Magnolia Hotel & Spa
623 Courtney St., 1-250-381-0999; magnoliahotel.com; 64 rooms from $179.
The most glamorous way to swoop into Victoria, barring a gigantic yacht teeming with manservants, is by floatplane. In half an hour a Harbour Air seaplane takes you from downtown Vancouver to Victoria's Inner Harbour, just blocks away from the Magnolia Hotel & Spa. On request, hotel staff can meet you and pull your bag up the mild slope. The Magnolia is tucked into Courtney Street, close to the grand, neo-Georgian Union Club of B.C. (est. 1879) and the Chateau-style Fairmont Empress (est. 1908). In other words, this is a historic neighbourhood, and although the Magnolia is only 15 years old, its recently refurbished style is elegant faux heritage rather than trendy.
Victoria brims with hundred-year-old structures – look above storefronts and entryways for architectural surprises. The Magnolia is an easy walking distance from marine vistas, Government Street shopping, the new Victoria Public Market at the Hudson and Old Town, which includes Canada's first Chinatown and the indie stores of Johnson Street, such as the minuscule Smoking Lily. Watch for B.C.'s oldest bakery, Willie's Bakery & Café (est. 1887).
The rooms' palate of "taupe, smoke and pearl" is relaxing and prettily offset by crisp black-and-white photos of architectural details from notable local edifices, as well as abstract art with a watery subtext. Rooms on the sixth and seventh floors have lovely gas fireplaces. Business travellers doubtless appreciate the free WiFi, the bedside phone with a universal outlet for charging cellphones and playing iPods, and the lamps that contain outlets to charge other electronics. All this, plus good-size desks in the rooms, likely explains Magnolia's spot on Condé Nast Traveler's list of Best Business Travel Hotels in the World for 2013.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
The hotel's hallways could look perkier.
The intimate, seven-room Spa Magnolia was a real treat. My 60-minute inner-beauty facial ($125) involved deep cleansing, exfoliating and an Intellimune elixir mask brimming with anti-oxidants extracted from organic red grapes, raspberries, cranberries, pumpkin and black cumin. After a facial massage, anti-aging serum, and mist and moisturizer, I felt as if I glowed, though, oddly, nobody put the moves on me afterward.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
You're not quite waterside here, so don't expect panoramic harbour views. The most inviting options are the 400-square-foot corner and diamond rooms, which offer a king-size bed, a wall-full of windows offering glimpses of B.C.'s "Ledge" and the Empress, and a spacious seating area with sofa and chairs.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
The tone here is reserved and the clientele generally mature – mostly over 30. Consultants, civil engineers and lawyers apparently dominate; this isn't a hotel for the Jell-O shots crowd.
EAT IN OR EAT OUT?
Eat in. Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar isn't especially swank-looking, but you do get a view of B.C.'s handsome Legislature lit up at night, and the kitchen really knows what it's doing in terms of Mediterranean food. "Cicchetti" means Venetian small bites – nibbles here include polenta fries with piquillo pepper aioli. Cocktail lovers might order a San Marco at midnight, featuring fig-infused Vecchia Romagna brandy, date and walnut bitters, Prosecco and honey, but a B.C. wine paired perfectly with my unforgettably scrumptious crispy rockfish in brown butter. Do not depart from the hotel without trying nonna's rice fritters, which arrive airy and hot in a paper bag with caramel sauce on the side, like the sort of angelic doughnut holes a pope might get served in heaven.
The writer was a guest of the hotel and Harbour Air Seaplanes.