CELEBRATING ITS 100TH BIRTHDAY THIS YEAR, the 477-room Fairmont Empress (www.fairmont.com/empress), on flower-filled Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is set along Victoria's inner harbor.
Since the ivy-draped hotel opened its doors in 1908, Hollywood stars from many eras—John Travolta, Barbra Streisand, Douglas Fairbanks, Rita Hayworth—have crossed its threshold, as have royals from Queen Elizabeth II to Edward, the Prince of Wales. A $4 million renovation saved the property from demolition in 1966. Millions upon millions have been doled out since to keep it in top form.
Best accommodations to book here are the Fairmont Gold harbor-view rooms. In addition to serving up drool-worthy vistas, they come with Fairmont Gold privileges, which include dedicated check-in and check-out, dedicated concierge staff, complimentary use of a boardroom that seats eight and a private lounge where bountiful continental breakfasts and evening canapés are served.
One- and two-bedroom suites, at 500 and 600 square feet, respectively, are good for families. But the 1,900-square-foot, two-bedroom Royal Suite (#630) is by far the grandest. Every room in it has a view of the inner harbor, and there's also a fully equipped pantry, a living room with grand piano and a dining table big enough for 12.
All accommodations but the Royal Suite can be booked over the GDS. For special requests and your VIPs, contact general manager Roger Soane (250-389-2700, [email protected] ). The Fairmont has meeting space for up to 1,200 people and is connected to the Victoria Conference Centre by an indoor walkway.
The hotel's gorgeous Willow Stream Spa boasts 11 treatment rooms, including a couple's suite. The most requested treatment is the 90-minute Relaxation Massage. Products include the spa's own Willow Stream Energy & Balance Line, Kerstin Florian and B. Kamins. Definitely book ahead with spa director April Barcham (250-995-4650, [email protected] . The spa is also home to a health club and indoor pool.
The award-winning Empress Room is for fine dining. It has long been considered the best restaurant in town. As it offers more than 800 wine selections, we're not surprised the Empress Room is a recent recipient of Wine Spectator's "Best of Award of Excellence." Suggest clients order the house specialty—a delicious rack of lamb—though we were partial to the pan-seared Pacific Wild Chinook salmon. Be sure to book a table a week ahead. In warmer weather, guests can dine outside on the veranda.
So popular is the Fairmont Empress' afternoon tea that more than a thousand people a day enjoy the tradition in the hotel's ornate Tea Lobby during the summer months. Reservations are highly recommended.
The clubby Bengal Lounge overlooking the hotel's lush gardens is famous for its curry lunch and dinner buffets and martini menu, but our money is on the Death by Chocolate buffet every Friday and Saturday night.
Victoria is a 90-minute ferry ride from the city of Vancouver (on the mainland), or a three hour-drive. There are about 10 crossings daily via BC Ferries (www.bcferries.com). For hotel transfers, contact head concierge Duane Lachance (250-384-8111, ext. 6782, [email protected] ) for Fairmont Gold guests or head concierge Deborah Sleno (250-995-3625, [email protected] ) for other guests.