Renewing an Old Acquaintance: Victoria’s Empress—Still Looking Good

Coming back to—Victoria’s Fairmont Empress is a bit like catching up with your old aunt, who you haven’t seen for a few years. She’s aged a little more (haven’t we all?) but that last little nip and tuck of a facelift seems to have quite helped quite a bit.

Victoria waterfront showing the hotel right of the Post Office, c.1908

There aren’t too many other hotels in the province’s capital—or hardly anywhere this side of the Rockies—where you can take a wander through so much history in just a few minutes.

The Palm Court dome, Tim Pawsey photo

The Tea Lobby, Tim Pawsey photo

The Palm Court foyer, with its stained glass dome, is spectacular and the Tea Lobby (the original hotel entrance) sports acres of hardwood floor, a veritable palm forest and more comfy looking overstuffed settees than you’ve likely ever seen in your life.

Sneak downstairs to the Archives and you’ll find everything from prints of the Charge of the Light Brigade to royal dinner invitations and historic sterling silver toast racks, presumably once used for various HRH’s toast.

Harbour view between the gables, Tim Pawsey photo

Our 6th floor deluxe room, with raised king size bed, had a harbour view between the gables, with glimpses of the BC legislature. It was spacious, cosy and comfortable–even if the unheated bathroom felt just a tad too much authentically early 20th-century (the original structure was built in 1908) than the rest of the updated room. Even a heat lamp would have been nice…

The other night we took a Bengal Lounge break from the Wine Islands Vintners Association tasting (more on that soon) for a palate-cleansing Lighthouse Race Rocks Amber Ale (and for a quick peek at the Canucks, right before they started their descent into hockey hell).

The Bengal Lounge: a Victoria fixture

After the tasting, we returned to indulge in the unabashedly colonial Bengal Lounge Curry Buffet, which is as good as ever—more so, assured the bartender, as it’s now in the hands of a ‘real Indian chef.’ (Update: we can assume he was referring to newly appointed Executive Chef, Sri Lankan born Kamal Silva…) We enjoyed great papadams, mango chutney and tandoori chicken in particular, though, sadly, we were too full for the cardamom crème brûlée. At $32 (including a seafood chowder starter) it’s a pretty good deal.

The Empress Bengal Lounge: Colonial redux

We didn’t have time to dine in the hotel’s most formal bastion, the Empress Room this trip but have in the past. Worth checking out—if only for the sumptuous furnishings and tableware—the focus has shifted very much to the West Coast with plenty of local ingredients.

The Empress: cosy luxury, Tim Pawsey photo

All guest rooms have free hardwire internet access and there’s also surprisingly good WiFi (considering the bulk of the building) at the usual North American rates—free if you’re a signed up member of the Fairmont President’s Club.

In truth, you haven’t ‘properly’ experienced Victoria until you’ve hung out with The Empress—and lain your weary head there at least once … if not more. Plus, in a part of the country that seems all too happy to ignore its history, it’s gratifying to see such an important heritage symbol so well used and maintained.

Best way to get there from Vancouver? Hop on a quick 25 minute flight with Harbour Air, almost right to the doorstep.


By | 2018-01-21T15:05:40+00:00 April 23rd, 2011|Travel|0 Comments

About the Author:

Tim has been covering the food and wine revolution for about 20 kilos. Count 15 kg alone thanks to the blossoming cuisine and wine culture of British Columbia, Canada. Tim’s hallmark is seeking out and recommending value wines from BC and around the world that offer quality at every level. He also scopes out noteworthy restaurants that live up to their promises—and often over deliver. Readers depend on the Hired Belly for his “Belly’s Best” and “Belly’s Budget Best” picks to help them find the right wine for the occasion. He writes, tweets and shoots his own images for columns in the Vancouver Courier and North Shore News. He also contributes to WHERE Vancouver magazine, as well as to several other publications. They include Taste magazine, Tidings Magazine, and Montecristo. His columns are frequently picked up by major newspapers across Canada. Tim is a frequent judge for wine competitions, such as Vancouver Magazine International Wine Awards. He is a founding judge of The BC Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Wine. He is frequently invited to judge at The BC Wine Awards, and others. Tim has traveled to taste in many of the world’s leading wine regions, most recently in Burgundy, Argentina and Chile.

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