It’s fair to say much of our COVID-19 stress is exacerbated by the never-ending backdrop of Zoom calls, sweatpants, and furtive grocery store runs. But now that we’re entering Phase 3 of our province’s reopening, those backdrops are thankfully going to grow a little bigger and a whole lot better.
So it’s high time to explore B.C.’s stunner of a backyard to help counterbalance some of the past few months’ house arrest. And where better to begin to unwind than in Victoria, the grand old dame set against the peaceful backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, old-growth rain forests, and Olympic Mountains? Here, you can get your destress on in both urban and oceanside spaces.
Rediscover some urban wellness
Victoria’s boutique Magnolia Hotel sits perfectly tucked away in the downtown core but feels far from the crowd. This quiet, charming spot—nominated as one of Travel + Leisure‘s best city hotels in Canada for 2020—focuses on bespoke service and upscale luxury.
In your elegant European-esque room, find themed self-guided maps identifying neighbourhood gems (such as Munro’s Books, originally opened by Alice Munro in 1963), best eateries (Olo, where chef Brad Holmes of the Slow Food Chefs Alliance switches up sustainable menus each day), and day itineraries (from Tapa Trails to Running Trails).
There’s more unwinding to be relished at the Spa Magnolia on the main floor, where the small footprint of only seven rooms mirrors the hotel’s curated approach. Here, organic brands figure front and centre for treatments such as the Intelligent Nutrients facial, which uses USDA-certified organic red grape, red raspberry, cranberry, pumpkin, and black cumin seeds to improve hydration and combat aging (accelerated of late by too little sleep and too much wine).
If you’re inclined to emerge from this sanctuary, walk toward the Inner Harbour to Nourish Kitchen & Cafe’s 1888 heritage house location for fresh, seasonal produce and whole, unprocessed food from local farms in the Saanich Peninsula. Bone broth made at its bone-broth bar, oatmeal pancakes, and Rad Thai with turnip-and-carrot noodles are all courtesy of owner Hayley Rosenberg’s bubbe (grandma) who believed food could heal the body and soul. There’s even a fermentorium where preserves and kefir are made on site.
While away the afternoon at the now iconic Silk Road Tea Store a few blocks away in Chinatown, where some of the world’s freshest organic teas have been on offer since 1992—a full quarter century before our current tea-aissance. That wealth of experience means owner and tea master Daniela Cubelic can drill down on any of the teas she carries (no artificial flavours, sweeteners, dyes, or gluten and dairy here), as well as her all-natural tea-infused skin-care and bath and body line (which promises to fight colds year-round with her Winter Warrior Wellness tea).
Back at the hotel for dinner, its recently retrofitted Courtney Room is helmed by dream team Brian Tesolin (formerly of Hawksworth) and Chris Klassen (of Agrius), who partner on menus featuring the best of the Pacific Northwest, such as trout mousseline and kabocha squash custard.
Unwind in an oceanside bedroom community
The Oak Bay Beach Hotel sits oceanside in the residential community of Oak Bay, a six-kilometre walk or bike ride from the downtown core but a light year or two away in terms of pace.
In this bedroom community, you’re completely removed from most activity, so it’s best to pull up a chair and watch the waves or dip your toes in one of the heated seaside mineral pools. Warning: views are incredibly distracting, but always calming.
The hotel itself, completely rebuilt in 2012 on the same lot where the original Tudor-style hotel sat for more than 90 years, channels a historic vibe but with all-modern five-star amenities. Each room includes heated bathroom floors, a gas fireplace, and galley kitchen.
Each season, the hotel hosts a weekend wellness retreat with Catherine Roscoe Barr, wellness coach and founder of The Life Delicious. This two-day “blueprint for an extraordinary life” teaches you how to dovetail nutrition, sleep, mind, and body through seaside workshops, take-home recipes, and mindful connection. The next workshop is scheduled for January 2021, so this go-round, grab your car and head to Bilston Creek Farm, instead, on the edge of the city in Metchosin.
This idyllic farm served as the first settlement outside the city in 1851, but it has morphed into ground zero for Instagram-perfect weddings, workshops, and retreats, all set against the backdrop of heritage apple trees and lush lavender fields. Book in at the picture-perfect rustic barn for July 9’s lavender wreath workshop, while July 11 is Yoga in Bloom, a one-day retreat with yoga classes, a sound bath, a lavender distillation experience, and outdoor vegan dinner, of course.
Or there’s always Picnics by Bramble, courtesy of Bilston’s catering team, on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, all summer long. Order wood-fired pizzas (made on site in the outdoor pizza oven), artisanal cheese platters, lavender shortbread, and ice cream, all for either takeout or dine-in orchardside.
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