Photo courtesy Fairmont Empress
Contributor Cynthia Graham pays a visit to the most iconic hotel in British Columbia: Victoria’s elegant Fairmont Empress
Upon arriving at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria on Canada’s Vancouver Island – whether by ferry, taxi, or floatplane – you’ll fall in love with this historic luxury hotel at first glance.
Rightly regarded as one of the top luxury hotels in BC, this iconic hotel captures the grandeur and elegance of times gone by, although enhanced with contemporary elegant touches. The Fairmont Empress, a national historic site, is often referred to as ‘Canada’s Castle on the Coast’.
Built in 1908, the Empress has been a luxury destination since the day it opened. The grand edifice and its recently remodeled lobby are impressive and welcoming. The updated open lobby is home to a sparkling two-ton glass floral shaped chandelier, created by Lasvit designer Tana Dvorakov and composed of 140,000 hand-cut crystals forming petal-like shapes.
The Fairmont Empress: A Storied Past, a Bright Future
In 1965, the hotel came close to being torn down and replaced with a modern skyscraper, which would have been a tragedy. Fortunately, this was averted, and the hotel was preserved, ensuring its cherry wood ceilings, beautiful staircases, and many other original, elegant touches survive intact.
While at the hotel, be sure to take in everything that’s on offer for guests to enjoy, including outdoor highlights such as the flower gardens, bee apiary, and herb gardens. Inside amenities to check out include the Q Bar and a restaurant, the lobby with its large lounge, the world-renowned afternoon tea, a gift shop (a great place to browse a selection of tea sets and tea accessories), and a spa.
The location is ideal for shopping, visiting museums, the government house, and numerous seasonal outdoor activities. Don’t forget to take a stroll across the street for beautiful views of Victoria and the harbor.
Fairmont Empress Renovations Complete
The new expansive lobby was part of a two-year $60 Million restoration that was completed in June 2017. Many of the Empress’s elegant details have been restored, with touches of modernization added to its 464 guest rooms.
With a few rare exceptions, no two rooms are identical, with sizes ranging from standard rooms, junior suites, and one- and two-bedroom suites. Each room includes the following amenities: bathrobes, Wi-Fi, in-room safes, ceiling fan, coffeemaker and kettle, and luxurious down-filled duvets.
If available, be sure to ask to stay in Room 330, one of the most popular suites in the hotel. This is where Bob Hopestayed when he a guest at the Empress (he liked it because the corridor was perfect for him to practice one of his loves – golf).
Is your pet going to accompany you? If so, reserve a pet-friendly room in advance, as pets are more than welcome at the Empress.
Going for Fairmont Gold
Nestled within the hotel is the premium ‘Gold Level’, a separate ‘hotel within a hotel.’ At the Empress, this includes 65 elite guestrooms that have a separate check-in desk, discerning guest concierge service, private lounges, and exclusive outdoor seating with sweeping views of the Inner Harbor.
Gold members also receive exclusive access to the Gold Lounge, which is open all day for water, tea, coffee, comfortable seating, a library with a fireplace, and much more. Also included are a breakfast buffet, complimentary snacks, evening appetizers, and late-night desserts.
Other Gold Level amenities include:
- Private check-in
- Complimentary newspapers and personalized wake-up calls
- Afternoon canapés and an honor bar
- Dedicated Fairmont Gold Manager
- Computer access in the lounge with high-speed Internet
- Complimentary use of a boardroom
- In-room high-speed Internet access
- Selection of DVDs, CD, books, and games to enjoy at your leisure
Experience the Famous Empress Hotel High Tea
The world famous ‘Tea at the Empress’ is offered in the hotel’s sophisticated Lobby Lounge, where afternoon tea has been served daily since the hotel’s opening on January 20th, 1908.
The tea is served using an exclusive Empress floral china pattern. A three-tiered tray of delicacies is provided that includes fresh seasonal fruit with cream, assorted sandwiches, traditional English golden raisin scones served with clotted cream and house-made strawberry lavender jam, and bite-size pastries created in-house by the pastry team. As you relax and enjoy your tea accompanied by live classical piano music, take a peek at the excellent harbor view or nestle by the fireplace.
Our server, Marlene, showed us the menu of 21 teas, with leaves shown in a wooden display box. She thoroughly explained each step, from helping choose a tea to steeping it, and answered any questions we had. She was delightful and enhanced our tea experience. And if you want a reminder to take home with you, the beautiful china cup and saucer set used for the afternoon tea service is available for purchase in the gift shop.
Don’t Forget the Torte… and the Empress Gin!
Another highlight of the afternoon tea experience is sampling the Empress Torte.
Created by Executive Pastry Chef AJ Thalakkat, this rich chocolate delicacy is a multi-layered creation that takes two days to create. The Empress chocolate used was created by the Chef and is used exclusively for the torte.
It’s also used for the chocolate crown – modeled after the crown worn by Queen Elizabeth II – that tops this wonderful, sweet treat (it even has a hint of gold dust for that extra elegant touch). The cake is gluten-free and includes honey made from the bees kept at the Empress and is served by the slice… or you can take a whole cake home with you.
Also worth sampling while staying here is the Empress 1908 Gin. Made by Victoria Distillers, this wonderful drink consists of seven botanicals, including one from South Asia called the pea flower, which gives the gin its unique indigo color. (Editor’s Note: You can find an article about Empress 1908 Gin elsewhere on LuxuryBritishColumbia.)
If time permits, be sure to also pay a visit to the Willow Stream Spa, a full-service spa that’s widely considered to be one of the best in Canada. They offer over 85 treatments to energize you and dissipate any stress. While the spa is open seven days a week year-round, check with the hotel for open hours.
Riley Recommends: For the latest reviews, rates, and reservations, be sure to visit our preferred accommodation partner at Fairmont Empress.
Contributor Cynthia Graham is a freelance travel writer and digital nomad traveling the world. She owns www.BlueBagNomads.com where she shares her travel tips and passion. Also, find her on Facebook and Twitter.