Anchoring the southeastern corner of Vancouver Island, the city of Victoria has become one of the continent's favorite tourist destinations. Conde Nast Traveler magazine has listed Victoria as one of the five most pleasant cities in the world to visit Established by the Hudson's Bay Company when the Oregon Treaty was signed, Victoria has lost its early roughshod atmosphere and is an oasis of British Columbia gentility, where high tea in the Fairmont Empress Hotel has become a standing tradition.
Victoria has shed some of its more-English-than-England atmosphere over the past 30 years, and has become the fully modern capital of the province with a distinctive ambience. The people are friendly, the pace is leisurely and a variety of attractions and recreation bring people back to Victoria again and again. It is also a popular retirement city.
The Inner Harbour provides a focal point for visitors, with the local infocentre located under an art deco tower. Here are the terminals for ferries to Seattle and Port Angeles, Washington, and seaplane flights to Vancouver. Across the harbor are the B.C. Parliament Buildings, which sparkle at night with hundreds of lights. An excellent introduction to the province is a visit to the Royal B.C. Museum, located next to the Parliament Buildings. This major museum concentrates on B.C.'s natural history and native heritage. More history can be soaked up at Fort Rodd Hill, an 1896 British bastion, now operated as a national historic site.
Bastion Square in the downtown area is the site of old Fort Victoria (1843). Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian mansion built by coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir, is open for tours.
Visiting Victoria's Parks & Gardens
The greater Victoria area is blessed with many gardens and parks. The most famous and extensive of these is Butchart Gardens, located in Sidney near the Swartz Bay ferry docks. At any time of the year Butchart Gardens provides a panorama of flowers, trees and shrubs in what was once a huge gravel pit. The gardens of Government House, the residence of B.C.'s Lieutenant Governor, are open to the public daily. The city has a wide range of hotels, motels and bed & breakfast places, some of them surprisingly inexpensive during the off-season.
Travel by car to the outskirts of Victoria is recommended: to Saanich Inlet, Sidney and Cowichan Bay where boat rentals, guides and tackle are available. Sooke, west of Victoria, is part of a scenic natural area, perfect for picnics or for sophisticated dining (more on this later).
Golf courses within the city include Uplands, Cedar Hill and Gorge Vale. Glen Meadows Golf Club is at West Saanich & McTavish.
Miniature World is a two-minjte walk from the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and is a longstanding and very popular attraction -- a world of smallness for kids and adults. You'll see the world's smallest operational sawmill, two of the world's largest doll houses, one of the world's largest model railroads, plus circus displays, and an Enchanted Valley of Castles. Special effects in lighting, sound and animation help to create a memorable experience. Open every day.It's located at 649 Humboldt St. in downtown Vistoric. For information, call (250) 385-9731.
There are two kinds of roads on Vancouver Island: the normal paved highways and logging roads, which are built and maintained by logging companies. One "mainline" logging road, which offers an important recreation access route, is the Cowichan Lake-to-Port Renfrew Road in the southwest corner of the island, an hour's drive north of Victoria. This partially-paved road begins in the Cowichan Valley, in the community of Cowichan Lake near Duncan. It then leads cross-country to several camping areas in the forest lands and to the village of Port Renfrew. Cowichan Lake is one of the most popular vacation destinations on the island. Port Renfrew is the access point for the southern trailhead for the West Coast Trail of Pacific Rim National Park. This road also provides access to several other roads that lead toward the west coast of the island, including the towns of Port Alberni and Bamfield.
Day Trip to Parksville & Fir Tree Groves
Some of the best preserved groves of old-growth Douglas fir trees are found within an hour's drive of Parksville, which is north of Nanaimo and two hours' drive from Victoria. Leaving Parksville for an outing, take Highway 4 west toward Port Alberni. Along the way there is access to several provincial parks that contain striking geological and forest attractions. The first is Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, 9 km (5.6 miles) south of the main highway. The park has a large campground, a gorge and waterfall. There is good fishing for steelhead, rainbow and cutthroat trout. Back on Hwy. 4, there is another waterfall at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Take the marked road north for 4.5 km, and you'll see more beautiful falls and forest groves. The park features swimming and canoeing.
Returning to Highway 4, Cameron Lake Picnic Park is a good place for lunch and more fishing. At the end of Cameron Lake is Cathedral Grove, part of MacMillan Provincial Park. Here are some of the largest remaining Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island, set aside by Harvey R. MacMillan (whose company became MacMillan Bloedel) and presented them to the province. There are walking trails and picnic areas in the park.
If you haven't seen enough scenery after all this, Mt. Arrowsmith Regional Park offers alpine hiking and fishing at this wintertime ski area.
At the top of the food list is the Fairmont Empress Hotel Dining Room on the Inner Harbour, and the dining room of the Oak Beach Hotel on Beach Drive. Both hotels have a fine ambience and excellent cuisine with great service. Both are in the expensive range.
Pagliacci's at 1011 Broad St. is a less formal place, pasta is the specialty, with jazz at night. Buchart Gardens has a restaurant amidst the flowers .
Fort Victoria RV Park and Campground (604-479-8112) is at 340 Island Highway (Hwy. 1A) on The Gorge, a waterway in the town of View Royal, 6 km from downtown Victoria with hookups, sani-station, tenting sites, showers & laundry.
Goldstream Park Campground is on the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) 17 km from downtown Victoria. This is a basic public campground with showers, set amidst towering Douglas fir trees.
KOA Victoria East, Mount Newton Cross Road (604-652-3232) is 18 km north of Victoria in Saanichton. This is a large RV park overlooking the water with hookups, pull-through sites, showers, a store, propane gas and laundry.
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