Vancouver Island does refined and wild equally well
Do you think you have to be in the dark to scare yourself witless? Not in Victoria, B.C. There, on one of the many Ghostly Walks tours, you can frighten and enlighten yourself on a sunny day.
Owner John Adams, his son Chris and their talented team of actor/tour guides offer walking tours of Victoria’s historic downtown area that provide a comprehensive understanding of the city’s past and a pleasantly creepy introduction to some ghostly characters who still haunt the old streets and buildings. You’ll hear about spurned and vengeful lovers, bloodstains on floors and chilling cries that echo through empty hallways on lonely nights.
Afterward, treat yourself to the ultimate Victoria must-do: tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. With its cornucopia of clotted-cream, scones, itsy-bitsy cucumbers, smoked salmon, egg and chicken salad finger sandwiches and miniature pastries, this is what your grandmother meant when she talked about tea.
After exploring, you’ll be looking for a cozy spot for the night and you can’t do better than the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. This 100-room luxury hotel offers the proverbial room with a view—and what a view it is! If your room doesn’t overlook the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with snowcapped Mount Baker shimmering in the distance, you’ll instead gaze out at the tree-lined, small-town beauty of Oak Bay. Either way, the scenery will make you an overnight Instagram sensation. While the exquisitely appointed suites and rooms would be enough to make this a stay-forever choice, the on-site mineral pool takes things over the top. Sit, soak, simmer and forget that the rest of the world even exists.
If Victoria embodies a highly civilized British vibe, Tofino is the other side of the Vancouver Island story. Well-known as a year-round surfers’ paradise, Tofino offers a strangely wonderful way to enjoy the wild weather for which the area is famous—the storm party. Because Tofino’s coast is unsheltered, the wind whips the waves to stunning heights of more than six metres before pushing them onto the beaches. The resulting shows of watery power are epic. Although the
Wickaninnish Inn on Chesterman Beach is best known for these celebrations, the Long Beach Lodge Resort on Cox Bay Beach gets into the wild weather festivities, too. Toss in a meal of fresh B.C. salmon and a few marshmallows to toast over the fire and you’re all set. Cue the thunder and lightning!
When morning comes and the clouds blow away, you’ll be hungry again. Luckily, Tofino is blessed with more great cafés and restaurants per capita than any other small town we can think of. A big fave is Wolf in the Fog. The perfect choice for a Sunday brunch, this cozy spot is the best place in town for classic Tofino chowder, loaded with clams, fish, fennel, leeks and all kinds of yummy-ness.
BECOME A TREE HUGGER
Ordinarily, when we talk about cathedrals, we’re thinking about man-made structures and Sunday services, but on Vancouver Island, there’s a place of worship that’s entirely natural. Cathedral Grove, the very rare remainder of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem, is a place you have to visit to appreciate. There’s a mind-boggling stand of trees more than 800 years old, towering 76 metres in the air—some nearly nine metres across. Cared for and preserved by local Indigenous people, these trees are a treasure visited by fewer tourists than you might expect. It’s well worth the drive to see them for a quick reminder of how tiny we are by comparison and how relatively short our time is on this earth.