by Annette Bignami

When you pull up in front of the Victorian Gothic Prancing Horse Retreat that perches high on the ridge overlooking the Finlayson Arm on Vancouver Island expectations rise, for the best Bed and Breakfast, like the best hotels, delight in detailing like the careful planting, the horse on the weathervane and the sign.

That's appropriate. Elaine and Alan Dillabaugh, the affable owners, are Ferrari folks who run the best-known car restoration operation on Vancouver Island. The same kind of meticulous detailing that goes in to show cars is obvious in the Prancing Horse Retreat's oak spiral staircases, stained glass windows,antique furnishings and flowers everywhere.

I must confess my husband and I regularly stay at five star hotels on travel assignments. Unfortunately, these days you can't always tell where you are: architecture, furnishing and food internationalize. So where possible we oft for upscale boutique hotels like the Gritti in Venice, but on pleasure trips we use high end B&Bs and luxury apartment rentals that offer POSH at budget prices. You meet locals. You quickly hear what's where. You avoid tourists. Best of all, you eliminate long halls, elevators, check in desks and conventions. Best of all, as in England, you get breakfast.

On our last spring trip to Vancouver Island, BC Tourism - Thank you, Lana -- put us in touch with two five star B&Bs, the Prancing Horse Resort and Snug Harbor and a solid four star B&B, that my husband felt was "the angler's choice" as it came complete with its own fishing dock and owners who angled. He'll doubtless cover that in his fishing column here at Suite 101.

Our first night's stop, the Prancing Horse, perches in the shadow of The Aerie Resort - do try their dinners if you like politically correct French food with solid local ingredients and some surprisingly good wines that I plan to cover at a later date -- the Finlayson Arm just 30 minutes from Vancouver. So you escape the summer downtown tourist mob. TIP: if you visit Victoria come in the late fall or early spring.

Huge rooms, really suites, feature individual entrances off a sheltered deck and superior views of the Fjord far below and, way off in the distance, snow capped peaks. It's the kind of view. The Prancing Horse has everything we look for in a B&B except a waterfront location, and the view makes up for that. All rooms, and they are really suites with their in-in room tubs with views, huge beds and, of course, fireplaces. Can't have a romantic weekend without a fireplace, right?

Elaine and Alan are natives with a splendid grasp of the best attractions on Vancouver Island - they told us about the Canadian Princess seafood chowder, for example, and it was certainly splendid. If you own a hot set of wheels they can certainly direct you to the best roads on an island of winding roads. If not, they can set up your stay to suit your particular interests. Theatre tickets? Fishing guides? Kayaking? Shopping jaunts to Victoria, or Vancouver? They can, Elaine's father is a pilot, set up chopper or float plane access to some of the best Vancouver Island angling, kayaking or marine sights. Want to be alone? They can manage that too. Prancing Horse Retreat gets a "10" as a honeymoon venue!

If you don't want to relax in your room you've a series of wide decks and terraces running down to a gazebo to enjoy. I savored the chance to relax in a tub with a view of the water. My husband, of course, was running around taking photos and planning fishing trips as seems usual.

Their second "B" is equally delightful. Assorted, fruit, Croissants with home-made berry jam, and muffins eliminated any need for lunch. On our visit we also enjoyed crisp "Louie Logs" - don't forget to ask Elaine about that! Best of all, rates ran $150 Canadian. At today's exchange rate that's about $100 a night. We enjoyed good meals for $20 Canadian, too/ Ever wonder why more POSH seekers don't head north to Canada.