But thanks to my spouse’s talent for making a plan and sticking to it, ski Mount Washington we did, just a week or so ago … and yes …  it was fantastic.

Whether you like back-country skiing, sweeping the slopes on a board or winding your way down the trails on parabolic skis, there is no way you will be disappointed after making the commitment to go!  Even after getting up early, putting on your layers, driving the scenic drive to the lodge and standing in line to rent your equipment (or lugging your own), clouds our sun, you’ll love your personal encounter with the undefinable, graceful, and challenging, yet gentle, Mount Washington.

This year the rental process developed under new owners surprised me: easy computer registration and a fast-moving line-up for rental payment. (I found it interesting that the instructors double as ticket agents.)  The sizing and pick up of rentals are quite fast, and the staff is super friendly.  This is the first year I rented and wore a helmet.  I grew up a die-hard eastern skier and never took to the replacement for rooster-crop-like wool hats.  I did, however, find my helmet warm and light.  And yet for another year running, a pair of goggles missing from our winter clothes bin, so rented those too!

The only slight downer was the food, not bad by cafeteria standards but just not a lot of super healthy choices.  Next time, I will be sure to pack a lunch and fill in with the warm beverages and free water available in various locations throughout the lodge.  I also loved that we could take the dog; we skied to the parking lot and walking her every few hours!  I think it would be great to have close parking for pet owners, as we were not the only ones catering to our four-legged family members who could not ski.

It also was an amazing experience to return to the Old House. A long hot tub and swim in the heated outdoor pool, a relaxing tub and then a family meal of treats we picked up from the awesome new Thrifty’s grocery story (it’s like Whole Foods meets Trader Joes meets Save On Foods) just across the street.

We’re ready to go hang out with Mount Washington again … maybe cross-country ski this time or snow shoe  … although the allure of skiing in a T-shirt is mighty tempting.  Anyway, if you keep putting off your visit, don’t … just go. Just do it!


Outside The Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog



Dogs. Leave home without them? Are you kidding? Dogs are part of our family; leaving home without them is often not an option for many of us, including me.  At the Old House Hotel, I am happy to say dogs are mighty welcome.  Upon checking in, pups are offered Faithful Friends treats, (grain-free treats made by a local company) compliments of Woofy’s Pet food Store, located 3 blocks from the hotel on Cliffe Avenue.  The Hotel also makes dog bowls and leashes available to all pet guests.

If you’re looking for a dog walk location within walking distance, I recommend taking a right onto the newly renovated Courtenay Trail that circles the Air Park and straddles the wildlife-rich estuary.  You can exit the trail and wind your way up to Woofy’s. (Ask the front desk for details; they’re great with directions!) Woofy’s has a great selection of dog treats your pup will savour.  In fact, dogs love to shop there because of the large selection featured in dog-height bins!

Turning left onto the Courtenay Trail, you’ll find a nice grassy lawn adjacent to volleyball courts which is great for exercising your dog. And if you’re looking for off-leash adventures, Seal Bay Park just off Ryan Road in Comox is an excellent choice.  If you’re up for beer and a pizza, Gladstone Brewing Co.  is dog-friendly. On any given night you’ll see outdoor tables filled with amiable people and their four-legged best friends.

If you’re feeling guilty about spa-ing without your pup, there is an abundance of dog groomers in the area such as the highly acclaimed Hair of the Dog Spa and Barktique as well as veterinarian clinics in case of emergency.

No need to worry about staying in a room that’s had a less than tidy dog residing in it, the Old House meticulous housekeeping department ensures that all rooms are spotless for the next guest and their third 3rd floors of both buildings are pet-free for those with allergies.

On occasion Keelah, my border collie cross, makes an appearance and is treated like a queen from beginning to end. I have come to feel so comfortable in this dog-friendly town.

Outside the Old House Front Door

A Comox Valley Explorer Blog