British Columbia’s capital Victoria is the most British of Canadian cities with a wonderful balance between English sensibilities and the best western Canadian traditions. Here you can ride a Zodiac to see a pod of orcas and make it back in time for High Tea in Fairmont’s Empress Hotel.
Victoria is undeniably charming, small enough to feel comfortable and large enough to offer all worldly comforts imaginable.
Whistler, one of the pre-eminent ski resorts of the continent is a short hope away, Vancouver a two-hour ferry ride to the east and the calm Pacific Ocean out front.
Rudyard Kipling called Victoria “ Brighton Pavilion with the Himalayas for a backdrop“ and when you look out over the inner harbour, you will understand what he meant.
The old Town is set against the background of the harbour and was once the busy hub of the city’s main business – shipping, fur trading and manufacturing of legal opium.
Victoria’s China town purports to be the oldest in Canada (dating from
1858). Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest street in North America and used to be the gambling and opium centre of Chinatown. The imposing and interesting Gate of Harmonious Interest at the end of pedestrian-only Government Street represents the entrance to Chinatown.
All visitors should visit the Parliament Buildings of British Columbia overlooking the Inner Harbour. It was built between 1893 -1898 and designed by Francis Rattenbury who was also responsible for the creation of the imposing Fairmont Empress Hotel to the right.
While there, walk 100 metres to visit the Royal British Columbia Museum, rich on aboriginal displays and totem polls.
Craigdarroch Castle, a few kilometres from the Inner Harbour, is a must see when in Victoria. This four-storey 39-room castle built by the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir for his wife (to encourage her to leave Scotland and live in Victoria) is every bit as intriguing as a European chateau.
The interior is filled with detailed woodwork, Persian carpets, stained glass windows, paintings and sculptures.
When in Victoria, make a point to visit Butchart Gardens created in 1904 by Robert and Jennie Butchart on 52 hectares of land that was previously a limestone quarry. More than 700 varieties of flowers are bedded on a 20-hectare expanse to ensure uninterrupted blooms from March to October. Some two million visitors marvel at the roses and hundreds of other flowers, evergreens, and trees, Japanese and Italian gardens.
Sook Harbour, a small hamlet to the west of Victoria on the Pacific Ocean is famous for its restaurant and bed and breakfast operation called Sook Harbour House. The view is beautiful, but more importantly the food imaginatively prepared and presented. The wine list is extensive and service very attentive and accommodating.
There is no shortage of accommodation starting with Fairmon’t Empress Hotel (250-384-8111) overlooking the Inner Harbour, to Oak Bay Beach Hotel (250-598-4556), Gatsby Mansion (800 563-9656).
The Marina (250-598-8555), Don Mees (250-383-1032), Barb’s Place
(250-384-6515), Herald Street Caffe (250-381-144), Re-bar (250-361-9223) are some of the better restaurants, eateries and snack counters excluding Chinatown restaurants which tend to be overpriced for the quality they serve.
For chocoholics, Roger’s Chocolates on Government Street is a must, as is Murchie’s Coffee Merchants on the same street further down the road.
Faith Grant’s Connoisseur Shop features writing desks, English flatware, and ceramics, prints, paintings and anything else you can imagine,
For those who like to visit pubs, Sticky Wicket, Spinnaker’s, Brown Pub, Swan’s Pub, and Canoe Club are highly recommended.