Recently, CBC News reported on a cob home on Mayne Island, part of B.C.'s Gulf Islands, having been named the fourth most wish-listed destination in the world by the well-known travel booking site, Airbnb. So you can only imagine my smugness in not just having spent a weekend at said destination, but in having been the very first guests hosted by the couple who took over the retreat when we stayed there in late 2013.
Airbnb has risen hugely in popularity since having been founded in 2008, with strata corporations even going so far these days as to restrict owners from listing their places on the site. The service has become my husband's and my number one means of planning a trip, whether visiting Portland on a summer road trip or simply spending a night on the mainland to see a hockey game.
As a self-proclaimed neat freak, I've always found hotels to feel a little skeezy, a matter of not looking too hard in the corners, trying desperately to ignore the greasy fingerprints smeared on the nightstand or the lone pube neglected beside the toilet. And certainly we've all seen the primetime investigations on just how filthy that hotel bedspread really is.
Part of the beauty of Airbnb is the level of accountability shared between guest and host, with each having the opportunity to rate one another once the trip is over. Almost all the places I've stayed have not only met, but surpassed, my expectation of cleanliness, I think due in part to not wanting to receive a negative rating and thereby risk future bookings.
Airbnb also offer guests a level of affordability not shared by hotels. A basic hotel room, dirty bedspread and all, seems to average between $120 to $160 dollars. For a comparable cost on Airbnb, you have the opportunity to find something cleaner, more spacious and with all the luxurious amenities lacking at hotels, whether it be beach access, a wood burning fireplace or a private hot tub. With Airbnb hosts also typically owning the spaces they offer, they take a certain pride in ensuring their guests have a unique and positive experience, as was the case during our stay in the Mayne Island cob, when our guests greeted us with still-warm chocolate chip cookies, as well as stocked the kitchen with a fresh-baked loaf of grainy bread and a basket of eggs from their very own chickens.
For my husband and I, one of our favourite things during the dreary winter months, when opportunities for camp are more limited and we're in serious need of a change of scenery, is to find an affordable Airbnb destination for a weekend away. With "cabin porn" saturating social media and making us all pine for a life unplugged, it's nice to live out the fantasy, even if just for the weekend.
And certainly we have no shortage of offerings at our fingertips here on Vancouver Island. Here, some of what we've considered our favourite homes away from home so far.
Our 2012 stay at Two Acre Wood was the very first of our winter cabin getaway weekends, and let me say there's nothing like starting on a high point. I fell so deeply in love with this spot after our visit that, for a brief period, I jealously stalked it on Airbnb, agonizing as more and more people became aware of its existence. In fact, the splendour of this spot had me dreamily fantasizing about moving to our own Gulf Island retreat, even going so far as to assemble a vision board complete with popsicle-stick cabin.
Every single element of this space is on point, from the coziness of the wood burning stove situated perfectly adjacent to the couch, to the sprawling ocean view patio from which we huddled beneath woolen blankets and sipped glasses of sweet almond liqueur; from the ultra-deep bath tub, which made for a leisurely morning sipping boozy coffee as I devoured the chapters of my book; to the utter comfiness of the master bed, with its weighted duvet and squishably plush pillows.
We spent a cold weekend in early November in a kind of dream-state, eating nourishing dinners by candlelight and feeding logs into the hungry woodstove. It was moment-by-moment blissful perfection.
Pros: Two Acre Wood gets an A+ for privacy; our host was in fact completely absent from the site, leaving directions to unlock the cabin and contact details for a caretaker in the event of an emergency. Also, with the space just steps from the ocean, you can endure the wintry seaside chill until your fingers are numb, knowing there's a roaring fire waiting to greet you inside.
Cons: Not a single one. Wait, I rescind that, only to disclaim that that since people have caught on to the superbness of this spot, it's definitely gotten much harder to book. We've tried several times since our original visit, only to have the booking denied due to conflicts. Sigh.
Lasqueti Island stands as an exception to our winter-only getaways, being that unless you have your own boat, or a kindly friend willing to taxi you over to the east coast of Vancouver Island in their own watercraft, you're wholly dependent on the pasenger-only ferry, which runs exclusively during peak season.
Don't let this dissuade you, however, as Lasqueti is a gem of a destination not to be missed. What makes the island especially unique is the fact that the whole of it is, in fact, off-grid - the only one of the larger Gulf Islands, reports Wikipedia, not connected to BC Hydro's power grid.
Our choice to visit Lasqueti was part adventure and part craving for simplicity. Ironically, the pursuit of simplicity can oft be complicated by a lack thereof as we struggled to minimize our weekend's meals in anticipation of having to hike our gear to our destination, and to sacrifice my usual haul of journals and reading materials in favour of a couple staples.
But, it was every bit worth it, as our experience of Jessie's Path was extraordinary. At the time of our visit in 2013, the cabin was a simply-built two-room structure, with the bedroom window peeking out towards the strait. Our Airbnb host stocked us with plenty of drinking water and a large cooler to store our perishables, with the lack of electricity making the experience extra special. From cooking on the propane stove (like camping!) to traversing to the outdoor biffy (complete with composting toilet and homey decor!) by flashlight, it was fascinating to have a firsthand experience of off-grid living. My favourite element may in fact have been the propane-heated outdoor shower - nothing like shampooing your hair amid the trees!
Pros: The hammock suspended below the cabin easily fit the two of us for some serious late-summer R&R. Also, the cookie stand at the boat dock, where you drop your change in a box in exchange for all kinds of home-baked goodies (indeed, we may have got carried away!). Also, expect a mysterious and whimsical journey through the woods - Jessie's Path - of which I will share no more, so as not to spoil the surprise should you be lucky enough to stay.
Cons: What we didn't realize when we planned our trip over the Labour Day weekend is that the day of our departure was the very last day the passenger-ferry was scheduled to run for the season. Somehow we'd messed up reading the Monday schedule and missed the first run of the day, with chances of getting on the next run looking abysmal. I'm not exaggerating when I say we made it on the second-to-last crossing of the year by the skin of our teeth, and only because a group of passengers had shown up late just as the boat had pulled away from the dock (part of me felt guilty about their being stranded, while the rest of me was enormously relieved we wouldn't be forced to improvise a living on the island during the winter months).
Note: Jessie's Path has undergone some upgrades since our stay, including a steampunked outdoor kitchen!
Back to Galiano we went, this time to Eagles Nest Retreat, a small but romantic micro-cabin set against the expansive Collinson Provincial Park. The space is an eclectic little space, perfect for a dose of colour during the bleak winter months. Rain kept us indoors for most of our stay, curled up on the sofa reading by the warmth of the woodstove, although we did take advantage of a break in the weather to tour the sprawling surroundings. A corner of the property looks right over Active Pass, where we were treated to an extraordinary site of orca whales passing by (hubs and I having got separated at this point and me trying to holler at him, "WHALES! LOOK! OHMIGOD, WHALES!" Turns out he saw them from where he was stationed, as well) (BC Ferries also passes close by this jut of island, which made for some pretty neat vessel-watching).
Perhaps the crowning glory of Eagles Nest Retreat is its location at the base of a mountain up which you can hike for a stunning, bird's eye view of Active Pass (which is also where the cabin gets its name from, there apparently being eagle's nests perched at this vantage point) (which we unfortunately did not see for ourselves).
Pros: The cabin's bed is situated up a ladder and in the loft, and is more or less a fort for grown-ups - though don't make the same mistake as us in keeping the woodstove roaring so hot you inevitably suffocate yourself in the middle of the night, frantically pawing open the window and gasping for fresh air. Also, outside the cabin is a small garden complete with all kinds of fragrant culinary herbs, perfect for adding a little whimsy to your meals.
Cons: Limited counter space for food, which is a marginal con, in my opinion. Oh, and the aforementioned heat-suffocation-factor.
Note: This property also offers its guests a shared sauna, as well as a hot tub literally overlooking the strait, though we didn't take advantage of either of these options, preferring our self-created woodstove sauna, obviously.
Ah, the ubiquitous cob cottage of CBC-fame. We ended up finding this place by fluke more than anything, it having been recently listed on Airbnb the same time we were planning an upcoming weekend getaway to celebrate my birthday. I was in fact thrilled about its availability, as I'd attended a conference on earth homes only a couple months prior and now was getting the chance to be inside one for real!
The home is an architectural masterpiece, with sumptuously curved walls and natural elements incorporated throughout. The upstairs bedroom is a veritable sanctuary, and I could've easily spent the entirety of our stay cocooned in its coziness were I not keen to enjoy all the cabin's unique offerings. As always, we were wooed by the homey comfort of the woodstove, which kept the space nice and toasty, and likewise loved the the kitchen table perched back in a windowed alcove, where we feasted on homemade chili and the crusty bread our hosts had gifted us.
The combination of the November chill and the cottage's inviting peacefulness kept us cozied up inside for the length of our stay, with our dog, Bailey, mystified over the free-range chickens bold enough to venture to the window for a nosey peek inside.
Pros: The baked goodness proffered by our gracious hosts was an immediate bonus!
Cons: With seating built into the house's design, hubs and I found it a bit awkward to jointly settle into the single bench. Also, with the seat built into the window, we found it got a little cool, though we remedied this by putting the woodstove to work.
5) Bowser > Cozy Ocean View Home and Beach
$130 per night, sleeps 6
I have to admit our stay in Bowser last year rivalled Two Acre Wood in terms of excellence, a blend of prime beachside location and a unique and lovingly cared for home. Though not technically a cabin, with the residents moving into the property's actual beachside cabin during bookings, the home has all the rustic charm and appeal of any Pinterest-worthy getaway. Though the space is large enough to sleep six, we fell immediately head over heels with the master bedroom, set atop a narrow staircase with a stunning, panoramic view of ocean and treetops. In fact, laying in bed at night, gazing out the curtainless windows at an expanse of blinking stars, I was right ready to move in and live there forever.
Situated at the top of a short bluff, guests can make their way to the beach by way of a hand-build staircase, with plenty of space to roam the shore in either direction. We enjoyed a bout of abnormally mild weather during our February visit, and so savoured our time at the beach to watch the sun go down.
And though I generally prefer my cabins without T.V., we enjoyed curling up on the sofa in the evening to watch a comedy show on demand, thought it was the only time the television was turned on during our visit.
Pros: With the house serving as the hosts' primary residence, I was overjoyed by the seemingly basic-yet-luxurious kitchen amenities, from perfectly sharpened knives to proper cookware. And, if you're too lazy to cook, we discovered Bowser is home to perhaps the best taco shack in the history of taco shacks, Tidal Tacos. SERIOUSLY. You have to go. (Also, climbers might enjoy the fact the side of this house is equipped with an actual climbing wall, although be warned that host supervision is required.)
Cons: Again, I'm hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about our Bowser stay; A+!
And lastly, if you're just so tempted now to book your own Airbnb cabin weekend getaway, let me suggest a few essentials to make your stay just that much more memorable:
Disaronno, or preferred brand of almond liqueur: There's just something about sweet almond liqueur that lends an extra specialness to weekends away. Delicious on the rocks, or added to your morning coffee, it makes for a perfect winter-weather treat.
Reliable footwear: We inevitably want to explore our surroundings during getaways and, because it's usually the middle of winter, gumboots are a dependable all-weather go-to for roaming-a-plenty. If you find yourself headed to Lasqueti, however, let me recommend a comfy pair of sneakers, because you're bound to do a whole lotta walking.
Your coziest sweats: I mean, I know you're going to want to look cute for the pictures you're going to post to Instagram and so forth, so of course pack your usual attire. But keep in mind you're going to want to change into sweats pretty much immediately, as nothing's more conducive to relaxing than stretchy waistbands!
Camera: Make sure to bring your real camera, if you've got one, 'cause there's always lots of exploring to be had, with the chance to maybe even capture an orca or two, should luck have it!
Books, journals, magazines, tarot cards: The absence of T.V. happily leaves lots of opportunity for delving into the real good stuff. And while most places offer books at hand in case you forget your own, there's nothing better than catching up on that novel demanding your attention from the nightstand.
Really good food: Cooking is fun! One of our favourite parts of weekends away is planning elaborate dinners, and enjoying the ritual of setting the table, lighting candles, and relishing whatever goodness we've created. And don't forget the music! Cooking with music (and wine!) is extra fun, so we always try to remember to bring our portable docking station, just in case our location isn't compatible.