Victoria and Vancouver Island

By Wendy VanHatten

Ninety minutes after you leave the city of Vancouver, your ferry docks at Victoria on Vancouver Island. You have no idea how it happened, but you’d swear you weren’t even in the same country.

The city of Vancouver and its bustling seaport and thriving art and music scenes is home to umpteen film shoots. Thus, its nickname of Hollywood North. But, once you land on Vancouver Island…forget about all that.

Small water taxis shuttle people from pier to pier. This island destination is where you can go to escape, hob nob with the Queen, or drink wine.

We spent five days on the island in May. Perfect time to go if you want to avoid the tourist season. With the mild climate here, there really isn’t a bad time. In fact, it’s the perfect summer getaway trip to plan now.

Want to immerse yourself in the British tradition of afternoon tea? Head to the Fairmont Empress. Don’t worry. You can’t miss this hotel. Trust me, you don’t want to miss the tea. But, if you don’t want to do tea…be sure to take time to explore this grand old hotel. Wander out to the croquet court and watch some competitive action. You’d think all the men were vying for a spot on an Olympic team…

This is an easy city to walk and Victoria is steeped in history on every street. In the days of the Caribou Gold Rush in the 1860s, Victoria was a staging point for miners heading north. During its seedier times, it was also the home to illegal opium trade.

Want to see the narrowest street in Canada? Fan Tan Alley is truly a narrow street with exposed brick walls, Chinese lanterns, metaphysical shops, and pricy jewelry. Watch your elbows. Chinese Street Lights signal the gateway to Victoria’s Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Canada.

Did you know Victoria is the capital of British Columbia? Impressive blue domed, stone Parliament buildings sit overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour. We discovered these buildings are open to the public, with free guided tours. Our guide gave us a great lesson about British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly and we were able to wander around. Guess what? The Queen even visits from time to time! She wasn’t there when we were, but a free concert was in full swing on the front lawn.

There’s no shortage of history, buildings, and notable figures anywhere throughout the island.

When you’re finished looking around town, a trip to Vancouver Island wouldn’t be complete with a visit to the Butchart Gardens. Over 100 years ago the family of Robert Pim Butchart and his wife Jennie turned their depleted limestone quarry into a garden. Not just any garden, however. There’s the Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, and bulb gardens complete with concert areas, fireworks shows, Magic of Christmas shows, and a skating rink. The gardens are open daily, year round from 9 am to 10 pm.

With 55 acres of internationally acclaimed gardens and a National Historic Site of Canada, something is blooming all year round. When we were there, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths exploded with colors and smells. Roses take over in summer. No wonder it takes 50…yes 50…full time gardeners, 12 part-time gardeners and 550 staff to keep this place in tip-top shape. Did I mention it’s impressive?

Take another day and head into wine country. Yes, wine country. More than two dozen wineries complement the farms, breweries, cideries, and vibrant dining scenes of the countryside. Lush, green valleys back up to the forests and mountains. It’s a more laid-back approach to growing grapes and tasting wines than in other places. Often, we were the only people relaxing on the terraces or sitting at the bistros tasting award-winning wines. There are four scenic wine regions here in the “wine islands”…Cowichan Valley, Saanich Peninsula, Gulf Islands, Comox Valley.

Head back into Victoria for an evening of exciting night life or quiet time watching the sun set over the water. There’s a craft cocktail and beer scene plus your pick of fabulous restaurants. Hospitality and good times close out your stay on the island.

Victoria likes to celebrate…enjoy!

If You Go: You can fly directly into Victoria, take a ferry from Vancouver, or take a ferry from Port Angeles, Washington.