Tess van Straaten played tourist in her own town for her recent column for Monday Magazine. Photos contributed

Tess van Straaten played tourist in her own town for her recent column for Monday Magazine. Photos contributed

Victoria Spring Fling: tea, tulips and historical treasures

Monday columnist Tess van Straaten rediscovers some local gems

Tourists come from all over the world to visit Victoria — and it’s easy to see why — so I decided to join them and have a ‘spring fling’ staycation in our vibrant city.

“Victoria is such a walkable city, and is there any time better than spring?” asks Fairmont Empress public relations director Tracey Drake.

“With the flower count and the cherry blossoms in full bloom, there is a somewhat European allure to the streets, quaint English architecture and Parisian tree-lined streets. Why would you want to go anywhere else?”

I’ve checked into the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, the grand dame of Victoria hotels. Over the years, the Empress has hosted everyone from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles to Hollywood royalty. And after an incredible $60-million renovation, she’s been restored to her former glory.

“Locals and travellers alike love the grandeur of the new reception lobby and the upgraded rooms,” says Drake. “I love the lobby lounge — it’s the perfect mix of historical elegance and modern touches.”

The Empress is also famous for afternoon tea, which it’s been serving for 110 years. An estimated half a million cups of tea are steeped to perfection each year. With sweets, savoury treats and sandwiches, it can easily replace a meal. My favourite part? The mouth-watering macaroons!

It wouldn’t be a Victoria staycation without a visit to the region’s most famous attraction — the world-renowned Butchart Gardens. A riot of colour and creativity, the National Historic Site attracts more than a million visitors every year.

“If you ask a gardener what their favourite season is, they’re likely to say spring,” says Butchart public relations manager Daphne Gardner.

“Spring is a time of re-growth, with each day showing a fresh sign of the season as bulbs planted in the autumn push through the ground and shrubs burst into colour.”

More than 400,000 bulbs are planted in the fall and begin blooming in March, including more than 75,000 spring bulbs in the Sunken Garden alone. In 1912, Jennie Butchart began transforming what was a barren limestone quarry into the world-famous Sunken Garden.

“Jennie Butchart wasn’t a gardener before she moved here from Ontario,” explains Butchart historian Rob Churchill.

“She actually turned down an arts scholarship to marry Mr. Butchart. With her sense of colour and artistry, we think maybe this was her canvass.”

Until March 15, the historical display is open in the Butchart family residence with many treasures on display.

After our enlightening tour — did you know the 1932 addition alongside the Italian Gardens was a one-lane bowling alley? There was also a heated indoor pool (sadly, it’s now a storage room) – Churchill joins my mom, Dee, and me for afternoon tea at the Dining Room Restaurant.

“There were teahouses all around the gardens and people would go in and help themselves but they’d also walk off with the cups and saucers and cutlery so that had to stop,” Churchill tells us. Sipping Earl Grey tea and looking out at the flowers starting to burst into bloom, I’m rediscovering all the things I love about Victoria.

editor@mondaymag.com

Tourism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

Braden Holtby’s new mask designed in collaboration with Luke Marston and David Gunnarsson. (Mike Wavrecan photo)
Vancouver Island Coast Salish artist unveils new mask for Canucks goalie

Braden Holtby’s new mask features artwork by Luke Marston inspired by the legend of the seawolf

Alan Tudyk stars as Alien Harry Vanderspeigel in the new series Resident Alien (Photo by: James Dittinger/SYFY)
Resident Alien brings Vancouver Island to the small screen with January premiere

Quirky series shot in Ladysmith will air every Wednesday on the CTV Sci-Fi Channel

Comox-based cinematographer Maxwel Hohn’s new documentary captures the lives of Vancouver Island’s coastal wolves. Photo courtesy Maxwel Hohn.
New mini-documentary shot on Vancouver Island echoes the ‘call of the coastal wolves’

Photography heavyweights from B.C. come together for Maxwel Hohn’s second wildlife documentary

The 2021 Victoria Film Festival includes Vancouver Island produced feature film All-in Madonna. The festival looks a bit different this year, but film-lovers can still expect a full and diverse lineup. (Courtesy of VFF)
Victoria Film Festival returns with virtual viewing

Lineup features 50 films including Vancouver Island-produced All-in Madonna

Jorie Benjamin does a modern dance performance to ‘La Vie en rose’ by Édith Piaf, Louis Gugliemi and Marguerite Monnot, choreographed by Elise Sampson during the Cowichan Music Festival’s Highlights Concert at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on March 1, 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Music Festival cancelled for 2021

The festival had already been limited to solo performances only for 2021

<em>Chinook Salmon: Breaking Through</em> by B.C.’s Mark Hobson was selected among 13 entries as the winner of the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salmon Stamp Competition.
Stained-glass lighting casts a win to B.C. salmon artist

Painting of chinook is Mark Hobson’s third win in annual contest

Apollonian means “serene, calm, or well-balanced; poised & disciplined”. The natural photo art for the album includes Vancouver Island mountains, rivers and beaches. Scenes from the Cowichan River, Witchcraft Lake, Pipers Lagoon, Wall Beach and other popular Island recreation destinations accentuate the album. (RICHIErichieRichie Music Publishing photo)
Serenity Now! Richie Valley debuts third LP dubbed Apollonian

Apollonian means “serene, calm, or well-balanced; poised & disciplined”

Victoria artist Noah Layne is conducting online workshops on portrait drawing as part of the Metchosin ArtPod’s About Face portrait show. (Photo courtesy of Noah Layne)
Metchosin Art Pod doing an about-face

Renowned artist Noah Layne hosting online classes in portrait drawing

This weekend Amy Pye is holding a virtual book launch for her latest children’s book, <em>Bruce the Silly Goose</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Victoria writer and illustrator pens children’s book about COVID-19 safety

Amy Pye to hold online book launch for ‘Bruce the Silly Goose’

The pantomime ‘Snow White and the 5 Dwarfs’ has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Submitted)
Pantomime cancelled in Cowichan due to COVID restrictions

A partnership of the Cowichan Musical Society, the Shawnigan Players, and the Mercury Players.

A rendering shows the entrance planned for the Hornby Island Arts Centre. Image supplied
Work on Hornby Island Arts Centre to start this month

Community worked with award-winning architectural firm on design

Western Edge Theatre artistic director Brian March and local theatre artists Brianna Hamilton and Daniel Puglas (from left) make up Western Edge’s new team of “artistic associates.” (News Bulletin file photos/Courtney Harder)
Nanaimo theatre company adds younger, diverse voices to artistic team

Western Edge hopes new ‘artistic associates’ will help form new ideas, reach new audiences

Most Read