Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Many travellers might pass over Abigail’s Hotel — the delightful boutique property in British Columbia’s capital — simply because of its location.
The hotel is a 15-minute walk to the city’s heralded Inner Harbour. Properties such as the Fairmont Empress, Hotel Grand Pacific and Inn at Laurel Point, which all overlook the water, would appear to be more compelling options.
But Abigail’s is one of those spots that provides the type of unique experience travellers crave. Suited primarily for couples, the hotel is ideal for romantics. Located in a converted tudor mansion that was built in the 1930s, Abigail’s isn’t shy about its desire to help put you in the mood. The hotel, which bills itself on its bed-and-breakfast program, doesn’t allow children under 12 to stay. Its rooms are each unique, with features such as wood-burning fireplaces in 17 of its 23 rooms, Victorian decor and big, comfortable beds. It splendidly blends contemporary comforts with historic ambience.
The property was previously called the Bessborough Apartments, after Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, a British military leader who was the governor general of Canada from 1931-35. (Ponsonby was the ninth Earl of Bessborough, hence the name.) It featured massive apartments that took up entire floors. In 1985, those apartments were lovingly refitted into elegant suites and a coach house was added 13 years later.
What I found best of all at Abigail’s was its culinary program. The breakfasts were among the best I’ve had in Canada. Abigail’s chefs have worked or are currently working at notable Vancouver Island establishments such as Brasserie L’ecole, Sooke Harbour House, Camille’s and Butchart Gardens’ Dining Room. A German Apple Pancake was created as you might expect in Vienna, with a balance between savoury and sweet, and a strudel-like texture. There are also nightly treats for guests to enjoy and complimentary coffee and tea at all hours.
For those who are keen to learn about Victoria’s culture, the location is a plus. It is close to St. Ann’s Academy, a national historic site that was once home to the city’s first Catholic church. Although no longer operating as a church, its chapel remains open for anyone of any faith to visit.
A couple of blocks from the academy is the Royal BC Museum, a fascinating facility with more than 7 million pieces in its collection. Its First Nations exhibit is worth the visit alone — and its theatre is quite the bonus. The museum houses the largest IMAX screen (85-feet wide by 61-feet high) in the province. A terrific exhibit currently running until April 6 is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, a series co-owned by the National Museum of Great Britain and BBC Worldwide. The exhibit showcases award-winning images from a range of elite photographers from around the world.
Victoria is easy to walk through and I found Abigail’s was a fine change from being downtown. I’ve been to this wonderful city many times, however. A first-time visitor would likely still prefer being in a hotel that is closer to the main attractions. But if you’re the type of couple who likes to avoid the tourist crowds, enjoys walking and exploring beyond the usual, and wants a romantic escape, then this family-owned property should be at the top of your list of accommodations to consider.
Victoria, though, isn’t short on romantic appeal. Here are other hotels in Victoria that would please couples:
Magnolia Hotel & Spa (623 Courtenay Street): One of the finest boutique hotels in Canada, the Magnolia impresses in all the ways a property in this class should. Its tastefully decorated rooms were recently renovated. The furniture is graceful, with plush beds and big comfortable chairs, some of them with peek-a-boo views of the water. Room-darkening curtains and free, dependable WiFi add to a pleasant stay. Like Abigail’s, this 63-room hotel is not on the water, but it’s two blocks from the wharf and in a good location to access other attractions.
Fairmont Empress (721 Government Street): One of the Fairmont chains most desired properties, the Empress is the iconic hotel that draws all eyes to it. It dominates the view in the Inner Harbour and its afternoon tea service is reputedly one of the best in Canada. Who wouldn’t be tempted to stay here at least once?
Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe (100 Harbour Road): It’s been a few years since I stayed at this hotel that’s on the opposite side of the Inner Harbour from Victoria’s downtown. Its reputation hasn’t diminished any over the years. The Ocean Pointe feels like a resort property, complete with a well-regarded luxury spa and stunning views of the waters surrounding the city.
MORE ABOUT ABIGAIL’S HOTEL
Address: 906 McClure Street, Victoria, BC (see map below)
Nightly Room Rates: A recent search for a weekend night in March for a standard room returned a price of $189 per night (includes breakfast).