August 21, 2013
Victoria’s Best Sleepovers
BY JANE MUNDY
Victoria attracts more than the cliché of “the newly wed and nearly dead.” These days B.C.’s capital attracts a wide range of visitors, from bikers and scuba divers to people who just want a few days of R&R.
One day in the city allows for a leisurely afternoon tea but may not give you enough time to take in the sights, so consider staying overnight – or for a weekend. Treating yourself to one of these hotels is like checking into another country: With its Old-England air (think gardens and afternoon tea, with a kilted bagpiper playing near the Inner Harbour for a touch of Scotland) and European-influenced hotels and cuisine, Victoria is world class.
The multiple-award-winning Magnolia has injected a European flair into the inner harbour. Step into the lobby and you’re transported to old-world sophistication with a 20-foot-high ceiling, dramatic floral displays and a grand piano. All 64 rooms feature high ceilings and the top two floors have 10-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. They all make the best-dressed list: classic crown mouldings surround walls clad in raw silk and beds are decked out in heavenly duvets and feather pillows. Some rooms feature natural-gas fireplaces and views of the inner harbour. The Spa Magnolia recently expanded, thanks to its popularity with both locals and tourists. Packages offer two-, three- and four-hour treatments, a great way to unwind before dining at the hotel’s new Catalano Restaurant and Cicchetti Bar. Or go all-out decadent – the restaurant provides in-room dining. Heck, you don’t have to leave the building at all.
Although the Grand Pacific is the second-largest hotel in Victoria, it feels like a boutique property. Each room has a private balcony, some with views of the inner harbour (across the road) and resident ducks in the hotel’s pond. And it’s healthy: The fitness facilities include a 25-metre lap pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub, squash court and fitness studio offering yoga classes throughout the day. The cardio machines provide extra incentive to work out with “human power generators” that harness your workout energy and convert it into electricity. And your energy production earns “eco points” that can be redeemed for discounts and offers within the hotel and other businesses. The hotel also provides complimentary bikes so you can explore Victoria’s neighbourhoods, such as James Bay and Cook Street Village.
All this health and wellness is balanced with a delightful afternoon tea, served by a tea sommelier at the Pacific restaurant
Fairmont Empress Hotel
If these walls could talk, you’d hear stories galore, especially echoing from the Bengal Lounge. Not much has changed here – the floors and ceiling are original. The authentic curry buffet, served every day for lunch and dinner, is a tradition with the locals (and a good deal at $30). The lounge used to be a reading and writing room, where men smoked their cigars and women were sent to the library. (You can learn these snippets and more by taking a historical walking tour of the hotel.) Another tradition is the 1908 cocktail, named after the year the hotel opened: it’s made with the vodka infused with the Empress’s own tea blend. The grand old dame did make a few changes: 45 Fairmont Gold rooms and lounge recently received a makeover, with all the rooms focusing on elegant fireplaces rather than enormous TVs. Class doesn’t need a facelift.
The Oak Bay Beach Hotel has been transformed into a luxurious resort and spa and arguably provides the best sleep in town – you’ll be lulled to sleep by the ocean breeze, with not even a peep from traffic or the room next door, thanks to recent renovations that included soundproofing of the walls. The “parade of robes” begins at 10 a.m. from the hotel and through the spa to three mineral pools almost within reach of the Pacific. Bonus: Hotel guests receive 15 per cent off a spa treatment. Chances are pretty good that you’ll see and hear whales breach while soaking your cares away or sipping a glass of wine by the outdoor fire pit.
If you can drag yourself away, stroll over to Fisherman’s Wharf in James Bay for the Fish Store’s fish & chips. Also here is Puerto Vallarta Amigos – it too provides cheap eats fresh from the sea. For more serious dining, Victorians flock to Café Brio for its “family style” meal – the chef (with customers’ input) picks six items from the menu and serves everything on big platters for all to share. Stroll over to Chinatown and Ulla, where local and organic products are expertly prepared and beautifully presented. (With only 38 seats, reservations are recommended.)
Victoria is also a hub for craft breweries. Join a brewery tour and tasting at Phillips Brewing or Lighthouse Brewing; enjoy ocean views with a pint at Spinnakers and Canoe gastropubs. When in Oak Bay visit Vis à Vis Wine Bar that offers a few dozen local wines by the glass and an ample charcuterie platter. www.tourismvictoria.com for more information.