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Travel Story - A local getaway

Recapture romance in Renoir’s Winter Garden

It’s that time of year again – when all the hard working locals talk of getting away for the shoulder season. Exotic locations, cheap packages, last minute deals and backpacking adventures are being tossed about with reckless abandon as the summer slows down.

That’s all great for some but what do those Whistlerites with commitments like kids or their own companies do? Where do they go for that cultural fix or romantic rest? Why, their own backyard of course and one of Whistler’s best kept secrets is the bed and breakfast and in-house art gallery, Renoir’s Winter Garden.

The privately owned, Tourism B.C.-approved five-star establishment is a hidden oasis among the high trees on Alta Vista and could be the perfect escape for two with limited time on their hands. Maximum relaxation and cultural connotations at minimal cost and travel time.

Renoir’s Winter Garden is owned and operated by working artist, Helga Ruiterman (who uses the name Marielle in her artwork) and her husband Paul, a computer systems consultant and part time writer. They had mulled over the idea of opening an art gallery and B&B combination away from the hub of Vancouver for several years and in 1995 they found their dream property on Tyrol Crescent.

"We had been wanting to leave the stress of city life for so long but wanted to wait until we found the perfect location that could incorporate our careers and all the things we loved to do away from work," said Marielle sitting comfortably at her large and inviting kitchen bench that looks out over her flower-filled garden. "This setting just seemed like the perfect place to work, the perfect place to paint, the perfect place to cook and the perfect place to entertain people."

She’s not exaggerating either. Located in a quiet cul-de-sac off Blueberry Drive, the four-storey, multi-levelled, gorgeously-appointed home feels like it could be in romantic France, although the alpine exterior plants it in familiar territory.

Three guest rooms, each with a private ensuite, and a self contained two-bedroom apartment all look out level with the pine trees. Colourful hanging baskets bursting with summer flowers sit on the decks and a well-manicured, wide variety of garden plants fill the landscape below. Add a warm hot tub and many of Marielle’s popular paintings of bears and you know you’re still in Whistler.

Cooking is Marielle’s other passion and if the aroma that wafts through the house is anything to go by, I imagine her breakfasts are a big hit. But how is it preparing breakfast for six instead of two?

"I find the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable. I use only the freshest ingredients so shopping for guests is a joy. I then get to share a meal and a conversation with interesting people from all around the world, many who become friends," said Marielle.

"We had one couple from South Africa who extended their stay with us they had such a relaxing time here. They then insisted we come to visit them in their part of the world. So we arrived one day at Durban airport and they had a group of native dancers greeting us. They arranged a safari, a party and treated us like royalty. You just don’t get to form those sort of relationships with people in chain hotels."

But Marielle said this example is extreme and that most people like to keep to themselves and just de-stress in a beautiful bedroom waking up to French blueberry pancakes and yummy egg dishes.

"Whether they come for a night or a week, once my big breakfast is out of the way, I really don’t see them. They just putter about the village or in the garden reading books or looking at all the art, and that seems to be the rest they were looking for."

Whether you want to paint or just surround yourself in art, the house has a different theme in every room and on every level. Marielle has interesting stories to tell about all her pieces which will keep even the novice painter intrigued. As I take Marielle’s personal tour, it’s refreshing to feel her passion for people and places.

In the hallway leading to the kitchen hangs her Balinese portraits.

"We went to Bali last year and I was captivated by the majestic beauty of these serene people," she said.

The entry way contains a picture called Taming of the Shrew – painted especially for the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre during a stage production several years ago.

The stairwell leading down to the guest rooms is a tribute to Africa and its women. As are the native women and ballerinas in the guest room level’s hallway. I ask Marielle why she paints so many female forms.

"You can do so much more with them," she smiled. "I can put lace on them, jewelry, deep emotions. They are so much more fun to paint than men. Sorry, but men can be quite boring," she giggles.

Her other passion is poppies and several of the feature walls throughout the house are awash with bold and bright red flowers.

"The poppies go fast. They don’t take me long to paint at all, whereas people can take a while. I’ve always had a childhood love affair with the colour red. It reminds me of happy days with my dear old dad," she says.

The downstairs vestibule houses her brown bear portraits. From cubs to full grown, they are fun pictures set amongst colourful wildflowers.

"The bears sell really well, especially my gift card and postcard range of them."

There are several feature guest rooms to choose from in Renoir’s Winter Garden. The most popular choice is the bright signature suite, the Renoir Room, with a sunny balcony and large bathroom. The Matisse Room is reminiscent of Italy with a Tuscan design and bold splashes of red in the décor. And then there is the Monet room, soft and romantic.

Down another level is the Van Gough suite, a self contained apartment perfect for those who have extras with them. Whether kids or a group, it’s got everything you need for a weekend away.

Mixing an art gallery with a bed & breakfast is an unusual step but one that seems to be working well for the Ruitermans.

"We’ve put our names in for small weddings and we’ve already had a couple there so the art and designer décor setting is definitely an added feature for us," she said.

The rooms at Renoir’s Winter Garden average around $100, depending on how many nights you want to stay, and the Van Gough suite generally goes for $600 a week. Art gallery tours are available by appointment.

Located at 3137 Tyrol Crescent, Blueberry Hill turn off. Phone the Ruitermans at 604-938-0546 or visit