Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Whenever I visit Victoria I always leave impressed with something new I’ve discovered. For a small city, such an ability to consistently marvel is no easy feat. On my most recent stay, I became acquainted with two excellent new restaurants and one of the finer hotels I’ve visited in western Canada.
The Inn at Laurel Point is on the waters of James Bay that leads into Victoria’s famed inner harbour. A lovely walkway meanders through a green space that skirts along the water and brings travellers into the city and its main attractions. Although it is west of downtown Victoria, the walk from the Inn at Laurel Point to sights such as the Royal B.C. Museum, Fairmont Empress, and shops of Government Street is only about 10 minutes. It’s just enough distance to make the hotel seem like a resort separated from the throngs of visitors that hit the city during its peak tourist season. For guests who want to explore the emerging fisherman’s wharf area, known for its fish and chips shops and charter tour boat operators, the inn is a convenient choice — and an affordable one as room rates often start at $139 per night. The inn will likely become more attractive should the Victoria Clipper ferry service — whose ships dock steps away from the hotel — implement its expansion plans to bring foot passengers between Victoria and downtown Vancouver starting this summer.
While location is one draw for the inn, what compels me to recommend it for your next visit is the immaculate views and sensational rooms. Arthur Erickson designed one wing of the hotel and the acclaimed architect’s touches are noticeable in the open-concept space full of floor-to-ceiling windows that allow lots of light into the rooms and common areas. The room I stayed in looked onto the inner harbour without the obstructions of buildings or cranes, or the distraction of noisy traffic. For a city stay, such an oasis adds an extra touch of pleasantness.
So too does the nearby fleet of ocean yachts that take sightseers out to the waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Salish Sea in search of whales and other sea life. The yachts offer a warm and comfortable cruise, which would be particularly attractive to tourists who are intimidated by the Zodiac boats that zip around the water aiming to take their passengers thrillingly close to the orcas who navigate through the Pacific coast. Orca Spirit Adventures provided a relaxing three-hour cruise that also had plenty of excitement when whales were spotted. It also gave voyagers the opportunity to take in the attractiveness of the coastal mountains and to converse with each other with ease. That’s not something you can usually do in a Zodiac.
If you want to get as close as possible to the orcas and don’t mind a bumpy, water-splashed ride, opt for a Zodiac tour with either Orca Spirit or Prince of Whales. But if you prefer a smoother sail, then Orca Spirit yacht rides are an excellent choice.
Dining Highlights in Victoria
After a few hours on the water, you’ll be looking forward to dinner at one of Victoria’s eateries. Among the newcomers is Olo, run by Brad Holmes, a talented chef determined to deliver a culinary experience that appeals to Victoria’s resident connoisseurs. Holmes rebranded Olo last fall, creating fare that was more accessible and less modernist.
Olo’s predecessor, Ulla, was a wonderful restaurant that showcased Holmes’s ability with molecular gastronomy and modern techniques. It proved too contemporary for Victoria’s tastes and Holmes restarted with more accessible dishes and comfort foods. Holmes said his sales doubled within a few weeks of its launch last fall.
A significant feature of Olo’s menu is the five-course family meals, including vegetarian or vegan choices that celebrate Vancouver Island’s farms and forests ($45 per person) and a “kitchen menu” ($55) where the staff present dishes based on their inspiration and special ingredients available that day. A la carte options include a delicious flatiron steak ($28) served with onion rings.
The favourite new restaurant I tried was Fish Hook, owned and operated by Kunal Ghose, whose Red Fish, Blue Fish is a wildly popular fish and chips shop on the shore of the Inner Harbour. Fish Hook presents affordable Indian-influenced dishes that are expertly prepared and served in a tiny space that seats about 20. Fish curries, a staple of Bengal, are often difficult to execute because Indian spices can overwhelm the delicate texture and mild flavour of the fish. Ghose’s creations, though, work. The spices blend in and don’t overpower the fish. There are also biryani, kebabs and koftas on offer. Dishes are less than $20.
With Olo and Fish Hook, Victoria’s dining options continues to evolve beyond the strong brunch and gastropub scenes it already enjoys. I can’t wait to find out what new delights the BC capital has in place when I next visit.
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Where to Stay: Inn at Laurel Point: Address: 680 Montreal St, Victoria, BC (see map below); Telephone: 1-250-386-8721; Room Rates: Nightly rates for the coming month start at about $139; Website: laurelpoint.com
Orca Spirit Adventures: Address: 146 Kingston Street and 950 Wharf Street, Victoria; Telephone: 1-877-815-7255 (toll free); Whale-watching Rates: $105 for adults. Website: orcaspirit.com
More Info: Visit Tourism Victoria’s website for help in planning your trip.