We’re in one of my favourite cities, staying in a gold level room at the iconic Fairmont Empress, experiencing Christmas spirit — and it just doesn’t get much better than this.
My partner Brent and I arrived on a clear, crisp afternoon aboard Harbour Air Seaplanes and by late afternoon, the capital is aglow with brightly coloured lights — every building, hotel and the Parliament Building along the waterfront, as well as ships and boats, illuminate the sky. I can’t think of a better place to get into the holiday mood and have included several highlights below for anyone considering a visit.
A stroll through gingerbread masterpieces:
The next day we walked to the Inn at Laurel Point where the Eighth Annual Gingerbread Showcase benefitting Habitat for Humanity, was taking place. This year’s travel theme featured everything from simple pieces by amateurs to mind blowing works of pastry art by professional bakers — the fairy-tale gingerbread creations are worth checking out. The detail and intricacy are amazing and, even better, these gingerbread houses support real housing for people who need it most.
Where to Dine: The restaurants we visited offered cuisine rooted in this city’s strong ethos rooted in sustainable, local, farm-to-table dishes.
After taking in the gingerbread masterpieces, Brent and I went for lunch at the hotel’s waterfront AURA where executive chef Takashi Ito’s seasonal-minded menu draws from his Japanese roots and his West Coast influences. My beet soup and Brent’s silky smooth butternut squash soup were to die for. Following our starters, I ordered the arctic char on a bed of micro greens for me, while Brent enjoyed a tempura-battered basa with wasabi tartar and chips — both divine.
We discovered another popular eatery, Nourish Kitchen & Cafe, housed in a refurbished 1888 home and decorated in an organic country-style, which features a small yet interesting carte du jour.
Following happy hour at the Empress, I went for the farm bounty, a medley of French lentils, braised greens and charred carrot, which was delectable, while Brent’s slow roasted duck leg was simply perfect. Proprietor Hayley Rosenberg vision is to create dishes that are not only healthy, but also bursting with flavours and it’s obvious her kitchen team has succeeded in meeting that goal.
Located in Victoria’s inner harbour, the Canoe Brewpub’s historic timber and brick architecture was only rivalled by its fare. Canoe is located within the historic City Lights Building, which was built in 1894 and was recently was lovingly restored. This is one brew pub that serves up food that gastro geeks will love. May I suggest the spicy Thai broccolini to start? So good, so zesty and did I mention it was so good? Then, we both went for the beet and arugula salad — with prawns for me. This is pub fare taken up a notch.
Don’t Miss: During this festive time of year, you can’t miss signature events including the century-old tradition of high tea at the Afternoon Christmas Tea at the Fairmont Empress. The Empress has all but reinvented high tea in its chateau-style foyer. The scones with clotted cream and jam (now made in-house), petit fours and sweet treats — prepared especially for Christmas — are worth every calorie.
Hint: Victoria is a very walkable city, so afterwards, feeling the effects of my guilty pleasure, we laced up our walking shoes and heading out for a good stroll — and for some serious shopping.
Check out the 25th Annual Festival of Trees at the Fairmont Empress and the Bay Centre until Jan. 3. I dare say even Scrooge would have a hard time not breaking into a smile if he took in the artistry of the festooned trees.
If you go: The easiest, fastest (30 minutes from Richmond) and scenic way to get to Victoria is by Harbour Air Seaplanes, departing from Richmond and Vancouver. Book online at www.harbour-air.com.
Stay: There are hotels and then there are Grande Dames. Built in 1908, Fairmont Empress is one of the city’s architectural jewels. We knew we were in for a special weekend when we discovered we had been upgraded to an understated yet elegant Fairmont Gold concierge level room. Both days, we ate breakfast and enjoyed happy hour in the new Fairmont Gold Lounge and Patio overlooking the harbour — we felt like Hollywood stars. OK, maybe that’s stretching it, but we felt indulged and pampered in the best possible way.
For more information about what to see and do in Victoria over the festive holidays, visit www.tourismvictoria.com/christmas.