I had the pleasure of being invited to stay at the historical Fairmont Empress for 2 nights in early May. They have just completed a $55+ million renovation which has restored the stunning property into it’s former glory and more! I was extremely excited to be visiting an area with so much history and natural beauty and the Fairmont team and local partners did an amazing job of showcasing the iconic hotel and local areas.
We were whisked from Vancouver to Victoria on Harbour Air- it’s always an amazing experience to travel by seaplane and so convenient leaving from Vancouver Harbour (downtown) straight into the harbour across the road from the Empress! Unfortunately it wasn’t a crystal clear day however it is still a wonderful experience and the flight time is approx. 30-35 minutes so you are on the Island in no time! Flying by Harbour Air or Helijet is definitely my preferred way to Vancouver Island! That being said I should mention the brand new direct ferry service I learned about from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria which starts mid May 2017- it will be a fantastic option for those without a car wanting to experience our lovely capital city as a foot passenger with the added convenience of no transfers needed either way.
I stayed in a gorgeous Harbour-view King Fairmont Gold Room. The beauty of staying on a Gold floor means an elevated check-in experience, access to their wonderful Gold Floor Lounge which has various areas to relax in and also a huge harbour-front terrace complete with lounge chairs and firepits for the evenings. When you are a Gold Floor guest you can also enjoy complimentary food options through the day and have access to an honour bar. The new rooms are absolutely beautiful, I love the colour scheme – particularly in Gold as they have mixed white and grey with a vibrant purple colour. I learned there are a whopping 186 different room configurations at this historic hotel- so not many rooms are the exact same which I love as it adds to the character!
We then headed to Butchart Gardens. The hotel had arranged a private transfer for us. Despite being to the Island numerous times I hadn’t actually visited this world-famous attraction so I was excited to see all of the beautiful colours and it was in full bloom!
Unfortunately we had some rain that day but they are so prepared and offer complimentary clear umbrellas so you could still fully enjoy the beauty of the gardens as you walked around! To my amusement they had also implemented a “selfie-stick” ban to try and keep the crowds in control. The gardens were striking and vibrant and certainly brighten up the dreary day!
Usually it is a self-guided tour however we were met by the PR team who guided us through which was actually really nice as I got to learn about the family and history of the gardens. We had a delightful lunch in the ‘Dining Room’ and were served fresh BC wild salmon on tasty bread with a panzanella salad. There are a few dining options at Butchart Gardens including a more casual cafeteria style restaurant and a café with freshly baked good. Don’t miss the beautiful hand carved carousel which is a new addition to the gardens and is fun for children and adults alike. (Costs a Toonie - $2)
After lunch at the gardens we continued to the gorgeous Church & State Winery. which was just a few minutes down the road. It was still at the very start of the season so the winery was not yet opened daily to the public but they had opened it for our group and we had the honour of having the owner of the winery join us for our event and he talked us through his 6 favourite wines and the chef brought out a charcuterie and cheese plate to match. The vineyard was beautiful and they have a lovely terrace you can sit out and enjoy lunch. The space is also amazing for private events- it was huge!
That evening we were hosted in the beautifully designed Lobby Lounge back at the Fairmont Empress and we were welcomed by the fantastic culinary team who had set up live cooking stations with delicious treats for us all to enjoy as we all mingled and exchanged stories over local seafood and freshly-made risotto. The Fairmont Empress has a new incredible pastry chef AJ Thalakkatis who was crafting desserts as we watched!
For the final nightcap some of us headed to the Q Cocktail Bar at the Fairmont Empress where they have celebrated Queen Victoria and have beautiful portraits of her from her inception to at the end of her royal service. There is restaurant seating for food or you can grab a seat at the bar or settle into a plush couch with friends.
I had forgotten my gym kit but was reminded that as I am part of the Fairmont Loyalty Program (FPC – Fairmont President’s Club) you can get access to a complimentary gym kit and delivered straight to your door, complete with a pair of running shoes it was fantastic! I went for a jog the next morning and ran around the beautiful harbour it was so peaceful!
Breakfast was delightful every day- so much choice (and remember it’s complimentary if you are staying in the Gold Floor- or if you book with our agency anyway you would always get breakfast included in the other hotel restaurants due to our Virtuoso perks for clients!). I was impressed by the range of local BC produce, cheese, meats, fresh salmon (candied, poached, smoked) and lots of freshly baked goods and fresh juices. Definitely a great way to start the day!
Today’s activity was a whale watching experience with Eagle Wing Tours- it was the nicest whale-watching boat I have ever been on! They have recently converted a luxury catamaran into their watching vessel and it was lovely. The sun came out for our boat ride so we could enjoy being outside on the water. Eagle Wing provide great wind breakers too to keep you warm. They also have gloves and toques for you to borrow.
The interior of the yacht had comfortable leather seats. There were two washrooms onboard as well. The Fairmont Empress provided us with gourmet packed lunches - we enjoyed delicious sandwiches, home-made hummus and veggie sticks, pastries and a root beer! The hotel can make these up for any day trips with advanced notice.
The coastline surrounding Victoria is simply beautiful, filled with stunning houses on the water and then endless mountain views on the horizon. We were lucky enough to have some playful Minke Whales hang around our boat and we also spotted a Humpback and lots seals! Not bad for the start of the official whale-watching session! The onboard naturalists were great and were full of insightful information and made the tour very enjoyable!
That afternoon we were treated to a royal experience of the Champagne Afternoon Tea back in the Lobby Lounge. This is one of the most famous things to do in Victoria and people from around the world come to experience it. It was a memorable experience and definitely perfect if you are celebrating a special occasion! Everything is made of fine-bone china custom made in England for the Fairmont, it was beautiful!
On hand was an exceptionally knowledgeable Tea Sommelier who came round to tell you individually about your tea selections - it was fascinating! I have a nut allergy and the hotel was great throughout my stay at accommodating this. The freshly-baked warm scone was to die for, the sandwiches were so tasty and the sweet treats were delightful! We sipped down a glass of Veuve Clicquot too and it made for a very special experience! I would highly suggest reserving tables during the peak summer time as they are full most days.For our final night the amazing Fairmont team hosted a special party for us in the Royal Suite. The Suite was absolutely stunning; it features a king bedroom, living room parlour, dining room for eight, modern spa bathroom (with a large dual head shower and a free-standing tub) and a large walk-in wardrobe and dressing table! It was certainly fit for the Queen! The suite could sleep up to 6 with two pull out sofas in the living room.
I could not believe my eyes when I was told EVERYTHING below was made from chocolate – I honestly thought it was a solid sculpture! As I mentioned earlier, their Executive Pastry Chef is extremely talented!
The Empress team showcased caviar from Northern BC and other delicious canapes!The next morning we flew back across to Vancouver. A huge thank you to everyone at the Fairmont Empress for their incredible hospitality!
All in all, a true WOW experience! I can’t wait to go back and would highly recommended spending a few days in Victoria and experiencing the Empress in all it’s glory!