I’ve often written about taking time out for yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes to meditate in the morning. Anything to reset and recharge; it really helps to improve your mental and emotional well-being. When I do go away, it’s often to some of my favourite places that are a short distance away - Whistler, the Okanagan wine country, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, for instance. What I’ve often forgotten is that there is another location so close to home: Victoria. In fact, it’s so close that I often take it for granted and have been doing so for nearly 20 years. Yes, I can’t believe it had been that long since I had been back.
On top of that, Keith had never been to Victoria so that made it a perfect destination for a quick romantic getaway without kids in tow. Thanks to BC Ferries, we took the scenic route which gave Keith a wonderful perspective by water of the surroundings in and around the Georgia Straight. We also upgraded into the SeaWest Lounge on board our ferry - similar to an airport lounge - where you can sit comfortably in very large armchairs all the while munching on refreshments (various cheese, crackers, muffins, pastries and other snacks) and non-alcoholic beverages all included in the upgrade price ($12 per person). The bonus? The lounge is incredibly quiet - with noise rules in effect - so you can truly catch up on work or simply enjoy a book in peace.
CHECKING IN TO THE MAGNOLIA HOTEL
Once we arrived in Victoria, we checked into The Magnolia Hotel, located one block from the picturesque Inner Harbour of downtown Victoria. I had heard so much about this hotel from other guests who raved about it that I was highly anticipating an enjoyable stay and it exceeded my expectations. Rated #2 in the Condé Nast Traveler 2016 Reader’s Choice Awards and #7 in the Travel + Leisure World Best Awards 2016 as the Top Hotel in Canada, it was exactly where we wanted to stay while in Victoria. Its super central location near some of the city’s best restaurants, shops and entertainment also made it a very attractive choice.
We checked into our Diamond Harbour View Room on the 7th floor and the views were nothing short of spectacular. Welcomed with a bottle of prosecco and a bubble bath set (yes, that’s a whisk to enhance the bubbles - it works!), The Magnolia Hotel immediately made me feel at home. Our room was also equipped with the newest Nespresso Vertuo machine (plus cream and milk in the fridge) so we could have sips of espresso in the most civilized manner (pinkies up!).
What I loved the most about our room were the very tall ceilings and millwork detailing in the ceilings and window frames. The furniture was very tasteful and elegant in hues of silver, dove grey and dark woods - furniture I would have in my own house. Not overly feminine but refined and calming. Luxury L’Occitane toiletries were provided - while the bubble bath was made by Saltspring Soap Company in a strawberry rhubarb that smelled so amazing that I wanted to eat it. No joke. And after the tub, there was nothing like sinking deep into their robes - likely the most comfortable hotel robes I’ve ever tried with their inner fleece lining. I’m not the only one to feel this way - a number of friends who stayed there raved about the robes and so I was already tipped off about them; and they were every bit as comfortable as I’d imagine.
We decided to take our relaxation one step further and booked ourselves into The Spa Magnolia. Located on the ground floor of the hotel, it's actually a sizeable facility that boasts a number of treatment rooms plus a retail space where some of the most luxurious spa products used in the treatments are available for purchase. I treated Keith to a Spa Magnolia Signature Treatment, a great way to sample some of the spa's amazing treatments. He started with an invigorating body scrub and hydrotherapy tub session followed by a deep cleansing facial and relaxation massage. He rolled out of there like butter and with a big smile on his face; nothing made me happier to see that. I treated myself to a Detoxifying Glycol Facial, with certified organic Gardenia plant stem cells that stimulate collagen, boost firmness and radiance, plus glycolic acid derived from sugar cane. An hour later, I had fresher, younger-looking skin; I was seriously glowing! I highly recommend this treatment. I wasn't sure initially how my sensitive skin would take the glycolic acid but it was mild enough that I was totally fine.
EATING AT CATALANO RESTAURANT & CICCHETTI BAR
As part of our stay, we were able to take advantage of the hot breakfasts at the Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar, also located in The Magnolia Hotel. You can select among a variety of breakfast staples, from two eggs done any way to a custom made omelet. I found them to be pretty accommodating with special dietary restrictions as Keith is following a strict ketogenic diet. The service from the staff was warm and welcoming, the food arrived piping hot and delicious. And a bonus in the evening - you can easily grab a glass of champagne or cocktail at the bar for a nightcap.
RIDING BIKES WITH MAGNOLIA
One great way to see Victoria is by bicycle and the hotel lent us Norco bikes for the day to explore the surrounding area. I hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly 10 years - yes there were a few milestones on this trip! But like they say, riding a bike is just like er… riding a bike. You don’t forget. So although I started off a little wobbly, I soon got the hang of it and we were off riding along the Inner Harbour right on the street. What I had forgotten in all this time of not riding bikes was that it’s a great mode of transportation - as long as there aren’t that many hills. I admit to struggling on one of the hills as we were riding back to the hotel from a short visit to St. Ann’s School - the predecessor to my high school in Vancouver, Little Flower Academy. Other than that, riding a bike is a lot simpler than driving a car, especially in Victoria. You don’t have to fight with traffic nor worry about finding parking. In fact, I liked it so much I’m considering purchasing my own bike at some point this summer!
On our bikes, we also visited the Ogden Point Breakwater, completed in 1917. It's a very popular walk that gives people an opportunity to see Victoria's busy harbour traffic as cruise ships, ferries, sailboats, float planes, helicopters and more all pass through the area to reach Victoria. Wildlife is also commonly spotted along the Breakwater, from seagulls to seals hanging around as fishermen cast their lines from the edges of the Breakwater. We saw a number of fishermen during our visit. This was one of the landmarks that I really wanted to revisit. There’s something so calming about walking the path all the way out to the lighthouse, while surrounded on both sides by water. I would have stayed much longer out there had it not been quite chilly; the weather while we were there was schizophrenic to put it mildly. Nonetheless, I got some great pictures and the delight of smelling the salty ocean air was all worth it.
All in all, Keith and I had a wonderful two nights in Victoria - and huge thanks to The Magnolia Hotel, who made my return to The Garden City quite a memorable one.