Travel - Parksville 

Sun, sand and seashells

Parksville: Canada’s Riviera of the North

It has been referred to as ‘Canada’s Riviera, not only because of its sun-drenched beaches, mild climate and full service beach resorts, but its recreational activities mimic those of La Cote d’Azur.

The Canadian version of this widely sought after vacationing spot boasts cobalt blue waters similar to those colours of the Mediterranean so often described to us through paintings of artists such as Van Gogh, Gaugin and Renoir.

Nestled between Nanaimo and Comox on Vancouver Island and 175 Kilometres north of Victoria, Parksville is a surprising find. I discovered this oceanside treasure completely by accident. Heading up Vancouver Island, a sign that read ‘Oceanside Route’ caught my eye.

Unlike the crowded, narrow beaches of Mediterranean France, Parksville beaches are spacious and stretch on for kilometres. From Tigh-Na-Mara Resort to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, there are over eight kilometres of beach and river estuaries. With such spacious coastline, every beach lover can find a nice strand of sand to suit them, whether it’s privacy you seek or lots of room to play.

Parksville Beach is the ideal spot for families. Home of the Lions Venture Playground and Waterpark, kids can spend endless amounts of time discovering new adventures.

Once the tide had gone out, strolling along the oceanfront, laid out in front of me was an oasis for clam lovers. Borrowing a pail and shovel from the front desk at Tigh-Na-Mara, I set out on a shellfish excursion. Upon my return, their chef was anxious to hand me over a tasty recipe for his famous butter clams. Fortunately I chose a room with a full kitchen.

The grand finale to a Parksville beach summer is their world-renowned international sandcastle competition. In the first few weeks of August, the top international teams and soloists are invited to this tiny town to construct their best sand sculptures.

OUTDOOR ENTERTAINMENT

Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park, north of Parksville, is home to the best caves in Canada. Just past Qualicum Beach, two of these dark chambers were safe and easy enough for me to explore alone with the help of a flashlight. For those of you who are braver however, tours are available if you dare delve into the deeper ones.

If you enjoy activities above ground, you won’t be disappointed with the number of golf courses to tee-off. Six golf courses are all located within a half hour’s drive from Parksville including the pride of the local courses, the Morningstar golf course, the site of the Morningstar Classic on the CPGA tour. It is a 7,018-yard par 72 with a rating of 74.6 and is a golfing experience for every golf enthusiast.

Want to do some trekking through the great outdoors while on vacation? It would be best to map out your plan of attack before you head out. In and around the Parksville area are countless parks, hiking trails and the area also hosts Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park, one of the few designated mountain bike parks in British Columbia.

COASTAL CULTURE

For such a small town, the rich culture hidden behind Parksville’s rough exterior may be somewhat of a surprise. Boasting local art work in every shop, business and park, many local artists even open their studios to passers-bys. Local theatre groups put on performances year-round, but shows are especially abundant during the summer months. Tigh-Na-Mara Resort offers dinner theatre performances and on clear summer evenings Bard to Broadway Repertory Theatre showcase their talents under the stars.

There are numerous accommodation options ranging from provincial campgrounds to full service resorts. I chose Tigh-Na-Mara Resort, Spa and Conference Centre. Gaelic for "house by the sea," this resort offers 192 accommodation units, including private cottages and a new conference centre. In March 2003 they unveiled the newest addition to their family, The Grotto Spa.

Set among arbutus and fir forests and miles of secluded sandy beach on the outskirts of Parksville, this new service facility is inspired by the essences of time-honoured European spa. From facials to a variety of massages, this spa will leave no part of you unfulfilled – full body treatments, body wraps, salt glows, hydrotherapy tub treatments and chamomile body scrubs, it’s all on the menu.

As the entrance to Vancouver Island’s Oceanside Region, Parksville has the important role of making a good first impression; this small town has no qualms about taking the challenge. With sandy shorelines, mild, year-round climate and a limitless selection of outdoor and indoor activities, the city of Parksville claims to have it all.

IF YOU GO:

www.oceansidetourism.com

www.tigh-na-mara.com.

www.sandcastlecentral.com/contests/parks.html

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