On my recent trip to Victoria, which is far more hip than you might think, I wandered into the Victoria Public Market on Douglas Ave., one of the main streets. It’s located in the old Hudson’s Bay building, just a few blocks north of the main part of downtown. And it’s a magnificent addition to the city, a fun and giant and sunny space with ceilings high enough for a giraffe and immense concrete pillars. They’ve added splashy, colourful paper umbrellas to give the place some warmth, too.
The place only opened last fall, I was told.
As great as the décor is, a visit here is all about the food. And it’s awesome food. As soon as you walk in off Douglas you’ll find the Salt Spring Island cheese shop, where you can sample goat cheeses galore for free. They have plain cheeses as well as things like feta spiked with chili and goat cheese with garlic, not to mention raspberry preserves and other goodies. A stunning spot.
At a shop called Roast I had one of the best sandwiches OF MY LIFE; chiopped chunks of moist porchetta with flavourful, crunchy fat bits topped with salsa Verdi and a slice of broccoli rabe on a perfect bun. It sounded a bit odd but it was utterly magnificent. They also make sausage rolls and roast beef sandwiches (a big seller) and sell things like basil lemonade and tasty, local root beer.
Next door at Ravenstone meats you’ll find luscious capiicolla, hot bison pepperoni and yummy truffle salami. All the chicken and pork is raised on a farm north of Victoria, a city with a climate that allows them to grow damned near anything. Not that I’m bitter.
There also are olive shops and a nice seafood place and a tea shop and much more, so check it out. Amazing it took this long, as I said, but worth the wait.
Jim Byers photo
I spent two nights at the Magnolia Hotel and Spa . It’s a lovely, boutique property with 64 rooms. It looks 100 years old but it actually opened in 1998 and was designed to look like a gracefully aging star.
The rooms had silver greys and dark wood and neutral, slightly shimmery wallpaper, along with black and white prints of local place and colourful, impressionist-like paintings above most of the beds, which I really loved.
They have free Wi-Fi, with a unit in each room so you don’t have to worry about bandwidth. The rooms also have Keurig coffee makers and small refrigerators, and many have nice views of Victoria Harbour, which is a short block away.
There’s a 24-hour business centre and a nice gym. The spa is lovely and even has a couple of rooms with the original exposed brick walls. The restaurant Catalona serves as the in-house dining spot, and it’s absolutely wonderful. They have a “bacon flight” in the morning so you can try a variety of smoked products (what a great idea!) as well as more traditional offerings. We had a terrific dinner with fresh rockfish and lamb, along with an absolutely lovely waitress.
Jim Byers photo
One of the great things about Victoria, of course, is the harbour. The views of the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the provincial legislature take up most of the space on our digital cameras, but if you get a short harbour tour on one of the adorable little boats run by the Victoria Harbour Ferry people. We got information on what condo Friends star Lisa Kudrow had purchased, got to see some tiny wooden bird houses they build for returning Purple Martins and got a glimpse of lovely houseboats, one with a spiral staircase. We learned about rum runners in the area and about the workings of the sea planes that come and go in the harbour and had a wonderful time with our guide, Dave Cowell.
We also met a delightful couple from Edmonton who winter on an island near Nanaimo. They told us they’d been married 57 years. Then the woman looked at my wife and I and smiled. “I’m still looking for something better,” she said with a laugh.
It was an absolute delight to see this couple still so close after so many years. And we had a marvellous time.
I had a bit of time to walk around downtown and admired some absolutely fabulous shops, such as Paboom, with its colourful kitchen ware and fun cards. Not to mention Whirled Arts, where you can find mittens and purses and colourful jewellery and Buddha statues. Whirled Arts is in tiny, narrow Fan Tan Alley in Chinatown, which also is quite small come to think of it. They say Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest street in Canada and that might be true.
The downtown area has cool brick buildings and pretty plazas and squares; quite a delight, actually. There are some marvellous pubs, including The Guild, and several nice-looking cafes. We had a terrific dinner at Ulla , where there’s tremendously cool lighting that looks like a wooden bowl of tangled spaghetti noodles (or maybe linguine), as well as terrific elk and beef steaks on offcer. Try the super-moist apricot cake for dessert.
NEXT UP: A great tour of Victoria and more fabulous food!