Visiting Victoria - One of Canada’s Jewels

Tracey Kleber at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia
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Many people who visit Victoria only visit beautiful Butchart Gardens, located a half hour from the city, and never make it to central Victoria. Although the Gardens are amazing and a highlight of a trip to Canada, they are not the only Jewel in the region. Sit back and get set for my whirlwind taste of Victoria that left me wanting more.
 
Upon arrival at the Victoria airport on Vancouver Island, I was met by my driver from LA Limousine. Yes, I was spoiled and didn’t have to taxi or shuttle to town. LA Limousine has a new fleet of Mercedes, Lincoln and Lexus sedans and mini buses. My friendly driver was kind to wait for me since I had a lost bag and was last getting through customs.
 
I arrived at the iconic Empress Hotel, now owned by Fairmont. It is a beautifully renovated historic landmark that sits on the Inner Harbor surrounded by restaurants, harbor cruises, water taxis and shops. My room had a bay view that couldn’t be beat and a mattress I wanted to take home.
 
My adventure began the next morning when Daria from Tourism Victoria met our group. After breakfast, we walked along the waterfront to our bicycle tour offered by “The Pedaler”. Our tour is called “Castles, Hoods and Legends”. As we biked through many neighborhoods, including Canada’s oldest Chinatown, we stopped at various points of interest learning the history of the area, stopped at Craigdarroch Castle, viewed the Queen’s residence and cruised the beautiful coastline. We covered 8 miles in this 2-hour tour.
 
After a delicious lunch of crab cakes at the Steamship Grill and Bar on the Inner Harbor, we boarded our LA Limousine minibus to travel 30 minutes out of town. Church and State Winery is located very close to Butchart Gardens and is known for their Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grown onsite. It has a nice view of the vineyards looking across 25 acres of rolling hills. After tasting numerous wines, we continued to the famous Butchart Gardens. Canada's wines have come a long way.
 
Butchart Gardens is open year-round and covers 55 acres of amazing flowers and lush green plants with water features and streams. During the winter, they offer an indoor garden. We had the privilege to be invited to a hosted salmon dinner in the main house.
 
Day 3 and it’s off to an early start. After breakfast we made our way to the Harbour Air Terminal located in the center of Victoria down the street from the Empress Hotel. I found that this is a very affordable flight option from Seattle or Vancouver that lands sea planes right in the center of town, avoiding the 45-minute drive from the main airport. Harbour Air not only offers regularly scheduled flights to all parts of Vancouver Island, Whistler and Vancouver, but also offers charters and sightseeing packages.
 
After departing the Harbour Air Terminal, it is a short walk over to the Royal BC Museum. We are lucky today because the Egypt Exhibit is here until December. This museum also has permanent exhibits of the Natural History Gallery, First Peoples Gallery and Becoming BC, featuring a full-sized model of a Woolly Mammoth.
 
We worked up an appetite for lunch and headed to the Blue Crab Seafood House for some fresh seafood. This is one of the best restaurants on the water front.
 
It’s now 2pm and time to embark upon our Whale Watching trip aboard the Orca Spirit. Their boat was perfect for September weather because it had an open air sitting area on top with an enclosed cabin below. We were warned ahead of time to dress warmly. It’s so nice to be out on the open ocean on a sunny day. We spent 3 hours viewing the magnificent Humpback and Orca Whales. The company boasts of having a guaranteed whale sighting.
 
Our short visit was about to conclude but not before taking us to spend 1 night at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. This 80-year-old restored hotel is now a luxurious boutique hotel on the waterfront located in the Oak Bay neighborhood, approximately 6km from the center of Victoria. They have a Boathouse Spa and mineral bath that is at the water’s edge, complete with treatment rooms and spa facilities. My only wish was to spend more nights at this property. I guess that means a return trip someday.