Victoria - British Columbia's Scenic Capital
By Michael Russell
Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is a beautiful coastal city of more than 300,000 people. The capital city of British Columbia, It boasts many historic buildings and some of the most fascinating museums in Western Canada. The city benefits from one of Canada's mildest climates, which allows its residents to pursue outdoor pleasures all year round. Often called the "Garden City" Victoria also enjoys some of the country's most exhilarating scenery: there's an ocean or mountain vista around every corner, while the city's flower gardens are famous the world over. Whether your taste runs to hiking, biking and fishing (appropriate license(s) required) or you're more the shopping, dining and theatre type, there are no end of delights for you and your family in Victoria.
If, as the late Victorians believed, gardening is physically, morally and psychologically uplifting, then Victoria must have the world's healthiest population! Mild temperatures, occasional rain in summer and frequent sunshine create ideal growing conditions for a vast variety of flowers, shrubs and trees. You'll find flowers in bloom here year-round: lilacs and rhododendrons in spring, alyssum and heliotrope in summer, roses and goldenrod in fall, as well as cherry blossoms, daffodils and pansies in winter.
More than a million people visit Butchart Gardens each year to enjoy floral displays and themed gardens on a scale seen in only a handful of places in the world. Seven hundred varieties of bedding plants provide continuous bloom over 22 ha (55 acres) from March through October. In summer, multi-hued "Night Illuminations" make strolling through the gardens a magical experience. The Gardens are a 30-minute drive north of downtown Victoria via Highway 17.
Butchart Gardens has grown in size gradually over 100 years. It is still operated by descendents of Jennie Butchart, who started it all when she attempted to beautify a worked-out cement quarry near her home with a few blooms. There is an admission fee in effect and you should allow 1-3 hours minimum for your tour.
Victoria's oldest municipal park with 200 acres, Beacon Hill, handily accommodates both nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. The park's paved and cedar-chip walking trails wind past manicured lawns, picturesque bridges, quiet lakes and ponds as well as themed gardens that are in full bloom from mid-May through October. The recreational venues at Beacon Hill Park are many: soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, putting green, 100-year-old cricket pitch, petting zoo, spray pools and playgrounds.
If you have worked up an appetite after all that walking, with over 600 restaurants in the Victoria area, there's a dining experience to suit everyone's tastes. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and bordered by the farms of the Saanich Peninsula, Victoria chefs specialize in using local ingredients, with worldly results.
For a dining experience that is both gourmet and unique, visit Sooke Harbor House. Set against a spectacular backdrop of the Olympic Mountains and Juan de Fuca Strait, this is the original and most authentic of west coast cuisine restaurants. Sooke Harbour House uses only BC ingredients in its dishes, sourced as locally as possible. Savour seafood unique to Pacific Northwest waters, tender meats from nearby farms, local berries as well as fresh herbs, vegetables and flowers grown on the grounds. Sip wine from one of the most magnificent wine cellars in the world, recipient of Wine Spectator Magazine's Grand Award in 2003. Sooke Harbour House is 40 minutes by car north of downtown Victoria via Highways 1 and 14. We can't leave Victoria without mentioning the custom of afternoon tea in Victoria, introduced by the British in the 19th century. Tearooms all over the city serve afternoon tea in quaint, intimate environments. For a grand experience in the most British of traditions, nothing surpasses the Fairmont Empress Hotel's exquisite, silver-service afternoon tea.
Never experienced the delights of afternoon tea? It's a dainty and delicious between-meals repast, generally served with china cups and plates. Some of the most popular menu items are tea that is often an exclusive "house" blend, fresh berries, finger sandwiches and scones topped with preserves and thick cream.
After sampling all that good food, there's still time to visit one or more of Victoria's museums. The Royal British Columbia Museum, Helmcken House and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia are all within walking distance of the city's downtown core. They cut a wide swathe through the history of the province, from prehistoric times to the present day. Outside the city, but still within easy reach, are the Sooke Region Museum and BC Aviation Museum. There's something to interest everyone in Victoria's engaging museums.
And finally, if you don't like flowers, food, or museums, how about whale watching? Few experiences compare to witnessing a 5,000-kg (12,000-lb) Orca arcing out of the water and landing with a splash that can be heard for several kilometres. No wonder, then, that whale watching has become such a popular activity in Victoria. Tours leave from the Inner Harbour, the community of Oak Bay, Sooke and Sidney. You may also spot seals, porpoises, eagles, sea lions and marine birds along the way. Get ready for a real adventure! Most tours take about three hours. The best time for whale watching is during the feeding season, May through November.
Victoria, British Columbia is a truly blessed city. Great views are just a happy fact of life in Greater Victoria. Mountains, sweeps of island-dotted ocean and beautiful gardens are just par for the course on urban, waterfront walkways. And you needn't travel far for sweeping vistas of the whole region: a number of trails to mountain summit viewpoints are less than a half-hour's drive from city centre. Happy Holidays!
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