Reached easily by plane or a relaxed ferry ride from Seattle, Victoria, B.C. boasts a temperate climate, world class scenery and an abundance of bountiful food markets, trendy farm to table restaurants, wineries and breweries.
Owner of Hike Victoria, Mark Vukobrat, a local resident, provides entertaining commentary on the history, geology and development of the area. The morning we hiked, the Olympic mountain range was obscured by clouds, but the gray blanket did not diminish the beauty of the stunning emerald fjord viewed from the Top of Gowlland Tod, the company's top rated adventure.
Pedaler Bike Tours gives visitors another great way to see Victoria. Our route began in Chinatown, where Victoria's century-old gambling parlors and tiny alleyways are still very much alive. Up the hill in the hipster neighborhood, Fernwood, we stopped by the welcoming Fernwood Coffee House. "Cold Comfort Creamery" a temple of homemade ice cream, is right next door.
We had an easy cruise back through Fairfield and Rockland, charming neighborhoods comprised of quaint Victorian homes and community gardens. In majestic Beacon Hill park we stopped to marvel at the world's highest totem pole--127 feet.
Surrounded by bay and ocean, Victoria may also be enjoyed from the calm waters. Victoria Kayak Tours offers half or full day paddle tours of the harbor and beyond.
Beer crawl, wine tours and a distillery...
Another fine way to enjoy the great outdoors is in the pursuit of food and drink; the plethora of options reflect the tradition of the city and its vibrant on-trend scene.
Stroll Victoria with the excellent Craft Beer Tour Map available at the Visitor Center. We launched our one-mile loop in the Upper Harbor area at The Moon Under Water Brewpub. Our favorite pour was the full-flavored Creepy Uncle Dunkel Dark Ale. At Driftwood Brewery we sipped White Bark witbier and also savored brews at Vancouver Island Brewery and Hoyne Brewing.
For a day trip, consider the Saanich Peninsula Winery Tour with LA Limousines tours. A highlight was our stop at Church and State wines, a leader of the growing wine industry on the
island. The winery presents a diverse portfolio that segues from the sassy "How Do You Like Me Now?" to serious Syrah and a cafe overlooking the rolling vineyards.
A true beverage tour, our excursion included an outstanding artisan gin tasting at Victoria Distilling. We also were treated to sample a rare, sulfite-free cider at Sea Cider Farm and Cider House with stunning views of Mt. Baker. Category 12 Brewing, a family run brewery, also has an extensive beer menu in a hip tasting room decorated with original art.
For cocktails on Saturday evening, we chose a Bart's Double Seafood Caesar--a Bloody Mary made with Clamato juice topped with an oyster, a mussel and poached shrimp! A classic since 1975, Bartholomew's English-style Pub serves up non-greasy fish 'n chips and the popular "Derrick's Oysters," a dish enhanced with tasty Pernod-infused spinach. Double's Lounge across the hall offers a cozy venue for pre-dinner drinks. Bart's and Doubles are in the newly renovated Doubletree Victoria. The hotel offers excellent amenities, service and stunning views of the Inner Harbor.
The Fairmont Empress Tea is a must-stop in the city. Some say the Empress Tea is as good as proper teas in England, and we agree. The crustless tea sandwiches of salmon, cucumber and egg and tuna were perfectly complemented by the Fairmont's private label tea - a blend of green and black teas that is both smoky and deliciously subtle. Fresh baked scones with cream and jam were light and crusty, and the handsome pianist playing classic favorites evoked the glory of the room. Service is impeccable and water views provide for a lovely and relaxing experience.
Nearby, Swan's Hotel and Brewpub is known for its unique art and First Nations carvings decor, house-brewed beers, and special Brewmaster's Breakfast.
Another winner in our culinary adventure was Bubby's Kitchen, a classic neighborhood eatery in Cook St. Village. Bubby's offers a wonderful chicken soup with a fusion twist: it is gloriously lemongrass-scented. The farm fresh salads, buttermilk fried chicken and locally sourced hot dog were our favorite picks.
Restaurateur Mike Murphy sources produce from his 10 Acres Farm for the eponymous restaurant and also for his seafood-oriented Commons and farm-to-table The Kitchen.
The centrally located Hotel Rialto has well-appointed, spacious rooms. Renowned mixologist Simon Ogden's "Spin the Wheel" game at the Veneto Lounge is a local crowd pleaser. After asking a few questions, Simon delivered a rum cocktail which we promptly named "Save Me, Victoria." Veneto's crispy fried Brussels sprouts, Spanish pincho ribs, BC halibut and sockeye salmon risotto creatively showcased the local cuisine.
Acclaimed chef and Victoria native Robert Cassels recently opened a gourmet haven - Saveur. Simply decorated in black and white, textural touches are added with exposed brick and crystal chandeliers. Saveur features Canadian-focused wines and creative cocktails like The Desert Flower - a fabulous mix of tequila, Prosecco and a charred pear puree with a bee pollen rim.
Cassel's cutting edge gastronomic touches are alive in the chef's gift which "amused our bouche." The miniature vegetable pakora amuse, tiny battered broccoli flowerets lightly fried and served on a spoon with pickled fennel and ponzu sauce introduced an intriguing mix of Indian and Asian flavors. The tasting menu included grilled octopus with popcorn sauce, pork cheek with apple sorrel "crackling" and striploin with hay smoked squash puree. The dessert - white chocolate fennel foam and espresso brulée - provided a perfect ending to a sublime meal.
Additional recommendations: Foi Epi and Fry's Red Wheat Bakery are local favorites.
Butchart Gardens. No visit to Victoria is complete without a saunter through the beautifully landscaped gardens just outside of the city.
While Victoria's warm welcome and cultural inclusiveness captivated us, the afternoon breeze across the Inner Harbor and nighttime lights strung on the majestic Fairmont Empress and civic buildings kept our enchantment glowing.