11 OCT 2017: Back in the 1980s Victoria was dubbed the place for the newly wed or nearly dead. Not anymore. In fact, it is arguably the“fitness”capital of Canada. As the province’s capital, Victoria’s vibrant urban centre blends seamlessly with neighbouring, quaint communities and rolling landscapes, boasting wineries, farmers’ markets and pioneering chefs and producers. Bonus: its mild climate allows residents and visitors to pursue outdoor activities all year round.  

Established in 1843 by James Douglas as a fort for the Hudson’s Bay Company, Victoria’s British ancestry is apparent everywhere, from double-decker buses and formal gardens, to tearooms and proper pubs, almost all of which boast selections of the area’s tasty local craft brewing scene.

The city is home to many historic buildings and some of the most fascinating museums in Western Canada, including the Royal BC Museum - the perfect place to learn about the province’s colourful heritage.

Its diverse history has provided a solid foundation for the contemporary cosmopolitan centre Victoria has become. The city’s growing culinary scene embraces both international influences alongside the area’s local bounty. Not to mention that whatever you order is sure to be complemented by an adventurous, delicious cocktail, crafted by one of Victoria’s master mixologists.

THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST

Arrive in Style You can take the scenic, 90-minute ferry from Vancouver (you might just see whales, Orcas and dolphins) or fly direct into Victoria’s airport. But I recommend hopping on a quick 30-minute Harbour Air seaplane to Victoria. You’ll land smack dab in the centre of town. www.harbourair.com

Location, Location

I stayed at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel back in the 1980s and had fond memories of the half-timbered landmark nestled on the Pacific Ocean overlooking Juan de Fuca Strait and snow-capped Mount Baker. After a total rebuilt that lasted six years, the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel opened as a luxury boutique and residential property in 2012. Happily the new version still has plenty of reminders of its former days. The old façade is now the entrance to Kate’s Café. The former Snug pub is no longer so snug as it has been expanded and includes a big deck for outdoor drinks and dining.

Down by the shore a series of hot and warm mineral baths beckon guests from morning to midnight. We enjoyed tromping down in our plush bathrobes and soaking under the stars. There’s also a new spa and fitness centre. The Oak Bay offers myriad activities from yoga to movie nights in the David Foster Foundation Theatre. Golfers will be happy to know that the private Victoria Golf Club, only a par-five away, is available for play for Oak Bay guests.

We enjoyed using the hotel’s bikes to cycle to Oak Bay Village just ten minutes away where there’s a bunch of cute boutiques and restaurants.

Thankfully, the new owners did not opt for the ultra modern white box style and instead went with a warm and welcoming British country inn ambience with antique furniture, fireplaces in the rooms and public areas and rich mahogany paneling.

Staying at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel offers the opportunity to relax in one of Victoria’s poshest beachfront neighbourhoods. When you want to venture into downtown Victoria, a complimentary shuttle will have you there in less than ten minutes.
www.oakbaybeachhotel.com

Farm to Fork

Executive chef Marcelo Najarro believes in serving local, healthy ethical food at 10 Acres restaurant. Many of the ingredients are sourced from the restaurant’s own 10 Acres Farm on the Saanich Peninsula. Najarro has a soft spot for the Farm’s own pork so give the chops and charcuterie board a try. Catch of the day is always just a few hours old. Here’s a restaurant that starts with top quality fresh ingredients and knows how to cook them to perfection.
www.10acres.ca

Meet the Seals

The Oak Bay Marina is home to a family of harbour seals who will happily perform and clap for you if you toss them some fish. You can purchase “seal meals” at the gift shop. The Marina Restaurant services Ocean Wise seafood in a sublime setting. There’s also a more casual café on the lower level.
www.marinarestaurant.com

What’s Blooming at Butchart?

Jennie Butchart planted her first Sunken Garden in 1904 on part of a 55-acre site that had been a limestone quarry. Her husband, Robert Pim Butchart, used the limestone for his Portland Cement operation. As the pit became depleted, Jennie hauled in tons of topsoil and thus began one of the world’s most renowned floral show gardens. Butchart, now one of Victoria’s premier attractions, boasts Italian, Rose, Sunken and Mediterranean gardens. Today they are operated and owned by Jennie’s great granddaughter, Robin-Lee Clarke who has added a Children’s Pavilion and carousel. The gardens create a magnificent setting for fireworks, concerts and boat tours. You may also enjoy fine cuisine in The Dining Room, formerly the family residence.www.butchartgardens.com


THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST

Go Wild View the largest exhibit of original works by the world’s greatest wildlife artist at The Robert Bateman Centre overlooking Victoria’s harbour. Travel through eight galleries guided by Bateman’s multi-media commentary on a smartphone or tablet and admire his works from the wilderness of Africa to Canada’s Arctic.
www.batemancentre.org

Haunted

They say that Victoria is the most haunted place in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Join John Adams and his team of guides while exploring narrow alleys, historic courtyards and other spooky spots with echoes of hangings, murders and more.
www.discoverthepast.com/ghostly-walks/


Calling Cigar Aficionados

Old Morris Tobacconist, the oldest in Canada was established in 1892 and is a designated historic site. Need a light? An electrolier made of onyx in the centre of the shop spouts flame jets to ignite cigars while wires protect beards and mustaches. Have proprietor Gautam Arora chose the right stogie for you from the humidor.
www.oldmorris.com

Read On

In 1963, Jim Munro and his first wife, Alice - yes, that Alice Munro - set up a book shop on Yates Street.

Munro’s Books relocated to its current location on Government Street in 1984. When Jim Munro retired in 2014, he wanted the store to continue to serve the many passionate readers—both locals, and visitors from around the world—who visit Munro’s every year. To that end, he decided to turn over ownership of the store to four long-term staff members. When Jim Munro passed away in 2016, tributes poured in from across the country, a true testament to the legacy he so lovingly built. The fine neo-classical building, designed for the Royal Bank of Canada in 1909, has received two heritage awards. Today bookworms are welcomed by a passionate and knowledgeable staff.www.munrobooks.com

Fish & Chips

Take the mini tugboat taxi for a tour of Victoria Harbour and stop at colourful Fisherman’s Wharf for what some locals swear are the city’s best fish and chips at Barb’s.

Java Fix

I always make it my mission to find the best barista and latté in town. Found it at Hey Happy Coffee at 560 Johnson Street.

Fall Flavours & Pints

With farmland situated only 20 minutes away from downtown, many of Victoria’s restaurants take advantage of the seasonal produce available. At Spinnakers if it’s not in season it won’t be on the menu, so you’ll find lots of fall produce including locally grown figs and root vegetables. Try their special fall release beers including the Ortega Blonde beer spritzer spiked with final vintages from Muse Winery, Spiced Apple Ale made with a blend of their house cider and the Fresh Hopped Estate Sooke Bitter brewed with wet hops picked from their own hop farm in Sooke. Spinnakers opened Canada’s first in-house brew pub in the 1980s and has continued to be a favourite for a pint and gastro pub cuisine.
www.spinnakers.com

Hike to the Salmon Run

Between late October and early December, Goldstream Provincial Park becomes a feeding ground for local wildlife as the salmon run begins. The Goldstream River is the scene of one of nature’s spectacles as Chum, Coho and Chinook salmon enter the river via Finlayson Arm from the Pacific Ocean. Three to four years previously, these same salmon were born there before traveling to the sea to grow and mature. Their return to spawn and die in their ancestral spawning beds brings an abundance of local wildlife including eagles and bears. Take a tour with Hike Victoria to see the salmon and the Niagara Waterfall. Add on the Railway Trestle hike to get some of those Instagram worthy fall shots!
www.hikevictoria.com

Seaside Spirits

Get into the spirit(s) of things with a tour of Victoria Distillers. Known for their Left Coast Hemp Vodka, Victoria Gin, Graigdarroch Whiskey and Twisted and Bitter cocktail bitters, Victoria Distillers, formerly Victoria Spirits, has undergone a transformation with a name change and a new venue. Their waterfront location at Seaport Place in Sidney (about 26 km from downtown Victoria) runs tours and tastings from Friday to Sunday for $7. Discover the whole distilling process together, from selecting the botanicals to blending, bottling and numbering each bottle by hand with a chance to sample each product. There’s also a cocktail lounge serving inventive drinks and tasty nibbles.
www.victoriadistillers.com

 

author

Anita Draycott

Quite aside from being an award winning writer, whose travel articles and photography regularly appear in golf and lifestyle publications and websites, Anita Draycott is a self confessed golf fanatic, who has chased dimpled white balls over five continents.  

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