Harborside hospitality at Fairmont Empress

The hotel's Q restaurant.
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The Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, presides over the city's inner harbor like a queen on her throne. During the day, crowds of visitors stroll the beautifully manicured grounds, taking pictures in front of the chateau-style building or venturing inside to partake of the property's elaborate high tea ceremony or shop at one of the hotel's six stores. From within the hotel, guests enjoy great views of the harbor and the neighboring Parliament buildings.

As a guest of the hotel on a recent trip. I stayed in one of the Fairmont Gold rooms, all of which come with access to a private concierge and include the use of the Gold Lounge and Terrace. The terrace space opened last year, after having served as the hotel's flag deck for over 100 years. Guests could easily spend a few hours here, enjoying a drink while watching the water taxis, ferries and sea planes shuttle around the harbor. It's also an ideal spot for catching the sunset.

In addition, Gold guests can take advantage of the complimentary buffet breakfast served in the lounge as well as snacks throughout the day and cocktail canapes and an honor bar in the evening.

One of the hotels' Fairmont Gold rooms, which feature access to a private concierge and include the use of the Gold Lounge and Terrace.
One of the hotels' Fairmont Gold rooms, which feature access to a private concierge and include the use of the Gold Lounge and Terrace.

The 464-room hotel has undergone more than $60 million in renovations in the last two years.

The first phase included the opening of the Q restaurant and bar, a remodeled lobby lounge, the expanded Fairmont Gold area (including the aforementioned terrace) and the refurbishing of 235 guestrooms.

The second phase, completed in June of this year, features a new lobby, a renovated spa and refurbishment of the remaining guestrooms. The centerpiece of the new lobby is an impressive handmade, floral-inspired chandelier made of crystal mesh.

The Empress is located close to all the major Victoria attractions, and the city itself is easy to explore on foot. On the first day of my visit, having heard Victoria was the cycling capital of Canada, I took the Castles, 'Hoods and Legends bicycle tour with the Pedaler tour company. It was a great way to get the lay of the land in Victoria and learn about local history, including the fascinating life story of the Fairmont's architect, Francis Rattenbury.

On another day I made the 20-minute walk along a harborside path to Spinnaker's, the oldest operating brewpub in B.C., and sampled some of their delicious craft brews. The walk there affords great views of the Parliament Buildings of British Columbia — also designed by Rattenbury — with Washington state's Olympic Mountains serving as a spectacular backdrop.

Back at the Empress, I was treated to an extremely relaxing experience at the hotel's Willow Stream Spa: a seaweed-based treatment using locally harvested ingredients, along with a massage.

In the evening, I enjoyed a cocktail at the Q lounge, which serves a variety of signature cocktails. The Empress is also launching a gin of its own, made in collaboration with Victoria Distillers. The gin, named 1908 after the year the hotel opened, is a striking violet color, which turns pink when mixed with citrus, such as the lime in a gin and tonic. For those looking to get a behind-the-scenes look at the distillery, the Empress recently launched its Garden to Glass package, which includes a limo ride to a tour and tasting at Victoria Distillers as well as a stop at a local cider house, Sea Cider.

Rooms at the Empress start at about $225 in the winter and $310 in the summer. See www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria.

Editor's note: This story originally contained images from the hotel pre-renovation. The images now are from the hotel since completing more than $60 million in renovations in the last two years.

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