A September 2004 trip
to Victoria by zabelle
Quote: Victoria is justifiably known for its outstanding gardens. With the mildest climate in Canada, it is hardly surprising. From Beacon Hill Park to Bastion Square, you can’t help but be delighted by the color and scents of the profusion of blossoms.
Victoria has enough diversity to please anyone.
Butchart Gardens: Celebrating it’s 100-year anniversary in 2004, these gardens are the vision of Mrs. R.P. Butchart. She took an abandoned quarry and turned it into 50 acres of flowers and fountains. There are over 2,000 rose bushes in the rose garden, and, during the summer months, there are fireworks displays.
Royal British Columbia Museum: Hosting a fantastic exhibit from the British Museum Egyptian collection until October 31, 2004, this is a museum you won’t want to miss. Even if you can’t make it before the end of October, the permanent collection and the IMAX Theater are more than worth a visit on their own.
Tour the Empress Hotel: The Grande Dame of the Inner Harbor is a cornerstone of the Fairmont Chain. They offer a tour much like that offered at the Chateau Frontenac if you want something formal, but you can also just walk around. We had the advantage of a local as our guide, but it certainly is a must-see.
Walk Around the Inner Harbor: You will want to visit the information center and pick up brochures. There are also First Nation artisans who are selling their carvings and jewelry for very inexpensive prices. I am wearing one of their bracelets on my wrist every day.
Have Afternoon Tea: This is the most British city I have ever seen outside of England. What better place to partake in the venerable tradition. You can choose the Empress Hotel or, our favorite, the Blethering Place. You can’t make a bad choice.
The ocean around Victoria is the home to three pods of whales. Beyond this there are up to 16 pods in the area off northern Vancouver Island. This makes your chance of a sighting on a whale-watch pretty good. Springtide Charters boasts a 96% success rate. We can testify to an amazing amount of success on our whale watch.
Victoria has a wonderfully temperate climate. It is much less rainy than either Vancouver or Seattle. Amazingly, it receives just a little more than half the amount of rain that New York City receives. To check out the weather before you go check current weather in Victoria.
Oak Bay is a great place to just park and visit. While you are here to have tea, take the time to visit some of the other shops in this charming village. If you would like to feed the seals, a quick stop at the Oak Bay Marina is in order. You can purchase fish and have an encounter of the seal kind.
If you have a rental car you can go directly to the ferry, which travels from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. The ferry ride is about 1.5 hours long.
There is bus service in Victoria, both regular and double-decker sightseeing. If we hadn’t had my cousin Chris to drive us around, I would have wanted to have a rental car. Butchart Garden, for instance, is a long way from the Inner Harbor as is Oak Bay.
Within the Inner Harbor, walking is best. You can take the Inner Harbor Ferry to get across to Spinnakers Brewpub.
We toured several of the rooms. The Aerie Suite knocked my socks off. It is constructed on two levels. The king-sized bed dominates the upper level. It is a four-post bed with a gauzy canopy. I can’t imagine a more romantic bed. Surrounded by pillars, the two-person Jacuzzi sits midway between the two levels. The living area has a gas burning fireplace and wonderful furniture. You will want to step out onto your private deck and enjoy the view.
The Deluxe Rooms offer the same degree of comfort with a fabulously cushy bed covered with down comforters and a sitting area in a more compact size. Some of the deluxe rooms have a Jacuzzi in the living area. The fabrics and rugs are all exquisite. Everything is first class here; expect to see real silk and Persian carpets. All of the rooms include bathrobes, TV and DVD player, CD/cassette players, mini-bar, and, best of all, all rooms and suites are non-smoking.
This is full-service resort with a spa offering treatments for body and mind. You can take yoga or Tai Chi classes, swim in the indoor pool, exercise on their stationary equipment, relax in the outdoor hot tub, kayak, hike, play tennis, or just curl up and enjoy a great book. You will feel like a pampered princess no matter which you choose. If you are felling particularly decedent, schedule an in-room massage.
There are 35 rooms and suites here and the newest addition is a villa on the hill, which offers some of the most luxurious suites. It was late in the evening and I didn’t feel up to visiting them, but if they are more luxurious than what I saw they have to be outstanding.
There are a full range of packages, such as the Rendezvous For Two includes two nights of accommodation in a suite, a fruit basket, a one-hour, in-room massage for two, a five-course dinner on the night of your choice, and breakfast each morning. Prices range from C$1,140 to C$2,310, depending on the room and season selected.
If you arrive by helicopter, there is a helipad. For the rest of us, it is a scenic ride uphill from Victoria. Rooms begin at about C$195 for mid-week during the winter. Luxury doesn’t come cheap, but you won’t be disappointed.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 9, 2004
600 Ebedora Lane
Victoria, British Columbia
Hotel | "Blue Ridge Inns"
The Blue Ridge has rooms in four categories:
The Compact, is just that, with a separate shower room and toilet, it is a basic room; no coffeepot, but with a comfortable bed and a very economical price (in off-season, as low as C$39).
The Standard has a room divider to separate the bedroom from the entry. You will have a refrigerator and a coffeepot, table and chair, remote control TV, and, again, a comfortable bed.
The One Bedroom Suite is roomy; you have a totally separate bedroom and a parlor with a couch. Half of the rooms have a sleeper sofa.
We had a two-bedroom suite.
It is the former manager’s apartment, and had a full kitchen, living room with a sleeper sofa, and one bedroom with bunk beds and another with a queen-size bed. An additional bedroom can also be made available, meaning this suite can sleep up to about 10 people. We had a large window in the living room as well as a desk and coffee table. Our kitchen had a coffeepot, several packs of coffee, and was fully furnished with all the utensils you would need to cook and clean. Everything was very clean and well decorated.
For a budget hotel, the Blue Ridge has an amazing amount of amenities. There is an indoor pool with sauna. In the warm weather, the sides can open onto a patio so that you can get a tan while sitting around the pool. There is a laundry for guest use, and there is coffee available in the office 24 hours a day.
Now I may be a little prejudice about the staff, but Chris at the front desk can handle anything. For instance, while we were there, a little dog who had been lost by some customers a couple of days ago returned,(caught I am told by the ever handy Vaughn) and Chris took care of notifying the family and making sure that the little guy had water and food. Nothing seems to throw him off stride. (Did I forget to mention that he is my cousin?)
The Blue Ridge is a good choice even if you don’t have a car. The Pacific Coach Lines bus from Vancouver has a stop almost in front of the hotel. There is also regular bus service that runs on Douglas Street. If you want to shop, the Mayfair Mall is across the street.The hotel shares their office building with a small restaurant that serves an excellent breakfast.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 9, 2004
Blue Ridge Inn
3110 DOUGLAS STREET
Victoria, British Columbia V8Z3K4
Restaurant | "The Blethering Place Tearoom"
I couldn’t imagine coming all the way to Victoria and not partaking of the oh-so-British institution of afternoon tea. If you don’t mind spending $49 each, the Empress Hotel is impressive.
We, however, wanted to share this venerable tradition with the locals. The Blethering Place is the perfect location to do so. It has a charming location in the village of Oak Bay, which does look amazing like many English villages I have visited. This restaurant is quintessentially British. Clothes in a small floral print cover the tables, and the floor has carpeting with cabbage roses. There is a union jack on the wall and lots of other memorabilia.
The building itself is historically significant. It is the oldest building in the village of Oak Bay and was, in a previous incarnation, both a general store and the post office. Now it is a charming place for an afternoon stop.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served here, but we came for afternoon tea. You may choose from two tea menus or from an á la carte menu. The tea is offered for $16.95 and the Light for $14.95. The difference between the two is that you get an extra scone per person and a serving of trifle if you order the tea. Al and I did just that and Chris got the Light. There are several choices of tea and I ordered my favorite, English Breakfast, while Chris ordered Earl Grey. Al looked at me helplessly, and I said, "Two English Breakfasts".
We were stunned when our plate arrived. It was loaded. We began with our sandwiches; they didn’t have crusts, and we each had one cucumber and one tuna. Next up we had savory spinach pastries, usually they are sausage but today they were sold out. Warm scones were next; buttered, loaded with their homemade jelly, and topped with Devonshire cream. We could only eat one each. The plate was still amazingly full. The photo of the plate is deceiving because the three other scones and the savory pastries are on a different plate.
We now had to choose from fresh fruit, carrot cake, Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, biscuits (chocolate-dipped and plain), lemon bars, and fresh fruit. It was daunting, but we love a challenge. All of this was washed down with cups of hot, sweet tea from our crocheted, cozy, covered teapot.
Just when we though we were going to burst, it was time for our trifle and a very good trifle it was. We had a very large take-home container that we thoroughly enjoyed the next day.
I highly recommend this place for an authentic English Tea experience. On your way out, browse for tea-making items in their small store.
"And I want a tea cozy. I don't know what a tea cozy is, but I want one!"
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Blethering Place Tea Room & Restaurant
2250 Oak Bay Avenue
Victoria, British Columbia
Restaurant | "Spinnakers"
For our first dinner in Victoria, we decided that a brewpub would be an excellent choice given all of our different preferences, our one common denominator being the love of a good beer. Spinnakers calls itself a gastro brewpub, and one look at their menu will fortify this impression. In their own words, a gastro brewpub means "gastronomically amazing fare". I am here to tell you that they don’t exaggerate.
There are two dining options. Families will want to choose the dining room since minors aren’t allowed in the taproom. Located on the second floor, the taproom is dominated by a large, well-stocked bar. The room is all rich woods, with a corner for the dart-throwing enthusiast. Whichever room you choose, you will have a least a fleeting view of the inner harbor, and, if you are lucky, a constant, stunning view.
Your first and most important choice is which of their wonderful artisan brews will you be trying. If you are me, you will be delighted that they offer a $1.50 tasting size so that you can experiment without falling under the table. I had four tasters (equal to a pint): India Pale Ale, King Tut’s Tipple, Honey Pale Ale, and Raspberry Ale. Why I always think that fruit and beer will make a good combination escapes me at the moment, but the Raspberry Ale was the only one that I found quite hard to finish. Honey pale is my favorite, but the other two are very enjoyable. These are the cold beers. There is a full selection of English style ales and stout as well.
"Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world."
All of their food is prepared on the premises, including their artisan breads and pastries. I chose the BBQ pizza for my dinner and Al and Chris both chose fish and chips, one cod and one halibut. For once in my life, I didn’t actually taste their food. I was much too busy with my unbelievable pizza. It had the thinnest crust you can imagine and was covered with chicken, bleu cheese, BBQ sauce, and blackberries. Yes, I said blackberries. It was without a doubt the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten. The combination of the pungent cheese with the sweet sauce and the texture of the berries is an inspired pairing. The chicken was just a bonus.
For dessert, we shared a chocolate tart. It proved to be the perfect dessert to share, richly chocolate and served with whipped cream. Washed down with fresh coffee, it was the perfect ending it a perfect meal
"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
Spinnakers Brewpub & Guest House
308 Catherine Street
Victoria, British Columbia
Restaurant | "The Aerie"
Dining at the Aerie is not just eating; it is a dining experience. Getting there is also an experience, but I digress. The Aerie is a member of the Relais and Chateaux Group, which gives you some idea of what to expect. There are several dining options here; we chose the dining room. It offers an intimate dining experience. Our table was in a small alcove, and it felt like we were the only guests here. Our waiter was amazing, and I can’t believe that I didn’t ask him his name. He was never intrusive, but he was so intuitive that it was as if he knew us.
We were presented with the tasting menu. You may choose from The Farm, The Earth, The Ocean, and The Experimental Discovery Menu. Prices range from $75 to $105 per person with a wine pairing at $59 to $79. The choices were unbelievable, but keep in mind who is dining here. I just couldn’t choose a meal of this price and let Chris pay. I think I had that deer in the headlights look on my face because our waiter asked, "Would you like to see the á la carte menu." I heaved a sigh of relief and said, "Yes please." I have to admit that Chris didn’t seem shocked. He has taken family here before and knows that the food is fabulous.
I chose the rack of lamb with fresh goat cheese and sea lettuce ravioli served with whole grain mustard and basil pesto. Al and Chris had beef tenderloin seared with Portobello mushrooms and truffle foie gras.
The lamb was fork tender and from the tiniest lambs I have ever seen. Chris asked the chef is the lamb was from Salt Island and was told no. The rack would have to be priced at $75 if it was. Salt Spring Island Lamb has to be ordered at the beginning of each season and there is no reordering; they totally sell all they raise on pre-orders.
For dessert, Chris asked them to bring us their prettiest dessert and three forks. What we were served was the Apple Brioche French Toast with apple ginger compote and caramel sauce. The chef delivered it. He wanted to make sure we liked it. Oh my, loved is more like - as delicious as it was beautiful.
The Aerie is the perfect place to celebrate a very special evening. We were treated like honored guests. The lighting is dim, the food superb, and the service impeccable. Great choice Chris.
Aerie Resort and Spa
600 Ebadora Lane
Victoria, British Columbia
We hadn’t planned to take a whale-watching tour when we came to Victoria. My cousin Chris arranged it for us since he had never gone on one himself and thought it would be a nice way to spend a morning - nice doesn’t begin to describe the adventure.
Whale-watching tours are big business in this part of the world, and, if you get the chance to take one, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I wasn’t prepared for the adrenaline rush you get from your first sighting of these magnificent orcas breaching the water.
There are several ways to accomplish the sighting. You can take a Zodiac and suit up in waterproof gear. This is totally unsuitable for anyone with back or neck problems. They intentionally ride the wake and give you a ride you won’t soon forget.
We opted for a much more luxurious form of transportation, the 61-foot cruiser, Maurader IV. There is seating both inside and out, washroom facilities, fresh coffee and cookies, and a crew of three women. Cheryl and Liz are marine biologists while Angela is the pilot. Together we headed out of Victoria for a 3-hour cruise - and you can imagine having to listen to Al singing the theme from Gilligan’s Island. Cheryl and Liz answered questions and did a running commentary on what we would see. They are very knowledgeable and added immensely to our enjoyment.
Our first sightings were of the porpoises. They looked like miniature orcas. We then went out by the lighthouse where we saw hundreds of sea lions and seals. They literally covered very open space on the rocks. We were all outside now shooting photos and climbing up onto the front of the boat.
The tension level began to rise, and, when the first whale breached the surface, there was a general burst of activity on the ship as everyone jockeyed for a position where they could view the whales the best. It was the most exciting thing I have ever done. They are so beautiful; they seemed to be dancing above the water. We watch a mother and her baby swim by. We had to sit still and literally wait for them to come to us. While they were passing, there was a microphone in the water recording their calls. We could hear them talking back and forth. It was an unforgettable experience.
We moved two more times to put ourselves in their path, and, at one point, they got quite close to the ship. I tried very hard to get a picture and didn’t succeed very well; they move so fast and you have no warning where they are going to come up. We are not allowed to move closer to them or chase after them.
The cost of all this excitement is C$95, but there is no guarantee that you will see any whales. We must have seen 30 or 40. The ones we saw were a transient pod. Every day there are lookouts watching to see where the whales are. They have a local group of whales, but these were not around on the day we went out. Where the boat travels that day is determined by where the sightings are. Whale watching tours are available April through October.
The tour is appropriate for people of all ages. There were no children on our tour but it was a school day in September, so that is probably why. Certainly children 5 and older would enjoy this immensely. A certain amount of mobility is necessary if you want to climb up to the front deck of the boat; you can, however, remain seated for the entire trip.
No one on our tour suffered from sea sickness at all. The ship was very stable, and, other than getting a little splashed with water, there were no ill affects. In fact, just about everyone took advantage of the coffee and cookies.