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The Deal: The Fairmont Empress, Victoria, BC

Emp2 THE BACKSTORY: The fact that you can look out of your window in the stately Empress hotel and watch sea planes take off and ferries come and go is high praise in my book. This dowager overlooking Victoria’s busy harbor offers old fashioned comfort. It feels like one of those venerable Scottish railway hotels, and indeed, it was built by Canadian Pacific in 1908, back in the days when that railroad company was erecting similar structures like the Banff Springs and the Chateau Frontenac. The Empress was, in fact, built to serve the passengers brought by Canadian Pacific’s steamship line. The hotel’s endless corridors, the mahogany paneling and the chandeliers still seem redolent of those bygone times.

Emp6 THE ROOMS: There are 447 rooms in the hotel, and the best ones have a clubby feel to them, with solid if unremarkable furniture. Note that some rooms can be on the small side.

MORE REASONS TO STAY: The Willow Stream Spa, which offers a well-thought out roster of treatments.

WHAT’S THE DEAL: The Bed and Breakfast package starts at $199 CAD per night, about $190 US, and is about as good a deal as you’ll find.

INSIDER TIP: Pony up the extra dough to stay in one of the Fairmont Gold concierge level rooms. They’re more spacious, they have better appointments, and they offer the best views in the house. And the breakfast buffet is a civilized way to start the morning.Emp5

CAVEAT: The Empress is one of the prime sights of Victoria, which means that it’s a destination for cruise ship passengers, bus tours and gawkers. That can make the Empress’ legendary afternoon tea a tad on the crowded side.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: On the harbor, a couple of blocks from great antique shops and Victoria landmarks like Munro’s Books, which is grandly located in the former Royal Bank of Canada building and is arguably the best bookshop in the country. And FYI, owner Jim Munro is the ex-husband of novelist Alice Munro.

THE DETAILS: The Fairmont Empress

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