Monday, November 19, 2012



Everyone dreams of his or her own special island.  More often than not, it's in the South Pacific.  Man and nature have diligently worked together to create a very special Pacific Island retreat.  However, strange as it may seem, they've plunked it down in the North Pacific. 

Vancouver Island stretches some 300-miles along Canada's rugged Pacific coastline.  North America's largest Pacific island is crowned by snowy mountains and surrounded by  a white-capped ocean dotted with smaller islands.           

Warmed by the Japanese current, the island suffers none of the severe seasonal changes of the rest of Canada.  The moderate climate has spawned a wide variety of natural vegetation.  Man, too, has found the island's climate inviting.  

No highway connects this paradisiacal island to the mainland of British Columbia or the United States, but air and sea connections are numerous.    
Victoria, just off the mainland city of Vancouver, is the capital city of the Province of British Columbia.  Known as "The Sunshine City of Gardens", Victoria has the mildest climate in Canada. Little wonder that Victoria is always in season.       
During the summer months, a blaze of blossoms in front of the magnificently domed Parliament Building, spell out the words:"WELCOME TO VICTORIA".  Roses bloom at Christmas and, in early March, tulips and daffodils are shipped all over Canada from this area.  

There are flowers residential gardens, public parks and verdant golf courses.  Tubs of blossoms flourish on street corners and flower boxes deck window with floral finery. Although the annual February flower count has reached some 5-million blossoms, you haven't seen anything until you've seen Butchart Gardens. 

Seeing is believing at Butchart Gardens, and it's hard to believe that this explosion of blossoms and manicured lawns was once an abandoned limestone quarry.  Located 13-miles north of Victoria, Butchart's incredible gardens are rated among the most beautiful in the world.  
Flowers in a rainbow of brilliant colors have transformed a rocky quarry into a magnificent Sunken Garden.  Many of the 160 varieties of roses in the English Rose Garden are still blooming at Christmas time.  Lacquered bridges cross tiny streams in the serene authentic Japanese Garden and just beyond the Star Pond is the formal Italian Garden.           

In ever-changing patterns of movement and color, fountains jet to heights of eighty feet.   Waterfalls cascade down steep walls and, on spring and fall evenings, the gardens sparkle under an extensive and spectacular illumination system.Striking displays of floral splendor, accented by hundreds of hidden lights, transform the gardens into a veritable fairyland.           

Because of the large number of British-born citizens, cricket, pubs and afternoon tea are an integral part of the daily life in this city that appears more British than London itself.  And the premier place to have that afternoon tea is at The Empress Hotel.The Empress will outdo most British hotel in the most English of all institutions, afternoon tea.  Victoria's elegant hotel now serves more than 100,000 of it world famous afternoon teas a year.           
Afternoon tea has been a beloved pastime in the hotel since 1908.  Served under the stained-glass dome of the Palm Court, and in the Tea Lobby, guests are invited to sip history, art and character.  Sitting under a portrait of Queen Mary, in front of the Tea Lobby's two fireplaces, one can view Victoria's Inner Harbour where the Thermopylae, fastest of all the tea-sailing clipper ships, once anchored.   
Tea at The Empress begins with a china rack offering tea sandwiches, plump scones with home-made strawberry preserves and thick Jersey cream, and a selection of light pastries.  Fresh berries are offered as a refreshing finish to what many consider a full meal.  As guests sip their cup of Empress blend tea, a pianist plays softly in the background.      
Over all the classic splendor and beauty of Victoria, The Empress reigns supreme.  The elegant vine-covered Empress Hotel is famous for her elegant furnishings, colorful rose gardens and age-old traditions that have made her a Victoria landmark.  Equally famous is her stellar guest list, much at ease with names like Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the King and Queen of Siam.            

From the front lawn of The Empress, one can gaze at the stately-domed Legislature Buildings that form a picture-postcard background for the Inner Harbour.  The first Parliament buildings (1859) were nicknamed "the Birdcages" and resembled "something between a Dutch toy and a Chinese pagoda".  They were replaced on the same site by the present legislative buildings.           

Behind those buildings, the Centennial Fountain commemorates B.C.'s 100th birthday party in 1958.  A statue of Queen Victoria faces the Inner Harbour in front of the buildings, and a statue of Captain George Vancouver glints atop the main copper-covered dome.  In the evening the buildings are outlined by 3,546 tiny lights, creating a fairyland that is one of the most impressive nocturnal scenes in the world. 

A visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum is a must.  The museum features a fascinating world in which to explore the province's rich natural and human history.  The vivid and exciting exhibits take the visitor through a panorama ranging from the Ice Age through modern times.       
The Gatsby Mansion, a unique Bed & Breakfast that exudes the elegance of a period long gone, is a return to the 1920s when life was grand, sophisticated and debonair.  Since 1897, this mansion--with its quaint "pepper-shaker" tower and open veranda--has stood facing the Inner Harbour of Victoria.  With its hand-frescoed ceilings, stained glass windows and richly paneled walls, The Gatsby Mansion has graciously survived the ravages of time.   
A short drive from downtown in the suburb of Esquimalt, sits the gabled, half-timbered Olde England Inn.  Entering this historic inn reminiscent of Tudor England, is entering into the Elizabethan period of romance and chivalry.  The Baronial Hall, with its suits of armor, antique swords and copper-canopied fireplace, is furnished with 17th century antiques which include a 300-year old refectory table that once belonged to the Bronte sisters.         
Built on a bluff and screened by Douglas firs, the Olde England Inn is flanked by a full-sized replica of Anne Hathaway's Thatched Cottage and Old-World Garden.  You will step back in time as you visit the birthplace of William Shakespeare's wife that is authentically furnished with 16th century antiques.         

Any native of Victoria will tell you that "God made a hole in the sky above Victoria".  They may well be right. 

This sparkling fairyland of fun and flowers was best described by Rudyard Kipling: "To realize Victoria, you must take all that the eye admires in Bournemouth, Torquay, the Isle of Wight, the Happy Valley at Hong Kong, the Doon, Sorrento, Cmap's Bay, add reminiscences of the Thousand Islands and arrange the whole around the Bay of Naples with some Himalayas for the background."     
I can't improve on that! 

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.

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