It seemed the perfect culmination of our cross country rail trip to stay in the historic Empress Hotel, originally built by the Canadian Pacific as a lure for travelers to the western parts of the country. The hotel was almost lost to demolition plans at one point but was thankfully saved by "Operation Teacup" and a four million dollar rescue fund.
The majestic turn of the century hotel is perfectly situated harborside and is the most photographed attraction on an island brimming with photographic opportunities. Victoria is known as the "Garden Island" because of its profusion of flowers and famed gardens, including Buchart Gardens. Flowers sprout seemingly everywhere; in baskets and beds, as trimmings and as hedges. Street vendors take advantage of the bounty by selling cut flowers to shoppers and passersby. Double-deck busses add to the charming street scene, evoking images of merry old England, as do the many flower-laden horse drawn carriages ambling through the town.
The Empress has her own gardens worth visiting. Take a stroll among the flowers either before or after the famed "High Tea" which is served as true high art and requires reservations in advance. You will be competing with the 100,000 visitors annually who stop in to enjoy this time-honored tradition.
The hotel rooms are not huge, but are furnished comfortably in period décor. Because Victoria enjoys such a moderate climate due to the jet stream, air conditioning is viewed as an optional device, but would have been welcomed during our mid-summer visit.
Directly outside the hotel entrance is the central harbor and entertainment/shopping district of Victoria. I could have spent days browsing the unique shops, many of which made me feel I was in Britain or Ireland rather than Canada. An intense variety of cultural cuisines, with Pacific Rim influences to match the British and Canadian, are available to visitors.
Victoria is only one city on a rather large island, (albeit the major one being as it is the capital of British Columbia). So many options exist for exploring the further reaches of the island; hiking, boating, fishing, golfing to name a few. We tried out the golf but spent the bulk of our short visit just strolling the city and soaking in the wonderful charm and ambiance. Sitting harborside in the glow of the afternoon sun watching a street musician entertain the crowds, having a brew at the dockside café, and yes, taking that romantic carriage ride through the town are all highlights we stored up during this short but memorable trip.