Previously known as the land of the “nearly deads and newlyweds,” Victoria had a reputation of being…how shall we put it? Boring. But that’s certainly not the case anymore. Victoria is one hip city! For a small place, it packs a lot in: Multiple luxury hotels, great restaurants, amazing shopping, and of course, a rich history.
We recently learnt from the Destination BC website that Victoria was established in 1843 by Sir James Douglas, a fur-trader and a British colonial governor on Vancouver Island, as a fort for the Hudson’s Bay Company. This would explain why Victoria always has had a British feel to us: The double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, formal gardens and tearooms. Perhaps we don’t need to travel to the U.K.
An easy and reasonably short trip across the Georgia Strait, Victoria is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. So grab your gal-pals and plan a weekend trip to B.C’s capital for a little retail and spa therapy!
Just steps from Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour, stands the award-winning boutique hotel, The Magnolia Hotel & Spa (623 Courtney St., 250-381-0999). The chic guestrooms were recently refurbished, anchoring this luxury property as one of Victoria’s must-stay spots. Throughout the newly decorated rooms, the decadent colour palette of taupe, smoke and pearl adds a sense of opulence and timeless elegance. We thoroughly enjoyed lounging by our fireplace; so much so, we almost didn’t want to leave the room!
Another favourite hotel of ours is the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government St., 250-384-8111) that sits majestically at the edge of the Inner Harbour, welcoming all to Victoria. If you love luxury mixed with old-world charm, this is the hotel for you. A fabled Victoria landmark, The Fairmont Empress has played host to royalty, celebrities and guests from around the world since 1908. This grand chateau-style property offers 477 luxuriously appointed guestrooms and suites to suit every taste. Due to the hotel’s immense size, we were offered a map of the property and directions for getting to our room! The Fairmont Empress is truly a one-of-a-kind place to stay.
Located in Victoria’s Old Town is a funky diner dedicated to our fave meal of the of the day, breakfast. The Jam Cafe (542 Herald St.,778-440-4489) offers incredible homemade fare in a rustic-city atmosphere, and we loved it! Open daily from 8am to 3pm, tuck into mouthwatering dishes such as Huevos Rancheros, Pulled Pork Pancakes, The Angry Bird (hardboiled egg wrapped in meatloaf and topped with bacon served on a bed of the house sausage gravy), and our pick, the Brioche French Toast with caramelized bananas. The portions are huge so we guarantee that you won’t be hungry for the rest of the day.
A visit to Victoria is definitely not complete without experiencing The Fairmont Empress Hotel’s world-renowned Afternoon Tea. We felt like royalty as we sipped our delightful tea (created exclusively for The Empress by the Metropolitan Tea Company) from dainty William Edwards china, and nibbled on delicate finger sandwiches and a selection of the tastiest sweet treats we’ve ever had. Of course, our favorite goodie on the three-tiered cake stand was the majorly yummy, hand-made signature Empress scones. Slathered with Wilkin & Sons pure strawberry jam and a generous helping of Empress cream, these scones will have you oohing and aahing with every bite. We’d personally like to e-hug Joga (Yogi) Kaler, who arrives in the wee hours of the morning to begin his day preparing scones in the pastry shop at The Fairmont Empress. He makes an estimated 300,000 of these tastebud-tastic scones each year!
For dinner, Café Brio (944 Fort St., 250-383-0009) is the place to go. Just a short walk from the downtown Victoria core, this restaurant is popular with locals and tourists alike. Serious foodies will appreciate Café Brio’s West Coast contemporary menu that focuses on fresh, regional products from land and sea, along with their hand cut pasta. Try the delicious Pan Roasted Rockfish with garlic-sauteed spinach, polenta fries, local clams and putanesca broth or the Crispy Veal Sweetbreads in a seductive ragout of smoked bacon, mushroom and potato.
Image: Deddeda Stemler/Tourism Victoria
As this is a girls’ getaway guide, we have to talk about Victoria’s shopping, right? It’s pretty darn good. We enjoyed exploring this walkable city and browsing the boutique stores, local markets and the quaint shops. Whether you’re looking for antiques or a trendy outfit, Victoria has it all.
Johnson Street is a must to checkout. Beautifully restored heritage buildings house unique boutiques with exclusive wares. We picked up the most fabulous necklace at Suasion (552 Johnson St., 250-995-0133). We’ve received multiple compliments about it since arriving home, and kind of wish we’d bought more bijoux from them. Still Life (550 Johnson St., 250-386-5658) also had our heart racing–oh what to buy?! Owned by the savvy husband and wife team of Matt and Kim Jensen (he’s a furniture designer/builder from Vancouver and she’s a former product developer for a major retail fashion chain), their vision was to fill the store with quality modern retail brands from smaller, international fashion labels. We definitely approve of their merchandise selection.
Other areas to peruse are Government Street: Home of Rogers’ Chocolates’ original location, and Trounce Alley–one of Victoria’s best-kept secrets–where European fashions and gift shops await.
The two best spas in Victoria are the Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Empress and the Spa Magnolia. Recognized by Condé Nast as a Top Resort Spa in Canada and Spas of America Top 100 Spas of the Americas, the Willow Stream Spa is truly a beautiful oasis in the heart of Victoria. Choose from over 85 authentically local aesthetic and spa treatments customized to your needs, and you have to spend some time in their inviting Hungarian Mineral pool.
Find calm and balance at Spa Magnolia, adjacent to the lobby of The Magnolia Hotel & Spa. The Spa Magnolia merges luxury with organic health and beauty treatments designed to revitalize skin, hair and body with the best nature has to offer backed by scientific research. Relieve all of that shopping tension with a Swedish, hot stone massage, or treat yourself to a soothing facial, designed to address your specific needs and desired outcome. Recently, the spa introduced safe and effective treatments for cancer patients, and is the first luxury spa and the first hotel spa in BC to provide such a special offering.
BY AIR: Departing almost every hour and just a 20 minute flight, Air Canada offers 121 flights between Vancouver and Victoria on weekly basis. Once you arrive at the Victoria International Airport, it’s a short 20-30 minute drive into the heart of the city via cab or the airport shuttle. Float planes depart every 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver and touch down about 35 minutes later in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Visit www.harbour-air.com or www.westcoastair.com for further float plane information.
BY FERRY: The BC Ferries Vancouver mainland ferry terminal is in Tsawwassen and provides access to Victoria with a crossing time of 90 minutes. From there, the drive into downtown is approximately 30 minutes.