By Ken Hegan for MSN Travel

Want a fun mid-winter Canadian getaway?

It’s called Rowena’s Inn, you’ve never heard of it before, and you’ll find it on a massive 160-acre estate (with its own air strip!) close to the tiny town of Harrison Mills, BC about 1.5 hours east of Vancouver along the tranquil Harrison River.

The inn is both an inn and a group of cabins (more on those below). The inn itself looks like a giant ogre ripped a lovely Victorian manor out of the English countryside, carried it across the Atlantic, and then plopped it down in the deceptively-sleepy town of Cabot Cove, Maine where each Sunday night, Angela Lansbury solves a homicide in the drawing room committed by a fresh celebrity guest star. Except, instead of Maine, Rowena’s Inn is hidden by snow-gilded evergreen trees in the Fraser Valley of southwestern BC.

Cabins on river

This grand, two-storey, 5-suite country inn features:

  • walk-out balconies
  • overstuffed beds
  • a spiffy view of the river and mountains
  • old black and white family photos up the staircase
  • slanted-roof reading nooks
  • beautiful mahogany furniture
  • a dining room table that, I’m told, once entertained King George (though I have no idea how he was entertained on that table)
  • big chandeliers
  • handpicked antiques from around the globe
  • copper railing from the old Hotel Vancouver
  • afternoon tea carousel piled high with savoury sandwiches and homemade sweets

Tea time

  • a curvaceous wrap-around couch, custom-built to fit the curved drawing room window, and
  • shiny bric-a-brac collectibles like these foolish toddlers working at cross purposes. Silly babies.

Babies

The inn is part of the Pretty Estates Resort [Pretty is the owners’ family name] which includes the Sandpiper Golf Course and the River’s Edge Restaurant. 

Rather than risk murder or confused toddlers inside the Inn, I snagged a riverside cottage next to the golf course under soaring, centuries-old, 180 ft. Douglas Fir trees. These chalets – four of them – will give you a wonderfully romantic and sleep-filled getaway. Rustic with a touch of luxury [I’ll call it ruxurious], these spacious, open-plan, single-level, A-frame log cabins feature heated stone flooring, feather duvets, wi-fi, golf-themed armchairs (perfect for reading or making out by the fire), your own private deck, and a sexy 2-person Jacuzzi tub. Here’s a picture:

Cabin with other view of fireplace

At 9:15 am each morning, you’d better pull a robe on and cover up, because that’s when you can expect a staff member to deliver a picnic basket containing a full bacon & eggs breakfast with steaming coffee and potatoes, orange juice, toast, and preserves. You’ll feel like the king and queen of the Douglas Fir jungle.

You can enjoy the day golfing, Scrabble-winning, planning a perfect crime that’ll baffle even Angela Lansbury, or watch big bald eagles. This area, stretching from Mission to Harrison Mills and the Chehalis/Harrison Estuary, boasts the largest winter gathering of bald eagles in the entire world. Bring your binoculars to gawk at these fierce predators (and think about coming next November for the annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival).

Deep in the heart of “Sasquatch Country,” thousands of eagles arrive to soar and nest in the Fir trees. The raptors are not stalking Bigfoot, though. They’re following millions of spawning salmon that swim up the Fraser River and into tributaries like Harrison River.

The festival’s 4th and climactic weekend is coming up on December 9th and 10th. To get a truly great view of these fierce-looking birds, book a Fraser River Safari tour. The boat takes you right into the heart of the estuary where the eagles are gathering. Tours range from $65 to $110 and this weekend’s tour includes the biologist/conservationist/eagle expert David Hancock as an on-board guest speaker, plus a hot buffet lunch at Kilby Historic Site.

And if you love to spy on animals but don’t want to leave your cottage, open your laptop and watch Rowena’s Inn’s eagle cam here.

This strange little nanny cam is aimed inside an eagle nest that’s 175 ft. up a tree!

Dinner at River’s Edge Restaurant is a treat. Grab a table by the fire or belly up to the bar for a 19th-hole lager or hot toddy on a chilly day. Favourite entrees include House Smoked Whiskey Ribs, Fraser Valley Duck in a brandy orange glaze, and a Herb Seared Halibut (pan seared and finished with hazelnut pesto) that will improve your entire life by at least 24% and maybe as high as 26%.

After dinner, everything centers around your cabin fireplace. Each cabin has a beautiful wood-burning fireplace with a stone chimney and wood hearth that could make an expensive-looking backdrop for a wicked Christmas card photo, or a good place to burn evidence.

Then get your robe on for a short walk to the outdoor hot tub by the moonlit swimming pool.

TRAVEL TIP: I highly recommend tubbing late at night under a bright moon, then creep back through the ominous trees to your cottage and warm up with whisky, a roaring fire, and a scary viewing of An American Werewolf in London. We did (under a full moon, too!), and I’m not going to lie…it scared the hell out of us. Suddenly every creak was a murderer’s footstep. The wind in the trees? Obviously that was a witch’s whisper. And even worse, my snoring pooch sounded like a distant howling werewolf.

We quickly locked the doors, hid beneath the covers, and held each other tighter than a rubby dub grips his bottle of plonk. It took hours to get to sleep but when we did, WOW. It’s like we fell into one of those amazing mid-winter comas where you wake up two days later, feeling refreshed and 10 pounds lighter, with your dog standing on one leg and begging to be let out.

Yep, Rowena’s is a gem. This inn is as relaxing, romantic, festive, or murderously scary as you want it to be, and I mean that as a compliment.

— Ken Hegan

 

IF YOU GO:

  • Fly your plane: Rowena’s Inn has its own 2,100 ft. airstrip and once you touch down, the staff will pick you up with ‘mini limo’ [a.k.a. their stretch golf cart].
  • Take the Greyhound bus to Chilliwack and someone from the inn will pick you up the depot (call ahead!)
  • Take the West Coast Express commuter train, which runs from Vancouver to Mission in the late afternoon/early evening
  • Drive east from Vancouver on the Trans-Canada highway to Abbotsford, then follow the signs north to Mission and take Highway 7 east to Rowena’s Inn
  • Or you can risk your life and jet ski all the way up the Fraser River from Vancouver. That’s what one couple did a few years ago. The inn staff were flabbergasted that they made it in one piece.

For more info on Pretty Estates Resort, visit prettyestateresort.com

Read more of Ken’s MSN travel stories here  

Twitter: @KenHegan

Ken was a guest of Rowena’s Inn and swears he has nothing to do whatever you find in the hot tub. Photos courtesy the hotel.

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