It was our anniversary, so I decided to surprise my wife, Allyson, with a few days in Victoria. She loves the historic buildings, pretty harbour and wide array of cafés, brew pubs and art galleries. As we pulled up at the Magnolia Hotel, I could tell by Allyson's wide smile that I had done right. It was an easy choice as the Magnolia is a boutique hotel, located only minutes from the Inner Harbour and all of the action. Perhaps I was also influenced by Condé Nast Magazine naming it "one of the Top 30 Hotels in Canada," for the third consecutive time. As we were to discover over the next two days, Magnolia is indeed one of Victoria's best.
Entering the lobby, we suddenly found ourselves in a European hotel with stylish sophistication and old world elegance. Spread out before us were a twenty-foot-high ceiling, rich wood panelling, comfortable furniture ... and a grand piano! A fire crackled in the fireplace.
The check-in went smoothly and quickly we found ourselves at our door on the top (7th) floor. Allyson's eyes opened wide as she stepped into the spacious room decorated in rich style with bold blue tones and accents and featuring a natural-gas fireplace. Her eyes grew even wider as she looked out the window at the prettiest little harbour in the world, bustling with boats and the hills behind already taking on late afternoon tinges of mauve.
We unpacked and relaxed over coffee. Allyson loved the room so much it took some time to convince her to venture forth to sample the cultural life of Victoria. With the help of the concierge we discovered Magnolia is in the historic heart of the city and almost everything is within walking distance. We strolled to one of the most attractive harbours in the world. What makes it so delightful is its snug size; everything is compressed into perfect proportions. The area was alive with buskers, hawkers selling souvenirs and people simply ambling along enjoying the salt air. The harbour is flanked on the east by the old dowager, the Empress Hotel, with its gracious lawns and ivy-covered walls; here you can enjoy the ageless British custom of afternoon tea. On the south side of the inner harbour sits the elegant provincial legislative building with its grey granite walls rising to a domed roof on which balances a golden figure of Captain George Vancouver.
As evening fell we sipped a glass of wine at an outdoor café and watched the spires of yachts silhouetted against the reds and oranges of the western horizon. Now and then a floatplane droned in for a landing, its wingtips reflecting the soft orange light of the setting sun.
On returning, I spoke with Bill Lewis, the general manager. He explained Magnolia is not a chain hotel. "We make the decisions right here, and
don't need approval from a distant head office." Indeed, during our entire stay it felt like a family-run establishment with attention to detail, and staff that cared about the guests. Lewis was proud of his hotel's efforts to leave a small environmental footprint. "Every room has a recycle bin and compact fluorescent lighting," he said, "and we have achieved four Green Keys and are working toward five." He was referring to a hotel Eco-Rating Program in which five keys is the maximum.
We toured through the Zen-like treatment rooms in the Spa Magnolia, which has just recently been expanded in size, thanks to its popularity. Allyson stayed behind, eager to try the Caribbean Therapy body scrub.
That evening, we visited the Prime Steakhouse. Set on two levels, the restaurant specializes in steaks and further ages the beef to produce succulent cuts. The sesame-encrusted tuna with wasabi mustard and soy ginger is also a favourite, we discovered.
Next morning, Allyson slipped into a bathrobe so thick and plush it felt like a polar-bear skin. With a come-hither look she said, "Next time we must try the couples massage." The package, one of several the Spa Magnolia offers, also includes a chocolate fondue. We are eager to return and pamper ourselves again.
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is the environment columnist for the Vancouver sun.
If you go
Website: www.magnoliahotel.com ; 623 Courtney Street; Phone: 1-877 624-6654
Downtown heritage churches & synagogues: http://www.heritagevictoria.org/churches.html
Fiction books set in Victoria: http://www.vibrantvictoria.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=3519