Story by Karen Evenden
REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN — When reviewing destinations for a romantic weekend, I have to admit Regina would not usually come to mind — but this was no ordinary weekend away.
In fact, Regina was a convenient (almost) half-way point between my home in Alberta and my beau’s residence in North Dakota.
Regina was a destination new to both of us, and quite frankly sightseeing was not necessarily on the top of our list, but with both of us being optimistic and romantic by nature, we were determined to uncover Regina’s romantic side.
So it was, after an eight-hour drive, that my beau and I checked into the Radisson Plaza Hotel Saskatchewan in downtown Regina. Our reasoning was that if we were going to spend three nights reconnecting then why not stay in luxury and really enjoy the occasion.
Our expectations were instantly met on arriving into the extravagantly decorated lobby. The Hotel Saskatchewan was built in 1927 at a cost of $1.2 million by the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) national chain. Designated a Municipal Heritage Property in 1993, the hotel is a luxurious, majestic sight in the city.
When we entered our room, the Dorchester Suite, we were suitably impressed. The romantic weekend in Regina was off to a great start, and the mood was helped by the sparkling wine and candles we brought along.
This is where a romantic novel would leave the rest to your imagination; sorry to disappoint, but after an 800-kilometre drive, food was fairly high on our priority list. Romantics we may be, but we are also hungry explorers so we decided to investigate the offerings close by.
Regina a Meeting Spot for Romance
Victoria Park, directly opposite the hotel, is bordered by an attractive block of buildings to the east that looked promising. It was a beautiful, crisp, clear evening and hunger aside, we decided to stroll, soaking in the peaceful, snow-covered city scene this past winter.
It was a few blocks later, almost full circle, that a delicious aroma reminded us that we had a mission in mind.
A sandwich board on the sidewalk informed us that the scent was coming from Siam Authentic Thai Restaurant, a small, bustling place with a very enticing menu.
There’s nothing like a really great meal to set the scene for an enjoyable trip and fortunately Siam lived up to its tantalizing fragrance. We eagerly consumed vegetable spring rolls ($2.95 each), Panaeng Curry Beef ($10.95) and Lemongrass Chicken ($10.45), complemented with steamed rice. As my beau rightly commented between mouthfuls “you can always tell a great Thai restaurant by the quality of their rice.”
It was sometime later when we strolled, leftover boxes in hand (it was too good to leave behind), back through the well-lit pathway of Victoria Park. The grand vision of the Hotel Saskatchewan appeared through a frame of trees decorated with snow. It was not difficult to find the romance in the evening.
As the next morning arose, we managed to leave one of the most comfortable king beds I’ve ever slept in and went to explore the city. On a sunny Friday morning, wandering around the downtown core, Regina felt like a town rather than a city (a town with skyscrapers, that is) and the downtown core had a quiet, lazy atmosphere.
It was a cold day but the sun shone consistently; Regina has the title of the sunniest city in Canada. The bright rays enticed us to walk farther afield and we explored the suburban streets south of downtown. A short time later we came across a collection of handsome buildings, the University of Regina. The university dates to 1911 when it was a small residential high school that was run by the Methodist Church. Now, it boasts more than 14,000 full- and part-time students and is a lead institution in the field of environmental research. The university was quiet and we assumed it was a holiday of some kind. Undeterred, my beau, a teacher, was fascinated by the building and we spent a blissful half hour wandering the corridors.
After all of this exploration, we decided we needed an education in rest and relaxation. I took advantage of the Essence Spa at the hotel and booked a surprise massage for us both. Opting away from the Couples Private Lesson treatment (with a half hour massage), I booked the “Essence Big O Massage” ($220 per couple). After all, we both had busy schedules and a full 60-minute treatment seemed vital. The spa itself was delightful and our foot rubs and body treatments took place in adjoining rooms with open screen doors between the two.
Hidden Restaurant Gem in Regina
After such a perfectly relaxing day it was with some effort we finally decided on a restaurant to visit that evening. La Bodega Tapas Bar & Grill had a delicious looking menu on its website.
The name La Bodega Tapas Bar & Grill is slightly misleading, as it is actually more of a house. A large, funky, old, unique house for sure, but as we were seated at a small table for two in what seemed to be the large living room, there was a busy, homey ambience. La Bodega does have a three-level patio that would probably deliver a different atmosphere in the summer, but for a cold, snowy evening in March, this was perfect.
Happily the food more than lived up to the environment. After a cold tapas appetizer ($16) of feta cheese, olives and chorizo sausage, my filet mignon with red wine demi-glace ($18.75) was cooked perfectly and my companion struggled through half of one of the largest, cheese-laden pizzas ($17.25) we had ever seen. The only possible way to improve on the meal would have been an exceptional beer. Turns out, PW (Paddock Wood) Red Hammer Ale did the job flawlessly.
After such a grand meal, our cozy king-size bed in our luxurious retreat beckoned.
When staying at a sumptuous hotel on a romantic weekend, a suitably sumptuous breakfast has to be on the agenda. The next morning led us to the Hotel Saskatchewan dining room where an impressive buffet brunch was displayed. For $22 per person, the buffet offers a variety of breakfast and lunch goodies including pastries, bacon, sausages, eggs, seafood, desserts, fruit, roast beef and roasted potatoes. A smiling, eager omelette chef expertly prepared our first course and needless to say our breakfast was a 90-minute magnificent event rather than a quick meal.
Post-breakfast, it was time to explore a little more.
Regina dates to late 1800s and there are a number of buildings that reflect those early days. There is a slight regal air about Regina, perhaps one of the reasons it has kept its nickname of the “Queen City,” which is certainly a more fitting name than “Pile of Bones” as it was originally named by First Nations hunters.
The name Regina is the Latin word for Queen and the city was named after Queen Victoria, and began as a small agricultural community. It was only when the railroad arrived in 1882 that immigrants from the United States and Europe started to arrive. With rapid growth, Regina became the capital city of the Northwest Territories and the home of the North West Mounted Police. (The Royal Canadian Mounted Police still call Regina home.)
In 1905, when Saskatchewan was designated a separate province, Regina became its capital city. In 1908, construction of the city’s Legislature Building began and this is where our exploration took us next.
Home of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, the provincial parliament is a designated National Historic Site of Canada and offers an impressive sight to visitors. The building, constructed between 1908 and 1912 is located at Wascana Centre, which at 2,300 acres is one of North America’s largest urban parks. Undoubtedly a bustling area in the summer, on a cold, sunny March day the park was a haven for dog walkers, ice skaters and snowshoers. The park’s lake, Wascana Lake, underwent an $18-million makeover project in 2004 to deepen, dredge and clean the waters, making it a desirable attraction for visitors year round.
Later, we decided to discover more of the city by car and visit hidden areas that we wouldn’t have time to reach by foot. The core industry of Regina and area remains farming, although oil, telecommunications, and steel pipe production as well as other technologies are becoming prominent. As we drove, it became evident that the city has an air of relative wealth and many of the houses are large, smart and well-maintained. Of course, as with any city, there are areas where poverty is evident, but with some of the most affordable housing in North America in a province that is doing very well economically, Regina seems to have avoided the recent recession.
After a busy day, we later decided to conclude our romantic weekend with a martini, next to the fireplace in the hotel lounge — a very fitting way to end a romantic weekend.
During our stay in Regina we experienced a city that is proud, unique, regal and resilient; a queen city by name and nature. It is also, I am happy to say, appropriate to add romantic to the list too.
More About Hotel Saskatchewan
Location: 2125 Victoria Avenue, Regina, SK
Nightly Rates: A search for rooms on a weekend at the end of April showed a rate of $152 per night, if booked online directly through the hotel’s website.