Once a rugged outpost, the serene and surprisingly balmy city of Victoria, British Columbia, is an island home to bicycle trails, whale pods and Native American culture.
Author Melissa Nix
DAY TWO | Begin your day with an omelet, smoked salmon and deliciously fresh blueberry muesli and yogurt in the Empress Room. Dillon, the highly capable concierge, suggests you visit Beacon Hill Park for a sense of why Victoria is called the “City of Gardens.” He arranges for you to pick up a bike rental from 1 Cycle BC, and you join the steady stream of riders wheeling their way through the powerwalking grannies to the leafy embrace of 2 Beacon Hill Park. You pass weeping willow trees and hundreds of rose bushes on your way to the Children’s Farm, where you befriend a chatty baby goat. As you leave, nod to the suspicious albino peacock that guards the exit, who gruffly displays his dazzling ivory plumage.
You bike back to the harbor promenade, ringed with flowers and the scent of ocean air, for a gander at the handmade First Nation totem poles on display there. Victorians wander past walking their dogs and tossing breadcrumbs at pigeons. Watching the jade water crashing on the rocks below, you think seafood, and as it happens, the best fish and chips in town are a quick ride away at 3 Barb’s Place on Fisherman’s Wharf. Gaze longingly at the fishing boats and houseboats lining the wharf as you wolf down fresh fried halibut and fries.
Thus fortified, you’re ready to head out to sea. But first, stop in at The Strath Ale, Wine & Spirits Merchants and pick up a bottle of a local riesling. The hills on the peninsula are crawling with vineyards, and the regional wines are surprisingly good. Park your bike at the 4 Prince of Whales whale-watching company. Three resident orca pods call the Straits home, and your mission is to meet each one. For the next three hours, you watch from the deck as the killer whales flap their tails to attract mates and make a meal of a seal or two. (Sorry, but they don’t call them killer whales for nothing.) You pop the cork, sip luxuriantly, take in the steep cliff s nearby, and toast your luck for having been born more or less atop the food chain.
Back on dry land, you feel the need to wash off the salt spray before dinner. Pay a visit to The Fairmont Empress’ 5 Willow Stream Spa for a quick respite in the Finnish dry sauna, the steam room and the magnesium-enriched thermal pool—a perfect antidote to your mild sea-sickness and that whole seal business.
Victoria’s farm-to-table culinary scene rivals that of northern California. For a sample, take a taxi 10 minutes east to Fernwood, the city’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood, and take a seat at 6 Stage, a small-dish wine bar and Victoria’s culinary epicenter. The grilled haloumi cheese with heirloom tomatoes and the fried octopus drizzled with lemon are divine. As you sip a digestif, you discover your dining mates are the chefs and sommeliers of the most acclaimed restaurants in town, always a good sign.