I've just returned from a four-day adventure to Victoria - British Columbia's beautiful capital city on Vancouver Island, Canada. Victoria is an amazing mix of old-world charm and hip culture, set against a stunning backdrop of turquoise sea, emerald rainforest, and a beautiful, mountain-swept horizon.
I was invited to preview the upcoming "Dine Around and Stay In Victoria" event, in which participating local restaurants offer full three-course menus at affordable $20, $30, $40 and $50 price points. It's happening from February 20 to March 9, 2015. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for my restaurant recommendations!
First, I thought I'd share a few highlights of the trip.
I traveled by helicopter. Pictured above is the rain-streaked view from my window seat as I nervously awaited takeoff - it was my first time flying in anything smaller than a commercial jet, and I'm terrified of heights...
As we ascended, the arial views of Vancouver's harbour were incredible, but at flying altitude it was nothing but thick white cloud in every direction. I was seated thisclose to the pilot and for a while I was acutely aware that I was flitting around in a little bird of an aircraft. But it was actually a very smooth ride, and I managed to not climb into my neighbour's lap for a cuddle.
Approaching Vancouver Island, we took in spectacular panoramas of the smaller islands. Then, in what felt like a heartbeat, we had landed again. It was a beautiful way to get to Victoria from the mainland.
We stayed at the Inn at Laurel Point, which is cozily nestled into a quiet harbour.
The room was enormous and classic with a comfy bed, a sea of pillows (which I belly-flopped into with a sigh of happiness upon arrival), a lovely large patio, and a spacious marble bathroom. The bathtub may have been a swimming pool in a previous life, for it was luxuriously vast (I spent lots of time floating around in an ocean of bubbles and happiness).
From floor-to-ceiling windows, I enjoyed the beautiful waterfront view pictured above - it sparkles romantically with twinkly city lights at night, and in the morning, I watched sea-planes take off.
After settling in, it was time to hit the local food scene. By day, we explored what the different neighbourhoods had to offer - the Victoria Public Market was a fave.
The Pedaler offers fabulous bike tours of the city, with several excursions geared (pun intended) toward foodies.
We did the "Beans & Bites" tour, making stops for great coffee and little nibbles from bakeries. It was a really fantastic way to see more of the city, getting away from the tourist spots and checking out places locals love. I would definitely recommend it.
Two of my favourite stops on the tour were Fernwood Coffee, where we were given a fantastic lesson in making great french press coffee at home, and Bon Macaron, for authentic Parisian macarons in a rainbow of pretty colours.
Tea culture is huge in Victoria, with traditional afternoon tea offered by many hotels. We enjoyed a preview of the Chinese New Year Tea at Hotel Grand Pacific. It's a lovely way to warm up and spend the afternoon.
We spent a day exploring Fort Street, which is a foodie paradise. Some favourite discoveries include The Little Cheese Shop for a gorgeous selection of local cheese, Choux Choux Charcuterie for house-made sausages, pâtés and cured meats, Chorizo and Co. for a fantastic chorizo sandwich , and Fish Hook, for delicious coconut-based fish chowder.
Every evening, we'd suit up in our stretchiest clothes to experience several multi-course dinners at various Dine Around restaurants. These are my top picks:
10 Acres Bistro
611 Courtney Street, Phone: 250-220-8008
This is an incredible, truly farm-to-table restaurant. They own a 10-acre farm where they grow their own produce, eggs and meat, and are in the process of getting organic certification. I love their concept, and the menu was vibrant, hearty and delicious.
Ça Va Bistro Moderne
1296 Gladstone Ave, Phone: 250-590-7982
Tucked into the artsy Fernwood neighbourhood, Ca Va Bistro is cozy fine dining. They, too, focus on local and seasonal foods, with a French-influenced menu that's very on-trend and creative, while still approachable.
944 Fort Street, Phone: 250-383-0009
Offering rustic fine dining, Cafe Brio has a huge local fan base - with good reason. The menu is classic, with West Coast, French and Italian influences, and is perfectly executed.
680 Montreal Street, Phone: (250) 414 6739
Located inside the Inn at Laurel Point, Aura offers elevated West Coast cuisine with Japanese flair, and incomparable waterfront views of the harbour. Local, seasonal foods are showcased in beautiful, inventive dishes that blend classic and of-the-moment flavours and techniques.
It's a great time to visit Victoria - not only for the great food, but there are lots of fantastic hotel room deals being offered for the event, too. If you go, make sure you let me know what you think!
I took the seaplane home - it flies lower than the helicopter so you get to see more, but it's not quite as smooth as the helijet! Either way, you must put "see the pacific northwest from the sky" on your bucket list - it's incredible.