Saturday, June 15, 2019

Victoria, BC, Canada Day Trip...Featuting Tea at the Empress and Butchart Gardens #WGTravel #daytrip #canada #teaattheempress #butchartgardens

During our recent trip to Seattle -- more coming up on those adventures soon! -- The Weekend Gourmet team enjoyed an action-packed day trip to Canada to experience two of British Columbia's most iconic attractions: afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel and an afternoon stroll through The Butchart Gardens. Getting to Victoria from Seattle is a breeze! The early morning Victoria Clipper ferry offers direct service between both cities. The ferry ride departs each morning from Seattle's Downtown Pier 69, arriving at Belleville Terminal in Victoria's Inner Harbor approximately 2 hours 45 minutes later. For example, our ferry left Seattle at 800 a.m., and disembarked and made it through Customs -- ready to explore the area -- by 1115. 

Helpful Hint: You'll need a passport to enter Canada once departing the ferry from Seattle. If you don't have a passport, the passport application process is easy, but be sure to allow plenty of lead time to receive your passport before your departure date!

After passing through Customs at the ferry terminal, we jumped into a waiting taxi for the short drive over to the Fairmont Empress Hotel. This historic hotel has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Iconic Hotels in the World. Its exterior façade, overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor, is instantly recognizable. The Fairmont Empress has been open since 1908...and its elegant "tea at the Empress" has been one of the hotel's signature experiences since the beginning! While the ladies enjoyed a pampering high tea experience, the guys enjoyed cocktails and lunch at the hotel's Q-Bar, which overlooks the city's picturesque Inner Harbor area. Both of these dining experiences were a perfect way to start our afternoon in Canada!

This traditional high tea experience takes place in the Empress' lovely light-filled Lobby Lounge. There's a talented pianist providing soothing music to set the mood as you drink your tea and enjoy sweet and savory menu items. My Social Media Director Crystal and I love to go to tea! As you might remember, we enjoyed a grand southern tea at Memphis' Peabody Hotel last year. We met the Fairmont Empress' Tracey Drake, who was our hostess for this truly once-in-a-lifetime afternoon tea experiences. Tea at
the Empress is one of the Top 10 tea experiences in world, so we were in for a very special treat! Our group was seated at a table and asked to make our tea selection from the menu's collection of 21 loose leaf teas -- including the hotel's signature Empress Blend. The tea menu was presented inside a wooden menu that showed what each loose leaf tea looked well as a description of its components and flavors. I selected the floral Rose Congou Emperor Tea, which is said to be a favorite of the late Princess Diana. Crystal chose the lush Cream Earl Gray Organic tea. Both came to the table served in beautiful porcelain teapots. Our tea was poured for us tableside by our friendly and knowledgeable server.

While we waited for our food to arrive, we started drinking our teas. My tea featured a combination of black tea leaves and rose petals. The floral flavor and aroma of rose was definitely present in every sip, but it wasn't overwhelming. I sweetened my tea with a small amount of natural rock sugar. As we sipped our tea, a three-tier stand of sweet and savory items arrived at our table.
The top tier of the serving stand contained a selection of miniature two-bite desserts, while the middle tier contained savory items and finger sandwiches. The lower tier included the Empress' signature raisin scones. The scones were served warm with rick clotted cream and strawberry lavender preserves that were made in house. We started out with the savory course. We enjoyed cucumber sandwiches with whipped dill cream cheese on dark rye bread, creamy chicken salad on a freshly baked brioche boule, a cold smoked Pacific sockeye salmon blini with chive crème fraiche, a mini quiche, and whipped goat cheese piped into a crunchy shell. 
I'm sure you've noticed the beautiful china that the Empress uses for its tea service. Its origins are quite interesting! The Empress Tea China was originally presented to King George IV in 1914 to commemorate the opening of the Booth earthenware factory in England. The Empress hotel first used this china in 1939 for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's Royal visit. The ornate bone china pattern is now produced exclusively for the Fairmont Empress hotel's use by William Edwards in England.
The savory bites were delicious and perfectly portioned to ensure we had plenty of room for the other two courses! Up next were the Empress' signature raisin scones, which were golden brown outside...and lightly sweetened and fluffy inside. The scones were served with house-made English clotted cream and strawberry lavender preserves.

The scones were tender and lightly sweet, the clotted cream was decadently rich, and the jam was sweetly with a floral background flavor from the lavender. Add it up, and you've got one terrific bite. Next up? My favorite course: dessert! Each treat was two bites big and beautifully presented! We enjoyed classic Scottish shortbread flavored with cream Earl Grey tea, signature Aiyana milk chocolate cremeaux, Meyer lemon tarts, a dark chocolate blackberry macaron, and an apple & white chocolate tartlet. 
The sweet treats were fabulous...but we were especially partial to the tangy-sweet Meyer lemon tart, which was topped with a swirl of fluffy cloud-like meringue. To commemorate our bucket list-worthy tea with Tracey, we posed for a picture with out teacups! We opted to pack up part of our sweets to enjoy during our ferry back to Seattle that afternoon. Then, we met up with the guys, who enjoyed a duo of creative cocktails and lunch at Q-Bar while we were at tea.
They enjoyed a colorful and tart Pimm's Cup and a Q1908 cocktail. If you're not familiar with a refreshing Pimm's Cup, it's a combination of Pimm's spiced citrus liqueur, rosè reduction, and tangy pink lemonade. Q-Bar's signature Q1908 is made from Empress gin, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and a butterfly pea flower garnish -- a beautiful presentation! They paired their cocktails with a perfectly cooked chargrilled Angus hamburger and an open-face face roast beef sandwich.

Before we knew it, it was time to bid the Empress farewell and hop on a double-decker bus to The Butchart Gardens. Lucky for us, our CVS Tours bus to the gardens boarded directly in front of the Fairmont Empress! The boarding process was simple and quick. We made our way to the top deck so we could enjoy expansive views of British Columbia out our windows during the half-hour drive to the gardens. The bus seats were comfortable, we had plenty of room, and our driver was friendly and knowledgeable. En route to the gardens, he explained the sights outside our window during the drive. It was the perfect way to learn more about Victoria and British Columbia. We arrived at The Butchart Gardens and exited our bus at the main entrance. If you've never been to The Butchart Gardens, make sure to add it to your travel bucket list! The pictures you're about to see do not do it justice -- as pretty as the photographs are? The views are even more breathtaking in person!
Here's a few quick facts about this awe-inspiring National Historic Site of Canada. The 55-acre site was originally the home of Robert and Jenny Butchart, who built a cement plant and home at what is now The Butchart Gardens in 1904. As cement production depleted the property's limestone deposits, Jennie began to plant large gardens. The rest is history! The Butchart Gardens have been open for more than a century, and they welcome more than a million visitors each year. The grounds contain more than 900 plant varieties and 26 greenhouses, which are cared for by a team of 50 full-time gardeners. It's so relaxing to take a leisurely walk through the gardens and pathways, soaking in all of the beautiful colors and sweet fragrances. Whether you have a couple of hours -- or an entire afternoon -- to explore, you're guaranteed to have a wonderful, immersive nature experience!
On the grounds of The Butchart Gardens, you'll find a Mediterranean Garden, Italian Garden, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, and the Sunken Garden. The Sunken Garden is perhaps the most well-known garden at The Butchart Gardens. This huge 5-acre two-level garden took nine years to construct in the property's limestone rock quarry. The Sunken Garden contains 151 flower beds, and 65,000 bulbs are planted there each Spring The views looking down from the top level are truly breathtaking!

After enjoying the view from above, a flight of stairs takes visitors inside the Sunken Gardens -- where you'll find a walking path, beds brimming with colorful flowers, and a fountain. While The Butchart Gardens features eye-popping scenery around every corner, we especially enjoyed two sites while walking around the gardens. The first is the grounds behind what was formerly the Butchart family home. This beautifully landscaped area features fountains; Spring tulips;  and sweet-smelling hyacinth in purple, pink, and white varieties.
The second site that caught our attention was the large, ornate statue of three sturgeon fish that are part of a large fountain located at the entrance to the Japanese Garden. It's a perfect spot to sit on a bench, relax a bit, and enjoy the sights and smells of the gardens all around you.
This is a good time to mention that The Butchart Gardens is easy for those with limited mobility to navigate! The Visitor Information Centre provides complimentary wheelchair rental (with a $10 deposit) for guests with difficulty walking. For visitors like me with somewhat limited mobility, there are plenty of places to stop and sit if you need a break from standing and walking around the gardens.

The Butchart Gardens are open every day of the year, with operating hours varying depending on the season. No matter what month you visit, you'll see gorgeous seasonal foliage and flowers. That said, late Spring and Summer tend to have a greater array of flowers in bloom. For example, we visited in late April. The Rose Garden was about to start blooming. The area was still beautiful, but we didn't see it in bloom with roses. Before we knew it, our time at The Butchart Gardens was over. We made our way back to our bus for the return trip to Victoria. I highly recommend CVS Tours' Butchart Gardens shuttle only service OR full tour packages. The bus ride to and from The Butchart Gardens was comfortable -- and the free onboard WiFi made it easy for us to edit pictures and keep up with our social media shares! Our driver dropped us at Victoria's Inner Harbor, making it super easy for us to go back through Customs and quickly board our Victoria Clipper ferry back to Seattle.  

It was cloudy and overcast when we arrived in Victoria that morning, but the clouds had parted and the Sun was peeking through during our return trip. We couldn't resist walking out to the ferry's deck to shoot some video of the scenery during the journey back to Seattle.

I highly recommend that anyone planning a vacation to Seattle includes a day trip to Victoria, BC, in their itinerary. The city is clean, the people are very friendly, and it's a great home base for exploring the Butchart Gardens. 

Disclosure: The Fairmont Empress hosted us for Tea at the Empress and lunch at their Q-Bar. CVS Tours provided my team round-trip bus transfers to and from The Butchart Gardens. Finally, The Butchart Gardens provided complimentary admission to the gardens and a personalized guided tour. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

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