Victoria Keeps Things Interesting, From Horticulture to Chocolatiers
A visit to Victoria certainly offers an exceptional opportunity for afternoon tea, fine-china shopping and dining. The British Columbia capital, however, has much more to offer. Take its natural beauty, where a Beacon Hill Park jaunt starts along precise paths through perfectly manicured gardens and ascends into unkempt Finlayson Point, stretching toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca’s traditionally tumultuous waters. Wherever you look, Victoria will keep you guessing.
You don’t have to be an avid gardener to get into the floral spirit. Ornamental botanical splendor abounds in Victoria, which is blessed with mild, temperate weather through most of the year and just a quarter of Seattle’s annual rainfall. The world-famous Butchart Gardens are not to be missed, not only for its tours and seasonal events, but also for the sunken garden. Born of a former quarry, these plantings will inspire every potential gardener. Minutes away from Butchart, the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific may sound academic, but it is anything but. Home to Canada’s second-largest bonsai collection, this volunteer-run garden is a perfect side tour with a great lunch spot. And in Colwood, Hatley Castle and Park garden paths lead past a pond and into several plantings for free.
Since founding their city in Oak Bay, Victorians have remained obsessed with keeping it local, perhaps the result of Vancouver’s cultural shadow spreading far and wide from the mainland. Farmers markets and other local shopping opportunities are hard to miss. One of the latest national food trends is “bean-to- bar” chocolate, so it’s no surprise to find Sirene Chocolate here. Like other pioneers — Silk Road Teas, for one — learning the nuances of plant lore and production at the Sirene workshop is part of the delicious takeaway. With wonderfully fertile soil on the Saanich Peninsula and elsewhere across Vancouver Island, Victoria was known for market culture even before agri-fare could be found on low stalls in every neighborhood. Representing the nouvelle market is Thorn & Thistle, a flower shop on the surface that also peddles coffee and sundries among its curated curios. And the Kodo Collection, an artisan apothecary, translates rose tea purifying masks and body butters into natural beauty. Unlike their larger mainland brethren, Victoria’s chefs can afford to craft their creations in intimate environments. Celebrated chef Robert Cassels built a French-inspired menu that features rabbit spring rolls and duck benny. Cassels’ 30-seat restaurant, Saveur (in a historic boot factory), swept local fine dining, brunch and restaurant of the year awards. Leave some room for Castro Boateng, who won chef of the year. Boateng’s restaurant, House of Boateng, blends West African tastes with island provender to present harissa chicken crepe and an African bowl of jollof rice, chicken sausages, smoked shrimp and chili aioli. For a taste of Victoria’s seafood scene, step into chef Sam Harris’ Boom + Batten restaurant and café and try the crab mafaldine: Cowichan pasta with humpback shrimp and Dungeness crab in a bisque sauce with local spices.
The 34-mile Galloping Goose Trail (GGT) from Victoria to Sooke gets all the glory. But cycling some of the Seaside Touring Route, which includes a GGT section, conveys you through Beacon Hill Park and straight into thriving Oak Bay, where you can pick up a picnic lunch at Ottavio Delicatessen.
Then it’s onward to Mount Douglas Park for a little old-growth forest bathing within the city limits. There may be no finer urban landing in North America than descending just outside the Inner Harbour, where you can rent a kayak or book a paddle tour. You don’t have to brave the strait; the Gorge Waterway also provides a lovely environment to spend two or three hours.
–Written by Crai Bower