Oak Bay Beach Hotel – a home away from home

Oak Bay Beach Hotel & Pools

For 90 years, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel has stood overlooking the waters off the Victoria suburb. The current luxurious property is the third hotel to occupy the position after the original was destroyed by fire and the replica closed in its old age.  Since reopening in 2012, the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel was rebuilt to an elevated standard and has won accolades for its service ever since.

For a recent family gathering in Victoria, we wanted to stay out of downtown Victoria and Oak Bay Beach Hotel provided a perfect home, away from home for the weekend. Even though the new hotel is larger it still retains much of the old world charm of the original property.  In fact, the new property retains many original architectural elements and furnishings from the original, including windows, bricks, beams. The original doors of the hotel were reinstalled as the entrance to Kate’s Cafe, the hotel’s cozy, neighbourhood coffee house.  The Snug Pub, was Victoria’s first neighbourhood pub and is still welcoming locals and visitors for a pint and good grub with stunning views over the beautiful gardens and seaside outdoor spa pools.

Our sumptuous corner suite featured stunning views from all sides over Oak Bay Marina and over the pools, looking out to the Chain Islets. We didn’t witness any first hand but pods of Orca has been known to frolic offshore to the thrill of guests.  The suite’s double aspect meant guests can enjoy views from the bedroom and the spacious living room while sitting by the fire. We could make coffee or tea in the kitchenette and enjoy watching the sunrise from the one of the two balconies.  The large bathroom, featured a soaker tub, stand-up surround shower, double basins, heated tiled floors and separate WC.

The Oak Bay Beach Hotel’s location is ideal for a peaceful excursion out of downtown Victoria. There’s not really any need to leave the resort but when you do, Oak Bay and Estevan Villages are close at hand with many shopping and dining options.   We had the pleasure of driving an Acura TLX for the weekend which made the road-trip a driving joy.  The Acura TLX made smooth work of the open highway from Vancouver to Victoria, then hugged the winding coastal roads around Greater Victoria.  The comfort and space of the vehicle was great for the family visit too, having plenty of room to take extra family members out for brunch or lunch. The luxury of the Acura TLX matched the luxurious surroundings of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

After getting a taste of the beautiful property and experiencing the excellent customer services we look forward to returning for another stay at Oak Bay Beach Hotel.  With so much else to do on our weekend, we didn’t get a chance to make use of the hotel’s pools, spa or take in much of the dining options.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel is located at 1175 Beach Drive in the Oak Bay suburb of Greater Victoria. Call 250.598.4556 or visit oakbaybeachhotel.com for information and reservations.

What’s old is new at Fairmont Empress Hotel

Empress_2013-05-06 21.02.18The iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel is a staple of any visit to Victoria, BC, whether it’s taking a photo in front of the famed facade, having afternoon tea, visiting the spa or staying overnight in the century old grande dame.
The stately property recently changed ownership and the new owners have set about to renew and restore the property.  Some of the plans have been controversial, and generated major media coverage but it only shows the place that the Fairmont Empress holds in the hearts of Victorians.

Last winter, half of the rooms of the hotel were closed, and work was carried out to renovate and update the oldest portion of the National Historic Site. Through years of renovations, the 1908 wing of the hotel had become a hodge-podge of room shapes and styles over the years, the renovation stripped the property back to the bones.  Replacement of plumbing, electrical as well as cosmetic upgrades were undertaken and the results opened to the public in late spring.  While The Empress always maintained its grandeur and a sense of class, the new look wing brings those qualities into the 21st century.

I recently stayed in one of the updated rooms and was thrilled to see some of the changes. It’s surprising what a difference a change of colour palate can do to modernize the property.  The elegant new grey tones carry from the  common areas to the new rooms as well. The comfortable new furnishings and accessories felt modern but classic. The expected Fairmont amenities were still present, like coffee pod maker, fridge, flatscreen tvs, and Le Labo toiletries. Thought was obviously put into the design to make the rooms useful for the business traveller and today’s connected travellers.  The desks have been upgraded to include convenient power outlets and USB jacks.  An added bonus is found in the build in outlets beside the headboard, meaning one no longer has to shift the bedside table to get access to an outlet.

The biggest change in the rooms came to the bathrooms, in this wing, the bathrooms were often oddly shaped, after-throughts.  The new bathrooms is a luxurious, spa-like oasis, brightly lit with glossy subway tiles and marble with glass shower surround.  No longer an add-on, they bathroom is a memorable centrepiece of the room.

The renovated rooms make your stay at The Fairmont Empress feel even more like a home away from home. Hopefully you’ll get to see for yourself on your next visit.
I look forward to seeing more of the renovations throughout the property. Half of the rooms have been completed, the other half will be renovated over the Winter of 2016-17.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel is located at 721 Government Street, on Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour.


Condé Nast Traveler Top Resorts in Canada

Nita Lake Lodge

Condé Nast Traveler recently announced their annual readers poll of Top 10 Resorts in Canada.  Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler outranked the competition by a healthy margin to claim the top spot. Having stayed there just a few weeks ago, I can confirm it is deserving of the accolade.

The West Coast is blessed with 9 of the Top 20 Resorts gracing the coast of B.C.. Whistler, Pacific Rim and Salt Spring Island are represented, if you include Emerald Lake Lodge in the B.C. Rockies, half of the Top 20 are in British Columbia.  With the Alberta resorts accounting for another 5 spots and the rest scattered around the country, the West is certainly the place for Condé Nast Traveler readers to get their R & R.

The nine West Coast Resorts in the Top 20 are;

1 – Nita Lake Lodge, Whistler
2 – Wickanninish Resort, near Tofino
4 – Four Seasons Resort & Residences, Whistler
6 – Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Whistler
11- Long Beach Lodge, Tofino
13 – Mineral Spring Resort, Salt Spring Island
16 – Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside, Whistler
17 – Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, Ucluelet
20 – Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre, Whistler

I’ve only managed to stay at 4 of these resorts, so far, I’ll have some work to do to check the rest off the list.  How many have you experienced?  

To see the rest of the Top 20 check out the Condé Nast Traveler Readers Poll.

Modern Cafe, Nanaimo

ModernCafe_IMG_0278Located in the heart of downtown Nanaimo, Modern Cafe is a historic heart of the Harbour City.
Since 1946, the Cafe is seen the downtown’s ebbs and flows, having become a centrepiece of the resurgence of Commercial Street.  The classic 1940’s refurbished neon sign serves as a beacon to the location.  While at first glance the retro features of the restaurant space could be a kitchy, all-flash, no-substance but once you know the history isn’t put-on, and the menu is right on you’ll be back for more.

ModernCafe_2015-07-14, 13 50 02On a work trip to Nanaimo, a colleague and I stopped at Modern Cafe and were pleasantly surprised by the result.  The ample sidewalk patio, and the fairly quiet street, makes sitting outside on a sunny day a relaxing break from your day.  The lunch menu included a lot of comfort foods, that from the looks of the plates coming from the kitchen, making the choice difficult. The ModernCafe_2015-07-14, 13 50 10daily fresh sheet added more choices and we both selected hand-helds from the list.  My chicken club on focaccia was fresh and satisfying, the soft house-made bread nicely surrounding the nicely cooked chicken and fresh greens.  My colleague’s chicken curry wrap was flavourful and filling too.  The crispy fries were the nice side, the salads looked good as well.

If you’re in the Harbour City, take the time to venture downtown and check out Modern Cafe and see why they’ve been feeding the locals for nearly 70 years.

Modern Cafe is located at 221 Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC
visit themoderncafe.ca or phone (250)754-5022 for information

Blackfin Pub at the Comox Marina

BlackfinPub_IMG_0165Grabbing a seat at Blackfin Pub at the Marina, it’s easy to see why it was voted Vancouver Island’s Best Pub/Bar & Patio in 2013.
The large patio, floor to ceiling windows all give great vistas over the picturesque Comox Marina and across the Harbour to the mountain spine of Vancouver Island with Comox Glacier on the horizon.  The room is built so that almost every table has a view, but even when the sun goes down and the view is gone, the room is still inviting and warm.BlackfinPub_IMG_0162

BlackfinPub_IMG_0160BlackfinPub_IMG_0163However, a pub cannot survive on it’s views, the food and service needs to keep up.  The Blackfin Pub lives up to the bill, you can tell by the steady stream of patrons that the food has to be good. From traditional share plates to local fresh seafood entrees that wouldn’t be amiss on a fine dining menu, Chef Nigel McMeans has created a menu for everyone (including gluten free options). In all the times I’ve visited over the years, it’s always been a good time with good food and drinks.  Add in the stunning views of a sunny afternoon or an evening by the fire with friends and the Blackfin Pub is the place to be when in Comox

The Blackfin Pub at the Marina is located at 132 Port Augusta Street, overlooking the Marina in downtown Comox, BC

Friday Find: Eagle Aerie Gallery – Tofino

EagleAerie_IMG_0088In the centre of the tiny village of Tofino, you’ll find Roy Henry Vickers’ beautiful Eagle Aerie Gallery. Roy Henry Vickers is an internationally renowned First Nations artist with works in galleries and collections around the world.  His works have often been given as the Official Gift of the Province of British Columbia; having been presented to the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.  Visitors arriving at Vancouver International Airport pass many of his works in the YVR halls.

Vickers’ mixed heritage, his mother was of English descent, has given his work a distinctive, and sought after, style.  The longhouse styled gallery in Tofino, is a tranquil, destination to peruse the original prints and carvings as well as the reproduction prints, lithographs and block mounts.  The gallery regularly hosts special events like Roy telling the personal stories that inspired his art.  With works costing from a few $1000 to a few dollars, there’s something for every budget to take home a piece of Roy Henry Vickers art on your next visit to Tofino.

Eagle Aerie Gallery is located at 350 Campbell Street, and free to visit from 10am – 5pm, 7 days per week.

Catch lunch at Schooner Restaurant

Schooner_15 04 08 Celebrating 66 years serving the village of Tofino, Schooner Restaurant is an institution on the West Coast.  Perched on the rise at Second & Campbell Streets, overlooking the town and harbour, the restaurant has been at the centre of the community as it’s grown from a remote post-war outpost to a world renowned destination.

Schooner_IMG_0084We stopped in on a busy summer afternoon, while it was an overcast, breezy afternoon the heated patio was busy and the warm cozy dining room was a lively hub of visitors and locals.
The varied lunch menu, as expected, featured a lot of seafood but there’s something for everyone in the family. From share plates to Asian inspired bowls to classic burgers or fish & chips.

Schooner_IMG_0085I choose a fantastic stacked fish burger with prawns, the fresh fruit salsa and spicy fried jalapeño contrasted for a burst of flavours. Crispy fries complimented the soft burger bun.
Billy’s Chicken Hot Pot was a Thai style, tangy, zesty mix of veggies and grilled chicken in a coconut red curry sauce.
Judging by other dishes coming out of the kitchen, everything on the menu looked tasty and substantially portioned. The steady stream of patrons attested to the history and good word of mouth surrounding the Schooner Restaurant.

Schooner Restaurant is located at 331 Campbell Street (corner of 2nd) in downtown Tofino, BC. Open Tuesday – Sunday for Lunch and Dinner.