It’s not what you’d expect as you come to the end of the dusty, 33-kilometre gravel road from Clinton, B.C. There, through the large wooden gates, past the stable of horses, organic vegetable gardens, and a pack of curious trilling turkeys appears a large, intricate wooden Thai building, designed by the same architect who designed for the Thai royal family. Your typical outback horse ranch, this is not.
Echo Valley Ranch & Spa defies expectations from the outset. Sitting amidst four distinct geographic regions, the 160-acre property is surrounded by an incredibly diverse range of natural beauty: the majestic semi-desert Fraser Canyon, boreal forests in most of the valley bottoms, treeless mountains in between, and rolling grasslands spread around. Envisioned as a getaway for Norm and Nan Dove’s extended family and friends when they purchased it 20 years ago, the ranch has organically grown to become a unique retreat welcoming guests from around the globe.
The property is a direct extension of its owners, and the dichotomy of the Far East/Wild West rights itself as soon as you meet your gracious hosts. Norm was born in England, but immigrated to Canada in the 1960s as an engineer, heading up his very successful paper technology company and travelling the globe. He met Thai-born Nan in Bangkok where she was studying and working, and the two married. After Norm sold his company in 1989, they were looking forward to their next project—retirement, whatever that might look like to two very successful entrepreneurs. According to Norm, “you still have the same energy in ‘retirement’ as you do before. So if you’re an active person in your business, you’ll be active after leaving that business also.” For the tight-knit couple, that energy soon became focused into building Echo Valley Ranch into a cultural exchange unlike any other.
As he tells it, “We knew we had found something very special when we first visited this area. We were awed by the serenity and beauty of the land and by an overwhelming sense of spirituality and reverence. It’s simply beyond words.”
Over the years the cabins, facilities, animals, and gardens multiplied along with the family, friends, friends-of-friends, and then strangers who wanted to stay at Echo Valley. Through word of mouth and the ranching community, Norm and Nan found themselves not only ranchers, but also hosts, a title they both wear naturally and honestly. Though the ranch specializes in outdoor activities like trail rides with expert world-travelled wranglers, mountain hikes, or fly fishing in a fully stocked trout pond, those seeking to look within can reach the spirit world with a traditional Thai massage, held in the Baan Thai. The Thai structure, overlooking the sprawling property, is a majestic showcase of traditional Thai architecture designed by Dr. Pinyo Suwankiri, and a way for Nan to share her heritage of healing and hospitality with her guests. The building is the only one of its kind in North America, and guests can undertake a pure, traditional Thai spa experience in the intricate and ornate Sabai Sabai Suite.
Once the soul is fed from riding, hiking, or relaxing in the spa, guests convene at the main building, Dove Lodge, for a farm-to-table experience from travelled chef Jason Folk. Fresh and healthy rules the menu, which changes daily dependent on what chef Folk can source. At the communal dining table and in front of the open kitchen, ranch workers and guests come together three times each day to share in sustenance and camaraderie together with Norm and Nan. Every Thursday evening is Thai Night, when the ranch’s Thai staff members prepare an authentic and complete Thai feast. The colourful sensory experience is topped off with traditional Thai dancing, and all guests are welcome and encouraged to join in dance and song.
According to Norm and Nan, “everyone here is family.” No matter if you’re from east or west (or north or south), you will find a place at the family table as well.