Story and photos by Susan Lundy
The view of Nelson, BC, from Pulpit Rock is spectacular: the town lies cradled in the valley below us, ringed by mountains and hugging the shoreline of Kootenay Lake’s west arm. Once described as the “prettiest small town in Canada” by the New York Times, the scene before us is as lovely as a painting. And, indeed, this community— just a one-hour drive from Pacific Coastal Airline’s destination at Trail BC — is a haven of artistic expression.
Originally a resource-based town — Nelson was incorporated in the early 1900s after the discovery of silver in 1886 — it has morphed into a centre rich in arts and culture. Even the architecture presents as art, and with some 350 restored heritage buildings, there is something to gape at around every corner. Nelson is a place to park the car and explore on foot (although prepare to climb a roller coaster of hills).
Our stay in Nelson started in a historic building, The Hume Hotel, which first opened in 1898. The hotel changed hands several times in the early 1900s, underwent a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired restoration in 1929, fell into disrepair, reemerged as the Heritage Inn and eventually, in 2005, saw a massive restoration that returned it to its original glory. All the rooms, each named with a nod to the hotel’s history, speak to the past but have modern amenities. We stayed in the Barrister’s Suite, a spacious corner room that includes a king bed, sofa bed, electric fireplace, hardwood floors and soaker tub. It pays homage to the many lawyers who, with the hotel’s close proximity to the courthouse, have requested this room over the decades.
The hotel offers several places to dine, and we enjoyed our first meal in Nelson sitting fireside in The Hume’s intimate Library Lounge. Also inside the hotel, you’ll find Mike’s Place Pub, Spiritbar and The General Store Restaurant, where we grabbed a complimentary breakfast the next morning. There’s also a liquor outlet and spa, so you hardly need to leave…
But leave you must because located near The Hume is Nelson’s popular Baker Street, with its funky retailers and restaurants, many of which are located in storybook heritage buildings. And from here—keep going! The downtown is packed with good restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, breweries, local shops, small art galleries, the restored Capitol Theatre (a regional hub for the performing arts) and impromptu theatre venues. Or, take a walking tour of mural-art created by artists from around the world.
Nelson is a year-round destination with activities that range from sitting in hot springs, to kayaking and other lake activities, golfing, fishing, snow sports and mountain biking.
But if you want to see more art, hop into a vehicle and head to the sweet town of Kaslo, located one hour north along scenic Highway 31.
Another history-rich town, Kaslo also has beautifully renovated buildings to enjoy, including The Langham, a former grand hotel built in the mid-1890s, and which now houses the Langham Cultural Society, a charitable public arts heritage centre, and the Japanese Canadian Museum. Beautiful parks with pristine beaches surround the downtown, and you can also explore the restored S.S. Moyie, the world’s oldest intact stern-wheeler.
But just above the town is the pièce de résistance for art lovers: the Hide and Seek art installation on the Kaslo River Trail. Combining a beautiful forested hike with larger-than-life sculptures that emerge from the forest floor, this installation seems to be the epitome of creativity.
My visit to Nelson ended with a Stone & Spice Massage at The Hume’s Aura Spa. Let me tell you, this “rebalancing” treatment, which combined hot stones, deep tissue massage and a sweetly scented Indian spice serum, is not to be missed. It is a work of art.
Here are a few suggestions of things to do and see, and places to dine:
- Hike to Pulpit Rock. This classic Nelson hike is a fairly steep trail, offering fantastic views of Nelson and Kootenay Lake from the top. Locals, it turns out, use the hike as an outdoor gym, many of them running by us as we huffed and puffed our way up. Those with energy left after reaching Pulpit Rock (elevation 338 metres) can hike up to a second outlook called Flagpole (elevation 655 metres). Round-trip distance is 3.6 kilometres to Pulpit Rock and 5.8 kilometres to Flagpole.
- After this rather rigorous hike, you’ll want to explore Nelson’s thriving brewery scene, which includes Torchlight Brewing, Nelson Brewing Company and Backroads Brewing Company. Nelson, once renowned for its illegal marijuana production, is now home to several legal cannabis distributors, as well.
- The Hide and Seek art installation at Kaslo River Trail is the latest installation of a “Discover the Koots” series of sculptures, and the creation of a trio of artists from nearby Argenta — Yvonne Boyd, Christopher Petersen and Spring Shine. Poking out from behind rocks and under trees are eight large reinforced-concrete sculptures, depicting seven children playing hide-and-seek and one adult watching over them. To get there, find the pullout off Highway 31A as you leave Kaslo, head ing towards New Denver. From here, hike down to the Trailblazers Bridge. When you cross the bridge to get to the south side of the river, look up see two faces looking back at you. As you continue downstream on the Kaslo River South Trail, the rest of the sculptures emerge. And even without the art, this is a beautiful walk.
- Don’t miss Yum Son in Nelson or Bluebelle Bistro in Kaslo. Yum Son is Nelson’s very first Viet-modern restaurant — and the food is divine. They also charge for wine by the ounce, an option that makes so much sense, it should be universal. Yum Son brings the flavours of southeast Asia into each of its cocktails and culinary dishes, and it’s all served up in a lively setting. Over in Kaslo, food at the Bluebell Bistro is extraordinary. This historic bistro showcases local organic products amid excellent menu options.
- Other recommended spots in Nelson include: Oso Negro Cafe, Nelson’s informal meeting house; Marzano, a modern Italian restaurant; Broken Hill, with an extensive whiskey library and cocktail program plus a Texas-barbecue-inspired menu; Cantina Del Centro, authentic and unique Mexican street food; and Red Light Ramen, soul food, apothecary cocktails, fresh ingredients and rich umami flavours. Yum.
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