SLEIGH BELLS RING
The Oak Bay neighbourhood is one of Victoria's oldest and along its main shopping street the holidays are celebrated in style with an annual Christmas festival. Little Christmas plays and carolers, roasted chestnuts, steamed plum puddings and lots of twinkly lights - with its tea rooms, proper pubs, Tudor architecture and gardens, they say Oak Bay is more English than England. Come for a wintry walk in your wellies on Oak Bay Avenue between Foul Bay Road and Monterey Avenue.
Or how about a city sparkle tour in an old English Daimler with room for six in the back? (713 Bexhill Rd.; www.islandnet.com/˜daimler/tours.html)
Every Saturday in December, you can take a free horse-drawn trolley ride through the historic downtown Victoria and hop on, or off, whenever you like. The four stops are at Store Street at Chatham Street; Johnson Street near Willie's Bakery on Wharf Street; Langley Street at Bastion Square (across from re-Bar) and Government Street at Fisgard at the CRD Plaza. Jolly good!
GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST
There have been some ghoulish holiday events in the B.C. capital and historian John Adams at Discover the Past tells all kinds of spooky stories - the Legend of Christmas Hill, the Christmas Eve assassination on the steps of the cathedral and the ghost of Adelaide Griffin, Victoria's first official ghost sighting, on Christmas 1861. You may encounter spirits all along the waterfront, from the narrow alleys of Chinatown to Bastion Square, so the 90-minute Ghosts of Christmas Past walking tour is a holiday favourite. Tours start at the Visitor Information Centre, 812 Wharf St. ( www.discoverthepast.com).
OTHER ISLAND SPIRITS
There's nothing more British to drink than gin and when on the West Coast, those in the know shake their martinis with Victoria Gin.
It's a small-batch premium product distilled by Victoria Spirits that has a lovely portrait of the young queen on the label. It also does an Oaken Gin - aged in American oak until amber and smooth like scotch whisky - and a new Left Coast Hemp Vodka, distilled with hemp seeds. There's also a soon to be released Craigdarroch Whisky still in the barrel. The distillery is open for visits on weekends and holidays (6170 Old West Saanich Rd.; www.victoriaspirits.com).
(And for the holidays, Victoria Spirits has devised a recipe for a GINgle Martini, made with a sugar syrup infused with fir needles from your Christmas tree. Find the recipe online, but don't make the infusion if your tree is deadly hemlock, pine or yew!)
Other fine locavore spirits come from Island Spirits Distillery, a newcomer on Hornby Island. Its Phrog gin is infused with 14 botanicals, from cumin and cardamom to fresh local juniper berries, and the makers claim the Phrog vodka is absolutely pure - guaranteed to be hangover free! Try the Black Jelly Bean liqueur infused with Szechuan peppercorns and star anise (by appointment at 4605 Roburn Rd.; www.islandspirits.ca).
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Where else in Canada could you bundle up the family, grab the lawn chairs and watch a Christmas movie outside, under the stars, in December? The Delta Ocean Pointe resort is offering Starlight Cinema nights - screening such classics as It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol - outside, next to the glittering inner harbour. Movies and hot chocolate are free, with donations to Santa's Anonymous.
The roses may not be in bloom, but you may find a partridge in a pear tree at Butchart Gardens. Not only have they hidden scenes of the 12 Days of Christmas throughout the gardens, tens of thousands of lights turn the lush greenery into a holiday wonderland. Rent a pair of skates and twirl around the outdoor skating rink. Ride the magical carousel in the Children's Pavilion, complete with a menagerie of colourful hand-carved animals from horses and bears to pigs and ostrich. Have a traditional high tea with Cornish pasties, quiche and sweets, or dinner featuring local ingredients in the dining room of the old Butchart family residence. Or just sit among the old-fashioned lampposts (where the garlands of holly and swags of evergreens outline the historic buildings) and listen to the carolers. Open every day, including Christmas (800 Benvenuto Ave., Brentwood Bay; www.butchartgardens.com).
STAY IN VICTORIAN STYLE
Abigail's Hotel is a tiny Tudor mansion, a most romantic spot to spend Christmas, with its half-timbered exterior, opulent spa and luxury Coach House suites. A Victorian Christmas package costs $255 (906 McClure St., www.abigailshotel.com).
Or try the Abbeymore Manor, a pretty bed and breakfast in the Rockland neighbourhood, near historic Craigdarroch Castle, and within walking district of pretty Oak Bay Village and funky Cook Street (1470 Rockland Ave.; www.abbeymoore.com).
Downtown, the Magnolia Hotel & Spa is a hidden gem, with lovely rooms, high ceilings, crown mouldings, cozy fireplaces and modern amenities (free Wi-Fi, fluffy robes), plus views of the downtown lights. Book a holiday shopping package for $199, which includes a $75 dinner or spa coupon (625 Courtney St.; www.magnoliahotel.com).
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