The starting point for most visits to Vancouver Island, just off the coast of provincial British Columbia, is Victoria, the island's main city and the capital of BC. Framed by an attractive inner harbour ringed by grand buildings such as the Provincial Legislative Museum and the Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria (see below) claims to have shrugged off a reputation for tweeness, but remains a living testament to Canada's historic ties to Britain which compete with the nation's French heritage duality. See hellobc.com.au
A 22-hectare, meticulously maintained horticultural showpiece created in the early 20th century in and around the site of a former quarry, Butchart Gardens remains one of Victoria's premier attractions. An easy 20-kilometre drive north of the city, there are multiple gardens within the overall site to explore and admire. In true Victorian style, combine a visit to the gardens with an English-style afternoon tea at the Dining Room restaurant in the former residence of the eponymous Butcharts, the cement empire founders of the gardens. See butchartgardens.com
A fine and worthy way of shaking off a bout of jetlag, if you've just arrived from Australia, is to take to two wheels and suck in some fresh Victoria air and history. The Pedaler's enjoyable and informative Castles, Hoods & Legends two-hour bike tour explores Victoria's historic and picturesque neighbourhoods beyond the compact downtown. Along the way, with the route neatly avoiding challenging hills, you'll pass through the city's tiny Chinatown with its famously narrow Fan Tan Alley, Beacon Hill Park, the world's (second) tallest Indigenous totem pole and Craigdarroch Castle, an eccentric Victorian-era baronial mansion. See thepedaler.ca
Victoria is connected to Vancouver (and Seattle, for that matter, which is as close to Victoria as Vancouver is) by regular ferry services. But the speedy 15-minute flight from Vancouver International Airport – one of the world's shortest between two major cities – provides an even more scenic sense of the city's sublime maritime location on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The flight over the island-studded Haro Strait provides some stunning scenery, especially from a window seat vantage point.
There's no shortage of restaurants in Victoria but it's difficult to overlook The Empress, especially with its newly opened "Q" restaurant and bar specialising in the local Pacific Northwest seafood-focused cuisine. If you're craving a cafe along Australian lines try Pour Coffee and Tea, a short walk from The Empress in Government Street. Not only is the coffee good, this cafe also provides an opportunity to commune with some of Victoria's more fashionable locals. What's more, your table number for your order comes with a photo of a famous Canadian, such as Justin Trudeau, the country's photogenic PM. See qatheempress.com; pourvictoria.com
The Fairmont Empress is not just one of Canada's most cherished hotels, it's also one beloved of Americans who adore its nostalgic Britishness. Dating to the early 20th century, this 464-room dowager recently underwent a major and locally controversial refurbishment which included the removal of its rodent-infested cover of ivy across part of its facade. While Americans might hanker for the hotel's classic English-style afternoon teas, lingering over a drink in the Empress's bar overlooking the quaint harbour, with its competing mix of ferries and float planes, is an enticing pastime, too. See fairmont.com/empress-victoria
Many visitors to Victoria return to the mainland without having visited the rest of the island on which it's located. Inside the city is the perfect base from which to explore the rest of the 460-kilometres long and 100-kilometres wide Vancouver Island. It's a world of rugged mountains, dense forests and wild coastlines including one of Canada's most vibrant surfing communities.
Anthony Dennis visited Victoria as a guest of Destination British Columbia. See hellobc.com.au