Enjoy the Best of Victoria at the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Exciting entertainment, delicious cuisine, luxurious accommodations and indulgent spa experiences await in the province's capital

Exciting entertainment, delicious cuisine, luxurious accommodations and indulgent spa experiences await in the province’s capital

With music blaring, a tall flamboyant woman in a stunning orange gown with a matching headdress and gloves struts onto the lawns of the Fairmont Empress. People walking by look confused, glancing around at the assembled picnickers on the lawns of the regal hotel for answers, wondering what will happen next. Others just stare amused, while guests clap wildly. 

Answers came moments later when drag performers from Victoria’s House of Dubét bound out with theatrical flourish in festive wigs, flowing costumes, striking makeup and high heels. Upbeat music begins pumping and the drag queens start to lip-synch and dance. The outfits, the outrageous moves, the music, the laughs… is there anything better than the glitz and glamour of a drag show?Drag Fairmont EmpressMichelle HopkinsAs I sat under a yellow umbrella, cozy on a cushioned blanket, noshing on some of the best cold fried chicken I’ve ever had, I snapped one Instagram-worthy photo after another. My picnic basket also came with the Empress’ signature farro and flax bread smothered in its own honey whipped butter, hummus and snacks on a picture-perfect charcuterie board prepared by the hotel’s culinary team.

When one thinks of Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel, typically one wouldn’t conceive of a drag queen show on its stately lawns. Last year, I attended its inaugural ‘Lunch on the Lawn’ series—truly an ultimate al-fresco dining experience surrounded by beautiful gardens. But this year’s show took the indulgent experience up a notch.

However, Victoria’s Grande Dame offers so much more…

Culinary delights

Veranda RestaurantFairmont EmpressOne of life’s great pleasures is dining outside, pairing delicious food and refreshing drinks with stunning scenery. The Empress’ Veranda offers some of the best views of Victoria harbour and front-row seats to spectacular sunsets. I began my culinary journey with the insanely delicious Brussels and broccolini, crispy fried to perfection and drizzled with roasted peanut-sesame dressing and grilled lemon. I was so taken by this dish, I asked chef Morgan Wilson to share his recipe.

If you can’t make it to Napoli to sample one of Italy’s national treasures, don’t worry. The Veranda’s prosciutto and fig pizza with caramelized shallot jam, gorgonzola, fresh arugula and Empress honey was not only a feast for my eyes, but tasted exactly like authentic pizza should. Absolutely divine. (P.S. It pairs beautifully with B.C.’s Burrowing Owl merlot.) The Veranda is a sensory experience impossible to forget.

Also boasting epic vistas, people come to the nearby Inn at Laurel Point’s Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio as much to feast on the amazing tapas menu as to stare out at the water. The patio is the perfect place to see the seaplanes come and go, people-watch, and to savour Aura’s miso-crusted halibut, seared sockeye, fingerling potatoes bravas in a lime aioli, and heirloom tomato salad infused with Dashi. With executive chef Ken Nakano’s seasonally inspired, farm-to-table fare menu and B.C.’s finest wines, you are in for a memorable experience. FYI: forget your diet and indulge in pastry chef Kimberly Vy’s sweet sampling platter—as exquisite in presentation as it is in deliciousness!

A royal spa treatmentFairmont Empress Willow Stream SpFairmont Empress

The Fairmont Empress’ Willow Stream Spa has mastered spa treatments. Voted by Condé Nast as a Top Resort Spa in Canada and Spas of America Top 100 Spas of the Americas, The Willow Stream Spa is a gorgeous tranquil oasis. Late afternoon, I donned my cozy hotel bathrobe, and headed for the Cadillac of all facialsa 90-minute Advanced Correcting Facial, created for someone of a certain age… like me. As I cocooned under the most luxurious and comfortable quilt, I could feel my skin transform as each European product hydrated, refined and toned my skin. I left feeling 10 years younger (OK, maybe a couple), and came back to my suite with a five-day supply of a serum chosen just for me.

Another great Island spa is the Ritual Nordic Spa, a Scandinavian-inspired wellness retreat based on the Finnish sauna house. (Years ago, I experienced the Cryo Cold Chamber, where the temperature plunged down to 110°C—and I swore I would never do that again.) Although the Ritual Spa’s traditional cedar plunge bath wasn’t nearly as cold, I hesitated. In the end, I talked myself into it and I’m glad I did. After going into the steam room and sauna and then into a quick cold plunge, I felt rejuvenated. New to Victoria, this sanctuary offers a relaxed tranquility that soothes the soul a much as the body. And if you’re a little hungry, there is a small café offering après-spa snacks.

Gold level accommodationsGold Level Fairmont Empress HotelFairmont Empress

Arguably, the city’s most storied hotel, the Empress opened in 1908. It has since been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, and recognized as one of the Top 21 Iconic Hotels in the World by National Geographic Traveler magazine, honoured by Travel + Leisure as a Top Canadian Hotel, and is a Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice and Gold List Hotel.

It’s no wonder the Fairmont Empress has played host to several big names over the years, in politics, entertainment, and royalty. And I ask, who doesn’t like being pampered like royalty? I mean, seriously pampered. If you do, then the Gold Level accommodation is for you.

Dubbed as a hotel within a hotel, on this “exclusive” floor, you are treated like monarchs.  The Gold Level rooms are spacious with modern, luxurious updates. As I’ve come to expect with the Fairmont, my queen-size bed was supremely comfortable and the bathroom was stocked with its luscious Rose 31 signature toiletries. And it doesn’t end there.

As a guest, you can expect friendly concierge service and private Gold Lounge access—such as hot and cold continental breakfast, full-honour bar, delicious evening canapés and (all-day) tea and coffee. I highly recommend starting the day with a complimentary breakfast buffet, with choices as healthy or as decadent as you wish. As the weather was warm, I sat on the beautifully landscaped outdoor terrace by the firepit table and soaked in views of the marina.

P.S. It’s worth taking a stroll through the distinctive chateau-style architecture, which was inspired by the picturesque castles of the French Renaissance. Not only is the iconic landmark an urban oasis, not just because of its stunning architecture, but also because of a culture of service the hotel is renowned for. Anyone who has ever stayed at any of the city’s Fairmont hotels understand what I mean. Although stately, there is nothing stuffy about the impeccable service.