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 THREE | As you breakfast on perfectly flaky croissant and café latte in the Fairmont’s Empress Room, you decide to beat the crowds with an early visit to the highly regarded 1 Royal British Columbia Museum, a quick walk from the hotel. There, you peruse a cast of the Rosetta Stone and an eerily captivating set of 12th century Lewis chessmen, carved from walrus ivory. You even get to handle the forefather of the Swiss Army Knife, a lava rock ax made in Africa’s Olduvai Gorge some one and a half million years ago.
Time to see the countryside. Make your way back to the Fairmont, and have the concierge obtain a rental car. Soon enough, you’re rocketing out of town to visit the lush farmland of Saanich, just north of Victoria. The turn-of-the-century 2 Butchart Gardens —just 30 minutes from downtown (less if you don’t drive like the locals, who seem to have an aversion to accelerators)—are 55 acres of rhododendrons and roses and eerily gorgeous blue poppies from the Himalayas. It’s easy to get lost on the paths through the flora, and you’ll be tempted to take a dip in the lake. But you’ve got miles to go.
After you’ve gotten your fill of those blue wonders, drive south to 3 Victoria Spirits and Barking Dog Vineyard, a boutique distillery on Old West Saanich Road. Master distiller Peter Hunt’s Victoria Gin is made from a neutral grain spirit and 10 botanicals, including handpicked local juniper, orange and lemon peel. It’s a smooth concoction, but you’re driving, so resist the urge to indulge. Instead, have just a taste and wander the rolling vineyards.
You’ve already made dinner reservations at the four-star 4 Aerie Resort & Spa, which is a 25-minute ferry ride from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay in the Cowichan Valley. Perched 1,000 feet up on a hill of evergreens, the decadently rustic Aerie looks over the Finlayson Arm fj ord.
The restaurant specializes in plates of fantastically fresh scallops, spot prawns and lobster fished straight from the fj ord below. Like Victoria itself, the Aerie isn’t the hottest nightlife scene in the world, but it’s a place to find an easy moment of serenity and beauty, and that’s increasingly rare.
Though you’re not eager to leave this fine view, you return to the city by Highway 1 and have a nightcap at the Empress’ Bengal Room. The swankiest venue in town, the room features an actual Bengal tiger hanging above the fireplace and a Casablanca vibe. Ordering a 1908 Cocktail, you favor the stranger on the next barstool with a sample of your Bogie impression: “Of all the gin joints…”