Find Your True North In Victoria, BC
Calling all outdoor lovers, destination race seekers, and people with adventure in their hearts! I have something very special just for you. Perhaps this blog needs a disclaimer: As a born-and-raised northern Californian, I might be a little biased to love tall trees, balmy weather, and flannels (sorry Wales and Scotland, Paul Bunyan skewed the pop culture reference to the lumberjack dark side). If after reading my effusive oration you too are swayed to the dark side, I can offer direct links to your next flannel purchase (beards not included).
I take any opportunity I can to visit the PNW. I book races each year in the area because honestly you cannot beat the views, the people, the coffee, and the character. At the end of 2018, I was fortunate to be able to spend an extended period of time in this area. It took me almost a month, but I ate, explored, and wanderlusted my way through NorCal, Portland, Seattle, and Victoria BC. I won’t be featuring Portland in this particular feature and keep an eye out for a separate piece on NorCal (this will be especially desirable for any athletes competing in IRONMAN Santa Rosa).
My journey to find the True North of the PNW took me on a plane, a train, and an automobile (…and a ferry, it just didn’t mesh with the movie reference. I know you would have done the same thing). I decided I wanted to see the scenic stretch between Portland and Seattle via train. I highly recommend this train ride (tickets are very affordable. I used Wanderu to book mine last minute and was really happy with how user friendly their site was). My ferry ride to Victoria BC was scheduled to depart at 8am the following day, leaving me with plenty of time to galavant around Seattle and recharge at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. Love is born from Kimpton Monaco hotels. I am a
huge fan of their Portland property. Funky decor, comfortable rooms, reasonably priced, free happy hour drinks in the lobby at 6PM each night, the list goes on. Like my train ticket, this hotel stay was booked incredibly last minute, but the hotel staff really took care of me (I like to live life on the edge. Ask me about my plane ticket catastrophe later).
There are SO MANY ferries that run service to Victoria BC (because: island). BUT, if you are heading there from the US, there is only one ferry service I’d take. The Clipper (a 2.5 hr direct ferry ride from downtown Seattle to Victoria BC) made my journey north was exactly what I had hoped for. I use these words a lot in my travel reviews, but that is because they are so important to me: comfortable, convenient, coffee (they have a cafe at the Seattle port where you can pre-fuel, praise the caffeine Buddha). I’d also highly suggest booking the comfort class option for this ferry. For $25 more, you get a separate seating area with complementary drinks, snacks, separate bathrooms, and the best views on the whole boat. It is A-OK to take bikes on this leg of the journey. The Clipper accepts oversized bags for a nominal additional fee of $37. So bring the bike case. Additional info about bikes (assembled vs. disassembled) can be found here. For those traveling for IRONMAN Victoria who don’t have a case to transport your bike, I’d suggest using a bike transport service such as TriBike Transport. Reserve your spot early for this race, the bike transport services fill up fast.
Stepping off the boat and into the crisp January air in Victoria was very honestly an experience I won’t ever forget. This place is something out of a fairytale. There is a good reason it is one of the top tourist destinations in Canada (possibly the world)! The Clipper does a great job of getting you through customs quickly, luggage and all. Luckily for me, my hotel was quite literally a stones throw from the harbor. You may have heard of it before: known for its legendary high noon tea & recognized by National Geographic as one of the world’s 21 most iconic hotels, the Fairmont Empress needs no introduction. To give a full and complete description of my stay at the Empress would truly take five blogs. This property is dripping with heritage, elegance, and a surprising modern twist that should bring this hotel to the top of anyone’s list on places to stay in Victoria (especially for athletes visiting for the IRONMAN race in June).
*QUICK TIP FOR ATHLETES*: The drive from the Fairmont Empress to Elk Lake (the swim start for IRONMAN Victoria 70.3) is approximately 25min via Patricia Bay Hwy/BC-17.
I’ve included my list of must do’s at the Fairmont Empress and in the city of Victoria (Destination Greater Victoria ) has an amazing website jam packed with additional information about hotels, activities, maps, and more).
Relax before/after your race at the Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spa
Show me someone who DOESN’T enjoy a spa day and I will advise them to google ‘Treat Yoself.’ Willow Stream Spa offers a wide variety of massages, facials, and signature treatments. I highly recommend their Wellness Detox (a speciality massage launched this month that is geared towards detoxifying stress & toxins out of our bodies). Full body exfoliation, aromatherapy massage with grapefruit black pepper oil and my personal favorite, the jade facial roller and scalp massage. When you book a massage with Willow Stream Spa, it comes with access to their mineral pool, sauna, steam room, indoor pool, and fitness center. Check the Special Offers section of their website for updated discounts and packages they are offering.
2. Experience ‘forest bathing’
Believe it or not, forest bathing does not typically involve water, soap, or your favorite rubber ducky Franklin McMallard. The practice of forest bathing has been gaining attention since the 1980’s in Japan where it was used as a means of preventative healthcare. Translation: spend time in nature and reap the healing benefits of serenity, detox, & restoration. As a triathlete, I often find that although I am constantly outdoors, my highly focused training doesn’t allow me much time to look around and smell the roses if you will. I thoroughly enjoyed my trek out to Mt Wells under the guidance of Ryan Leblanc (founder and lead tour guide of The Natural Connection). With full/half day adventure options (spoiler alert: the full day adventure includes the most delicious lunch so there is really only one true choice here), you can see the gorgeous forests of surrounding Victoria and get a little taste of what it feels like to be cleansed by nature (and go ahead and bring Franklin McMallard if you really want to).
3. post-race breakfast at nourish kitchen & Cafe
It might be my American roots, but when someone says ‘Canada’ and ‘breakfast’ I think Canadian bacon. Or maple syrup. It is a very narrow and limited view on what this amazing country offers in terms of their cuisine. Nourish Kitchen & Cafe is a perfect example of how Canadians actually know how to breakfast with the best of them. I asked the manager at the cafe that day to interview the staff and ask them what they felt the message of Nourish was. He came back to me at the end of the meal and said with a smile “we want people to leave happy and feel at-home.” Mission accomplished. Aside from the food being other-worldly in flavor profile and presentation, the cafe’s ambiance is nothing but ‘at-home’ in its 1888 heritage house location that has been repurposed into this quaint little breakfast spot. Try the Benny’s Gone Nuts breakfast plate with a cappuccino. Your tastebuds can thank me later. Full menu here. Address: 225 Quebec Street, Victoria B.C. V8V 1W2
4. one lump or two? afternoon tea at the empress
People have been breaking bread together and sharing neighborhood gossip over tea for centuries. I invite you to do it at the Empress (they break the bread for you and turn them into exquisite little sandwiches). I remember growing up hearing stories from my grandmother about this tea service (the Empress has been offering it since 1908, woah). It is a cherished tradition for many families around the world I am sure. When I mentioned earlier in this blog that the Empress is a place steeped in tradition, I was obviously alluding to this very moment with a high-level tea pun. I learned from our tea server that the china used in the tea room is an exact replica of the royal china used to serve Queen Elizabeth when she visited the hotel (and the originals are stored away safely for when royalty comes to stay at the Empress). Book your reservations well in advance. People travel from all over the world to have this experience. Menu & reservation information
5. hit the high seas with eagle wing tours
The word ‘catamaran’ alone excites me, so getting to ride one through the thriving waters surrounding Vancouver Island is possibly akin to eight shots of espresso and an adrenaline shot. Eagle Wing Tours offers the longest and most comprehensive Whale & Wildlife Tour available in the industry! Depending on your adventure quota, you can select tours on one of their four different types of boats (ranging from partially covered to a full on saltwater-spraying, wind in your face experience). Check out their website for pricing, packages, and a virtual tour of the ‘4 Ever Wild’ vessel.
6. Dinner & Drinks At The Q
Did you know that the Fairmont Empress makes a signature gin that is purple? It even has its own website! The Empress 1908 Gin is possibly more flavorful and exquisite tasting than it looks (but upon further inspection, it looks pretty dang fabulous too). Regardless of where you choose to stay on your race visit to Victoria, I highly suggest paying a visit to the Q Restaurant and experiencing an unforgettable meal. Katie’s favs: Farro & Flax Bread with Empress Honey Whipped Butter, Seared Scallops & Wild Boar, and the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Spiced Honey Ice Cream.