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Kid-free Nights, Curated Bike Trails are Part of the Appeal in Victoria

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Victoria is one of the best cities in Canada for cycling and the Magnolia Hotel makes the activity even more enjoyable for guests with curated trails and the use of the property’s bikes. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Hotel & Spa)

As soon as you check into Magnolia Hotel & Spa, you’re presented with creative ways to get out of your downtown Victoria room. For a moment, you might be like, “I’ve just arrived and they want me to leave?” The experience of a hotel stay is much more than what you do within its walls, however, and the Magnolia — regarded by experts as one of the best boutique hotels in Canada — has designed a way to make stays at the 64-room property more memorable.

The Magnolia’s library of Curated Trails are walking, cycling, and running maps themed around things to see and participate in around Victoria. With small-group outdoor activities getting the thumbs-up as a reduced COVID-19 risk, the maps do double duty. In Phase 3 of the provincial restart plan, residents are being encouraged to explore again in smart and safe ways. You may even ask yourself, Who needs an airport to have a getaway?

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Guests at the Magnolia Hotel explore Victoria through maps curated by the boutique property’s staff. (Photo courtesy of the Magnolia Hotel & Spa)

Magnolia does its part to help people familiar with Victoria reconnect with it in novel ways. Themes of its curated trails range from haunted Victoria and the local tea scene to adventure activities and top romantic spots. There’s boutique shopping and food-themed options as well. Guests can use one of the hotel’s Norco cruiser bikes to explore.

The guides are available as a two-sided card about the size of an iPad Mini and as a downloadable digital file for a handheld device.

The newest trail is done by car. The food-focused Bountiful Peninsula route stops at several farm markets, along with Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, Howl Brewing, and Rathjen Cellars winery, all in nearby Central and North Saanich.

Once back at the hotel, Magnolia does what it does best: provide a comfortable and immaculate stay. Snuggled down in a king-sized bed in a fluffy robe with a colourful sunset view framing the BC Legislature’s nightly illumination, my overnight visit was an indulgent, relaxing and safe staycation. I felt like I’d travelled a lot farther than a few kilometres from my front door.

(With the global pandemic, as with all other hotels in the city, the Magnolia is following WorkSafeBC and sanitizing protocols to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.)

Hannah Arthurs, Magnolia’s marketing coordinator, says the hotel is seeing locals enjoying a kid-free night, or looking for a break from routine. Road-trippers from the mainland are making their way, too.

Arthurs spent the early days of lockdown making the Saaanich route and updating other maps, a process that’s ongoing to reflect the latest information on which businesses are open.

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Magnolia Hotel & Spa has earned its reputation through outstanding service and beautifully appointed accommodations. (Photo courtesy of the Magnolia Hotel & Spa)

As with all hotels in Victoria, the Magnolia has plexi-glass barriers at the front desk and bottles of hand sanitizer in public areas. Hotel and dining room staff wear masks. Arrows on the floor direct traffic around the wood-panelled lobby and reception area. Contact is limited and it feels easy to avoid others in a small hotel. The spa is open to BC residents only.

“You want to get away and still feel safe,” Arthurs said.

The white linen is gone from tables in the award-winning The Courtney Room dining room, replaced with gold placemats that can be easily cleaned. There’s a new sidewalk patio for outdoor drinks and dining off the entrance. Inside, there are fewer tables in the second-floor main dining room and the main-level brasserie and bar. The menu is pared down, although the outstanding five-course chef’s tasting menu is still served.

Turndown service is suspended in the rooms due to COVID, but I still got my chocolate fix. There was a small plate in my room with pocket-size hand sanitizer, a sanitizing cloth to go over touch points, and two foil-wrapped chocolates.

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Arthurs said the Magnolia built its reputation on service, like dog treats for a canine companion, or a bottle of Unsworth Vineyards Charme de L’Ile in the room to mark an anniversary. That evening in The Courtney Room, the chef’s tasting menu was a creative show of Vancouver Island bounty, including tender scallop crudo, excellent duck breast and halibut with a spectacular sauce made from fragrant pineapple weed harvested by The Courtney Room’s forager.

Chef Brian Tesolin served a few of the courses, explaining from behind his mask that the delectable truffle mousse-stuffed housemade pasta on my plate that resembled pieces of paper-wrapped toffee with twisted ends is called caramelle (candies) in Italian.

A choice of continental or protein-themed breakfast plate is included with a night’s stay. I had mine in my room, cozy and wrapped up in my robe by the gas fireplace, but I could have chosen to dine in The Courtney Room.

Like many hotels in Victoria, the Magnolia is offering guests booking a two-night stay a $75 VISA gift card, sponsored by Destination Greater Victoria. The hotel also has specials and packages. See the website for details.

Other Victoria Hotels to Choose

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The Fairmont Empress Hotel has adapted to the challenges of 2020 by adjusting the schedules for its famed tea service. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

All Victoria hotels are following WorkSafe BC and COVID-19 cleaning protocols to ensure guest safety. Check individual websites for details, as well as promotions and special rates for BC residents.

Some establishments have some extra touches worth noting to help add some pizzazz to your safe stay.

The Parkside Hotel & Spa: The all-suite downtown Victoria hotel has kitchenettes for guests who prefer to stay in their rooms to eat. Truffles Catering provides a stock-your-pantry service, including heat-and-eat meals that can be delivered to guest rooms.

Want fresh air? All rooms have balconies and guests can rent a portable barbecue. That’s been a popular option, says Parkside marketing manager Katie Clarke. So is the hotel’s rooftop, where guests can rent the rooftop garden fire pit for an hour for a private marshmallow roast — marshmallows from Tout De Sweet in Victoria, paper plates, skewers, wet wipes, and a sanitized are blanket included. The hotel’s private theatre can also be rented for three hours by up to six guests to screen a movie — popcorn included.

The hotel also has free bikes and electric scooters that can be rented for $20.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel: You don’t have to be a guest to indulge in The Fairmont Empress Hotel’s famed afternoon tea. It’s served in the Lobby Lounge on weekends at 11 am and 1 pm. Some tables have been removed for distancing and staff wear masks and gloves. Or order afternoon tea to go and eat outside, perhaps at nearby Beacon Hill Park. Lunch on the Lawn picnics can be ordered on Saturdays to enjoy overlooking the Inner Harbour.

Hotel guests can get outside with a luxury BMW bike for the duration of their stay.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel: This boutique hotel in Victoria’s quiet Oak Bay neighbourhood has in-room kitchenettes. The heated outdoor mineral pools are open with limited capacity for overnight hotel guests, as well as Boathouse Spa clients.

The Inn at Laurel Point: Guests can pick up one of the hotel’s Summer Picnics on Saturday or Sunday to enjoy outside.

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Linda Barnard is a British Columbia-based travel writer who covers stories geared to energetic and experience-driven 45-plus travellers for Vacay.ca.