Arriving by ferry was majestic as we come around the bay and first saw the Fairmont Empress, in Victoria, Canada. It is often called Canada’s Castle on the Coast. The Empress opened in 1908 and quickly became a luxury destination. A $60 million restoration was completed in 2017 restoring many of the original, elegant touches to this national historic site.
We were able to walk to the Empress from the ferry terminal (arriving from Port Angeles, Washington via Black Ball Ferry Line). Entering the lobby, you will be impressed by the two-ton chandelier that graces the lobby area. It is composed of approximately 140,000 hand-cut crystals intertwined into a mesh that forms petal-like shapes.
The location is ideal for shopping, visiting museums, the government house (Victoria is the capital of British Columbia), meeting events and numerous seasonal outdoor activities. After unpacking you may want to take a stroll across the street for beautiful views of Victoria and the harbor. The Royal BC Museum is an easy walk from the hotel. Or take a ride out to Butchart Gardens, a truly fantastic way to spend the day.
You will find the Empress has won numerous impressive awards, but did you know that the Fairmont Empress has its’ own bee apiary? Harvested twice a year the bees at the Empress produce close to 1400 pounds of honey. The honey is used for the afternoon tea service and in dishes prepared in the restaurant. It is also for sale in the gift shop.
Many of Empress’s elegant details have been restored with touches of modernization to the 464 guest rooms. Throughout the hotel, with a few rare exceptions, no two rooms are identical, with sizes ranging from the standard room, Junior Suites, One and Two-bedroom suites.
Each room includes the following amenities: terry cloth bathrobes, WiFi, in-room safes, ceiling fan, coffee maker and tea kettle, and Luxurious down-filled duvets.
Is your pet going to accompany you? Reserve a pet-friendly room in advance – they are more than welcome at the Empress.
Nestled within the hotel, is the Gold Level a separate ‘hotel within a hotel.’ At the Empress, it includes 65 elite guest rooms that have a separate check-in desk, discerning guest concierge service, private lounges, and exclusive outdoor seating with sweeping views of the Inner Harbor. Gold members receive exclusive access to the Gold Lounge, which is open all day for water, tea, coffee, comfortable seating, a library with a fireplace and much more. Included are a breakfast buffet, complimentary snacks, evening appetizers, and late night desserts.
The Fairmont Gold experience caters to your luxury needs from the moment you arrive to an effortlessly quick departure. Your Gold stay is a pampered experience from luxury rooms, lounges to escape to, beautiful views, and food options throughout the day. Looking for the ultimate luxury stay, ask for a Gold Level room.
One of the main reasons I was excited about staying at the Empress, was for their world famous ‘Tea at the Empress.’ It is served in the sophisticated Lobby Lounge. Afternoon Tea has been a daily tradition at the hotel since it opened in 1908.
The tea is served using an exclusively made floral china pattern. A three-tiered tray of delicacies is provided with the tea, that includes fresh seasonal fruit with cream, assorted sandwiches, traditional English golden raisin scones served with clotted cream and house-made strawberry lavender jam, and bite-size pastries created in-house by the pastry team. Of course, you need to sample everything.
As you relax and enjoy your tea, listen to the live classical piano, take a peek at the excellent harbor view or nestle by the fireplace.
Our server, Marlene, was fun, knowledgeable, and explained everything in detail. It starts with the tea leaves displayed in a “wooden box,” as the menu. There is a selection of 21 teas to choose from. The teapots are then brought to your table and placed on candlelit warmers. A timer is started for steeping the tea. Marlene explained how to take a taste at 3 minutes and then decide if you would like to steep the tea a little longer or not.
There is no rushing, and you feel quite at ease in a lovely room, in a stunning hotel. It is easy to see why it is internationally known as a must experience Afternoon Tea.
Take Home a Memory
Need a reminder to take home with you? The beautiful china cup and saucer set used for the afternoon tea service is available for purchase in the gift shop.
- Willow Stream Spa
- Indoor Heated Pool
- Health Club
- Business Meeting Rooms
- Wedding Venue
- and more
The Willow Stream Spa is a full-service spa and is considered one of the best spas in Canada. They offer over 85 spa treatments tore-energize you and dissipate any stress.
Be sure to check with the concierge or the hotels’ website to learn about the array of facilities and other amenities. If you have children, be sure to find out about the scavenger hunt or other kid-friendly activities the hotel offers. Go outside and find the beehives, something you can’t do at most hotels.
Oh, what a beautiful view our room had of Victoria’s Inner Harbor. The hallway leading to our room was wide enough to feel majestic. We were told old hotel hallways were wide because it was not appropriate to have a guest in your room. In the past, people would gather, some would even bring out chairs, in the hallways to mingle.
The bed and the room were luxurious. The colors and the feel of the place were familiar and welcoming. We almost missed the coffee/tea maker as it was tucked inside the bureau. There were bathrobes and slippers in the closet, along with a safe.
The Gold Lounge was included with our Gold level room. We arrived in the early evening and had our first cup of tea there. The lounge before the restoration was five guest rooms, now converted into an elegant space.
The next morning we started our day at the Gold Lounge with a breakfast buffet. They have a coffee machine that you need to be instructed on how to use before you use it for the first time. Smile. There were several hot items to select from and an assortment of cold cheeses, meats, and cereals.
It was late fall and raining out, so we were unable to enjoy the exclusive outdoor lounge. I could picture people sitting outside enjoying a cocktail at sunset during a warmer time of year.
Late morning/early afternoon, there are snacks in the lounge that you can grab and take with you as you go out to explore the city. We came back several times during the day, including appetizers and later for dessert. Yum. Having the Gold Lounge available as part of our stay made the whole experience unique, pampered, elegant, and something we would love to do again.
What a fun way to send a personal note to friends and family during your stay at the Empress. There are several hotel images to choose from. After selecting an image, you add their email address and a quick note. You can even preview what the E-Postcard will look like. Sending postcards can often be time-consuming; this is an excellent online service with no stamp required.
- Four Diamonds by AAA/CAA
- Four Star Award by Forbes Travel Guide
- Top Canadian Hotel by Travel + Leisure
- Selected as one of Top 21 Iconic Hotels in the World by National Geographic Traveler Magazine
My Final Thoughts
You will find from the moment you arrive until you depart, the Fairmont Empress – Castle on the Coast, will be a unique luxury experience. The old world charm with new modern touches makes this a special property. If you appreciate tea, ‘Tea at the Empress’ is a must. It is the most elegant afternoon tea I have attended.
The hotel has so many awards, but the reality check is – this property has earned them. It is a majestic luxury destination on an island, overlooking a colorful harbor. No wonder, royalty, and dignitaries from around the world have stayed here.
The $60 million restoration has brought grandeur back to the Castle on the Coast, the Fairmont Empress. Hopefully, a luxury destination now added to your list of place you would love to go.
721 Government Street
Victoria, British Columbia Canada V8W 1W5
Twitter + Instagram: @FairmontEmpress
Our stay at the Fairmont Empress was as a hosted media guest. However, as with all our blogs, the opinions expressed are solely mine, and the hotel did not review or approve this blog.