Category Archives: Year-round delights

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC

December 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

The many gardens of Victoria BC have led to the city being called the “Garden City” in the hype of some tourist publications. There’s some truth in the name though since the perfect gardening climate of southern Vancouver Island, its earlier British heritage, and its attractiveness to visitors have all resulted in some magnificent gardens being created for our pleasure. The Butchart Gardens comes to mind first but there are many other delightful gardens on a smaller scale. Visiting gardens in Victoria BC is best done by car to provide full flexibility but buses service most gardens.

The Butchart Gardens

55 acres of dramatic floral displays created in over 100 years draw crowds and superlatives. Some cynics may consider it to be rather a “Disney” garden but it’s hard to imagine anyone not being impressed. Open year-round, its five (yes!) seasons present the many themed gardens in full seasonal splendour: the famous Sunken Garden and the enchanting Japanese Garden are favourites. Summer visits might include enjoying concerts on the lawn and Saturday evening fireworks. Their summer and winter illuminations (“The Magic of Christmas”) are special delights.

Butterfly Gardens

Close to the Butchart Gardens is this tropical greenhouse jungle. Thousands of butterflies charm visitors, as do the flamingoes, small birds, koi and frogs.  Look out for the giant Atlas Moth.

The Gardens at HCP

Another garden on the Saanich Peninsula is the little known, and therefore quiet, Gardens at HCP (Horticultiral Centre of the Pacific). Over 30 themed gardens include the lovely Takata Garden with its adjoining Bonsai and Zen gardens.

Beacon Hill Park

Just south of downtown is “the jewel of Victoria”, 200 acres of varying park and gardens since 1882. Look out for the medieval-style stone bridge, the Children’s Farm and one of the tallest totem poles in the world. Lovely for a peaceful wander.

Finnerty Gardens

Near the south-west corner of the University of Victoria are a network of paths passing over 4,000 trees including over 1,500 rhododendrons and azaleas which create drama late April to early June.

Abkhazi Garden

Tucked away near Oak Bay is a small garden with a romantic story which will warm your heart.

Playfair Park

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC - Playfair Park

A special municipal park (photo above) hidden away in Saanich. Enjoy the rhodendrons in May and the long colourful perennial summer border.

Government House

The grounds of the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor, the Queen’s representative in British Columbia. A colourful cutting garden, rose garden and perennial flower beds set in the Rockland area of heritage homes.

Hatley Castle

West of Victoria are these Japanese, Rose and Italian gardens set in a 500 acre Edwardian estate with views to the distant Olympic Mountains.

Visiting gardens in Victoria BC is more than just a pleasure, it gives insights into the lives of so many who have helped make Victoria the lovely place it is today.

Vancouver Island BC

November 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker which neatly described the character of Vancouver Island BC: Relax! This ain’t the mainland. (Residents of Vancouver Island refer to the rest of BC as “the mainland”.) The relaxed lifestyle is central to our lives on the island; something visitors soon pick up.

The early European explorers in the late 18th century, the Spanish led by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra and the British under George Vancouver seem to have fallen under its spell. Instead of fighting they amicably named it Quadra’s and Vancouver’s Island. Today its indigenous peoples, settlers and tourists happily enjoy the natural beauty and tranquillity.

Its mild climate makes the residents generally content too. Frost and snow are not common and summer temperatures reach a maximum of about 30C/85F with rainfall on the east coast much less than on the “mainland”. My wife and I are trying to grow lemons.

The 800,000 people who call Vancouver Island home live 50% in the greater Victoria area on the south-eastern tip of the island, most of the population being on the eastern side of the island while the west coast retains its rugged isolation. Access to and from the mainland is through ferry routes as well as being well served by airlines.

Saanich Inlet, Vancouver Island BC

460 km (290 miles) north–south and up to 80 km (50 miles) wide, Vancouver Island BC has a reputation for its natural beauty with diverse ecosystems – an abundance of rainforests, mountains, lakes and beaches awaiting exploration. Outdoor recreation is naturally widespread – enjoy some of the thousands of hiking trails in stunning scenery or forests, play golf year-round, take vineyard and winery tours (with souvenirs), visit gardens, make a driving tour or cycle leisurely around the backroads, try zip-lining. Marine adventures are never far way – take a fishing trip, go whale-watching or sailing, see the coast close-up on kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. Then there are museums, art galleries, cultural centres, arts and music festivals, and artisan studios. The cuisine is inspired by the freshly grown, caught or reared. Morning to night (maybe at a B&B) opportunities for activities and inactivities abound.


Galloping Goose Trail

October 30, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Galloping Goose? An interesting image arises in the mind! However it is a reality here on southern Vancouver Island. The Galloping Goose Trail is the major link in a series of connected trails that contribute much to recreation in the Victoria area. To discover the origins of the trail and its name we need to step back in time.

In 1864, gold was discovered in the Leech River north of Sooke. Within a year over 1,000 mines were dug but the excitement rapidly died as did Leechtown. However the rail link remains, connecting the ghost town to Victoria. Disappointingly, we can not try our hand at gold-panning where Leechtown once sat since it is closed off. But we can enjoy 55 kilometres (34 miles) of a lovely open trail route where trains once ran. Between 1922 and 1931 there was a gas-powered car named, you’ve guessed it, the Galloping Goose.

This photo of distant joggers on the Galloping Goose Trail was taken near Roche Cove in East Sooke, one of our favourite stretches. The Galloping Goose Trail near Roche Cove, East SookeScenes vary along the trail but you’re rarely far from the occasional walking party such as our little group, cyclists and occasionally horseback riders. The western half is the most beautiful but its route through Victoria and westerly suburbs makes it easy for many to take some exercise and fresh air.

The route begins right downtown in Victoria, at the Johnson Street Bridge. For the first quarter of its length the trail is paved but then softer surfaces continue. The route passes by Thetis Lake (accessed at Six Mile Road) and soon the urban setting opens out to the woodlands and small farms of Metchosin. It becomes more forested towards Sooke, passing by Matheson Lake and Roche Cove at Gillespie Road (good access points) before passing close to Sooke Potholes with water views across the Sooke Basin. Towards the end, admire the engineering of the Charters Creek and Todd Creek trestle bridges.

The Galloping Goose Trail, which runs East-West, connects with the Lochside Trail, which runs North-South, in Saanich north of downtown Victoria. Its 29km (18 mile) route also follows an earlier railway track near the east coast of the Saanich Peninsula beyond Sidney to Swartz Bay (BC Ferries terminal).

These hiking trails, and others, contribute much to our life. We are most fortunate to have them on our doorstep.



Beacon Hill Park

February 20, 2015 by Martin Vernon

Beacon Hill Park is sometimes called “the jewel of Victoria” and for many visitors it remains a hidden jewel which should not be overlooked. It was named after two navigational beacons protecting ships on the Juan de Fuca Strait and has become a delightful relaxing place just south of downtown Victoria BC.

The park has belonged to the people of Victoria since 1882 and today its 200 Beacon Hill Park - Victoria BCacres has a pleasing balance of natural landscapes and man-made recreations. My favourite area is the lake with its medieval-style stone bridge – look for large blue herons nesting high in neighbouring trees. Others will enjoy graceful Victorian flower gardens or woodlands and grassy slopes. The young, or young at heart, are delighted by the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Children’s Farm where animals have enchanted us since 1985. There are playgrounds, miniature golf, lawn bowling and even a cricket pitch. Free concerts are held at the Cameron Bandshell in summer months.

One of the the world’s tallest totem poles rises 127 feet above Garry oaks overlooking the park and the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the Olympic Mountains. Nearby is Mile 0 of the 8,000km Trans-Canada Highway and a monument to Terry Fox who planned to end his run against cancer here in 1981.

Beacon Hill Park is easily found by walking south from the Inner Harbour, following Douglas Street towards Dallas Road.



The best afternoon teas in Victoria

May 20, 2014 by Martin Vernon

The best afternoon teas in Victoria will add a memory of old-fashioned elegance to your visit to Vancouver Island. There are numerous heritage settings for afternoon tea in Victoria.

At our bed and breakfasts we are often asked for recommendations on the best afternoon teas in Victoria so, several years ago, my wife decided to survey the options. Needless to say, she had to sample them all; well, someone has to do it! Her conclusions were subjective so you may like to undertake a mini survey yourself. She concluded that the venue many people think is the place for afternoon tea in Victoria is not the best although it is twice the price of the others. First though, let’s answer the questions “What is afternoon tea? and “Is afternoon tea the same as high tea?”

Afternoon tea came into existence in the 1840’s when the Duchess of Bedford introduced a mini-meal at Woburn Abbey to fill the long gap Afternoon tea in Victoria at the Butchart Gardensbetween luncheon and dinner which was generally not served until 8pm. This soon developed into a social event of the afternoon and a tradition was established. High tea referred to a meal at the end of a hard day’s work by workers of the new industrial factories or the farms. The differences are also clear in the elements and settings of the meals: one with dainty portions served on fine china in an elegant setting, the other being a hearty meal with strong tea served in the homes of farm or factory workers. Even today many in England call their evening meal “tea”.

My wife pampered herself by visiting these tearooms in Victoria, in no particular order. Prices range from $18.75 to $59.95 per person. Reservations are recommended.

The Empress Hotel. This was the obvious starting point, a venue for afternoon tea since 1908. The setting is perfect for such an elegant meal and the tea excellent. However the price was twice as much as anywhere else and she sensed that the hotel was taking advantage of its reputation at the expense of tourists.

Venus Sophia, 540 Fisgard Street. They specialise in organic foods and offer a gluten-free option too. Another nice touch is afternoon tea for kids.

Murchies, 1110 Government Street. Murchie’s has been selling teas for even longer than the Empress and is a spot locals pop into when shopping downtown.

Point Ellice House, 2616 Pleasant Street. An oasis in a commercial area that’s a little hard to find – we recommend going by a harbour ferry. Tour the Italianate heritage house then take afternoon tea in the garden.

The White Heather Tea Room, 1885 Oak Bay Avenue. Established by a former Victoria B&B innkeeper, this draws Oak Bay residents to meet up with friends. They offer three different meals, according to size. Probably the best value you’ll find.

Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Road. I joined Linda for this part of her survey. Tour the charming garden and appreciate its history then enjoy afternoon tea in the unpretentious tearoom. (This visit reminds me to add that, as a non-tea drinker, I was glad to hear that all these establishments offer coffee as an alternative.)

The Butchart Gardens. The Dining Room is thoroughly Edwardian elegance and the tea excellent. This was Linda’s top choice. Note: you need to pay admission to the gardens so include afternoon tea within your visit.

You can enjoy afternoon tea at other Victoria hotels, tea rooms and restaurants so do not exclude those not on Linda’s list above. Your B&B hosts can advise on options which fit within your plans for the day and make reservations for you. We all need to take a break from busy days:
Oh, a lawyer in the courtroom
In the middle of an alimony plea
Has to stop and help ‘em pour when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea
.” (“Come Out of the Pantry”, 1935 musical)

Tee time in Victoria

October 10, 2013 by Martin Vernon

Tee time in Victoria is as popular as tea time in Victoria. Cities gain reputations verified by personal experiences, and Victoria BC has built up its reputation to visitors by its climate, ambience, scenery, gardens, afternoon tea and golf.

The area is perfect to tee-off throughout the year:

  • 20 varying golf courses
  • mild climate
  • beautiful scenery

Golf in Victoria

From beginners to accomplished golfers, from putting greens Golf in Victoria(or family-fun mini golf) to championship courses, golf in Victoria offers something for everyone. Select from 20 courses; some with serious challenges and others easy to play, some with ocean views and others set near woods and valleys.

Play a round year-round in the mild climate of southern Vancouver Island where greens are green all year. Most Victoria golf courses are open all year.

On vacation then you’ll enjoy the sheer variety of Vancouver Island’s magnificent scenery seen from our golf courses. If you are travelling north on Vancouver Island follow the Vancouver Island Golf Trail with 12 golf courses between Victoria and Campbell River.

If you enjoy playing golf then what could be better with some tee time in Victoria followed later by some tea time!

May in Victoria BC

April 20, 2013 by Martin Vernon

May in Victoria BC is a wonderful time for a visit. There’s this positive summer-is-around-the-corner feeling everywhere. Spring has sprung and “everything’s rosy”.

Here are some special reasons to visit Victoria BC in May – but don’t worry if your plans are for another time: you are assured of great memories. Most of our Victoria festivals are annual so you can enjoy them next year equally well. There’ll be no major changes in the options of things to see and do, in the gardens, in the lack-of-crowds, or even in the weather.

So, what does May offer our visitors?

Victoria festivals

  • Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival is in its 150th year. 2013 dates are 11th to 19th May. You may spot some royal tartan because Prince Andrew will be there as Chief of the Games. The array of Scottish culture, sports and music runs from serious cultural events to the Tilted Kilted Pub Crawl.
  • Vancouver Island’s only rodeo, the Luxton Pro-Rodeo presents thrills and spills on 18th and 19th May.
  • The 115th Victoria Day Parade, Victoria’s largest, is on 20th May.
  • A festival not to miss is the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, 26th to 27th May. Now in its 70th year, there are four courses for colourful races off our shorelines. There’s a great buzz in the Inner Harbour as you wander among boats and displays.

Playfair Park - Victoria BC

Secondly, gardens in The Garden City are filled with colour – not just The Butchart Gardens and the many others open for viewing, but also our many parks and public gardens. Ask your B&B innkeeper where the city’s best rhododendron display can be found at Playfair Park. Then there are roadside corners and boulevards, and private garden displays abundantly dotted around the city. It’s blooming’ wonderful.

Thirdly, the crowds. May in Victoria BC is crowdless, almost. Parking is no problem and roads are uncongested.

Fourthly, Victoria’s weather. May high temperatures typically average 16 – 18C (61 – 65F) with lows averaging 6 – 8 C (43 – 46 F) so it is pleasant, and April showers are a thing of the past. The warm climate here is the best in Canada.

May we see you? We hope so.

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