The Butchart Gardens

Over a million people visit The Butchart Gardens near Victoria BC every year. Four of those are my wife and I who make two visits annually: spring or summer and, our favorite, a winter visit in the Christmas season.

Since the summer months offer a dazzling array of colourful floral displays, concerts, fireworks and evening lights why should a winter visit appeal so much? Let’s take a look at what the Butchart Gardens offers year-round for visitors to Vancouver Island: what they call the 5 Seasons.

Spring
Massed tulips herald spring at the Gardens as Victoria’s mild climate does its work. A million bedding plants from their greenhouses come to life. It’s as if nature is smiling again.

Summer
Sooo much to see and do. Each themed garden is bursting with colour. Enjoy evening concerts followed by the summer illuminations. Saturday Fireworks sharpen the senses and afternoon high tea soothes them.

Autumn
Autumnal colours are best appreciated in the Japanese gardens in Victoria. The Japanese maples here are the centrepieces, in yellows, oranges, reds and browns.

Winter
The gardens rest a little and quiet descends; a peaceful time to visit. Then there’s the Spring Prelude Indoor Garden and the Historical Display in the Benvenuto house.

Christmas
The Magic of Christmas is that 5th season, a winter wonderland where millions of lights take the place of the flowers. The Twelve Days of Christmas displays take us through the gardens in December and early January.

There are many other gardens of Victoria to explore but if you want to be dazzled year-round the Butchart Gardens will be sure to delight.

The Gardens at HCP

The Gardens at HCP is not the most appealing of names but don’t let impressions fool you. “HCP” is the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific which sounds even worse unless you are an avid gardener. Its former name of Glendale Gardens is preferable in my view but whats in a name? as Shakespeare pondered… they are a peaceful charming place to visit. Here you can wander through nine acres just north of Victoria, away from the crowds, among 10,000 varieties of plants in over 30 themed gardens.

These gardens often overlooked as people flock to its big brother neighbour on the Saanich Peninsula, The Butchart Gardens. One of many gardens in Victoria open to the public, I appreciate its relaxed, low-key approach (you have to ask to pay the admission fee!). It is unquestionably worth visiting just to enjoy the Takata Gardens: Japanese gardens surrounding a stream which flows past the new Bonsai Garden down to a Zen Garden.

Special events at The Gardens at HCP include Arts and Music in the Gardens held on a mid-August weekend each year with 40 Vancouver Island artists scattered around the many themed gardens. These sections present Mediterranean plants, herbs, heathers, rhododendrons and hostas, lilies, winter, succulents, grasses, fuschias, and more. Special events apart, its a quiet place to wander through at leisure.

Matticks Farm at Cordova Bay

One of the joys of running a Victoria bed and breakfast is to recommend places to visit, usually during breakfast table chit-chat, and then, at the end of the day, to encounter smiling guests full of the joys of their days experiences. One of those often recommended places is Matticks Farm at Cordova Bay, Victoria.

Bill Mattick grew flowers and vegetables from the 1940s at Matticks Farm at Cordova Bay on the eastern side of the Saanich Peninsula just north of Victoria. Then he created a tea garden and a golf course, the embryonic form of Mattick’s Farm as we know it today.

Today it is a charming place to wander around. Its 15 fine stores include boutiques, a garden centre, farm market, wine shop and, of course, the tea garden. Right next door, among the trees, is a mini golf course to be enjoyed before holes-in-one are celebrated with an ice cream. Nearby Cordova Bay Golf Course offers the real thing, on 9 or 18 hole courses.

Special events at Mattick’s Farm and the neighbouring area include Cordova Bay Days in June, and Summer Music in the Square at Mattick’s Farm during July and August afternoons.

A very short drive south on Cordova Bay Road takes you to beach access points to stroll along the beach and look across the Haro Strait to San Juan Island. Then a short drive south is Mount Douglas Park with its commanding views.

Sidney BC

Sidney BC – a place to relax just north of Victoria on the Saanich Peninsula. In fact, it’s difficult not to feel a little soporific here.

Close to Victoria International Airport, sits the quiet town of Sidney BC. Sometimes it seems the fastest activity is people dodging the electric scooters of the large number of seniors living here. It may be sleepy but this leads to a feeling of community.

When the township was registered in 1891 it took its name from nearby Sidney Island which had been named after a lieutenant in the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Section in the 1850s. A year later the new town had a general store, hotel and post office. Today a population of about 12,000 people live here.

The key street is Beacon Avenue with every retail service the community might need as well as gift shops, coffee shops and restaurants. You’ll notice an unusually large number of specialist bookshops in this Booktown. All these lead you to the seafront where you can take the pleasant 2.5km (1.5 mile) long waterfront path which includes the Sidney Sculpture Walk with its distant views of Mount Baker over the Salish Sea. For the more energetic there’s Lochside Trail which passes by Sidney providing a good walking or cycling route to Victoria, connecting to the Galloping Goose Trail all the way to Sooke.

Explore the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and tour the nearby Victoria Distillers. From the quay at the fish market you can hop on a ferry to wander around Sidney Spit, a quiet island protected in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

Sidney’s annual events range from the crazy Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day, to the thoroughly enjoyable Sidney BC summer street market, frivolous bed races along Beacon Avenue in August to gentler Summer Sounds at the bandshell in July and August. In September, sit down for the waterfront Shakespeare by the Sea festival. Our favourite is the bustling summer street market on summer Thursday evenings with crowds enjoying the thoroughly relaxing atmosphere among rows of artisans booths interspersed with local musicians and plenty of places to eat.

Victoria BC tourism map

What to see, where to eat, what to do, where to stay and how to get there? All vital questions which this Victoria BC tourism map will help to answer.

The map shows Victoria and Saanich Peninsula attractions, recreational activities, restaurants, wineries and other tourism related businesses, and, of course, accommodations. (Victoria is on the southern end of the Saanich Peninsula, the area where you’ll be enjoying your vacation in this beautiful area.)

The map is part of an informative website about Victoria BC tourism. Click on these links to prepare for your visit:

  • Attractions so often guests remark as they leave “We wish we were staying longer. Theres so much to do here”. This page has information and links to downtown attractions, Victoria area attractions, gardens, wineries, and recreation on land and on water.
  • The Butchart Gardens – since this is the place you really should visit we’ve dedicated a web page to these magnificent gardens. Allow sufficient time to explore the varied gardens and enjoy its activities.
  • There are videos about aspects of Victoria and Vancouver Island.
  • Local tourism businesses are listed answering some of those What to see, Where to eat and What to do questions.
  • and lastly, that Victoria BC tourism map. Zoom in and out, click on the icons for more information.

 

Our Greater Victoria bed and breakfasts are located conveniently for your explorations of Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. We look forward to welcoming you to a memorable stay.

North Saanich Flavour Trail

The North Saanich Flavour Trail Festival is a very pleasant annual event exploring the roads less travelled on the Saanich Peninsula.

Each year the North Saanich Flavour Trail takes place at 15 or more venues from in late August. Think of a pub crawl where the pubs are farms, markets, vineyards, bakeries, garden centres and the like.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this self-guided tour last year using their mapNorth Saanich Flavour Trail map and information on the Flavour Trail Festival website. You’ll be delighted by the quiet rural charm of the back roads in this northern part of the Saanich Peninsula, just a short drive from bustling Victoria.

Watch sheep dogs at work herding (or should I say flocking?) sheep, smell 30 varieties of lavender, sample local wines, learn about fruit trees (some you’ve never heard of), meet the horses and other animals at a stables, and be deluged with fresh fruit and vegetables at every turn. Such a variety of tasty fresh food!

We also enjoyed the sense of community; meeting the locals proudly sharing the produce of their land and learning more about this lovely area blessed by its fine climate in a lovely natural setting.

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A tasty visit to Victoria

Have a tasty visit to Victoria! Your visit should satisfy all the senses: seeing the sights, smelling the roses at the Butchart Gardens, hearing killer whales on a whale-watching boat hydrophone,  touching camera buttons; but what about taste?

Its an oft-quoted statistic that Victoria has more restaurants per capita than anywhere in North America except San Francisco, but let’s ignore quantity and focus on quality.

Yesterday evening my wife and I went with friends to a where we had not dined for several years. The meal was excellent but what struck us most was the new emphases on the menu: healthy, local foods. This is the trend here these days so embrace it and enjoy! The previous day we had visited two farm markets where the same message was tastefully (pun intended) presented: foods are locally grown, distributed and enjoyed. Economic sustainability and environmental responsibility in action.

Southern Vancouver Island’s climate and terrain enables an unusually wide range of agricultural goodies to be grown; fruit and vegetables, berries and grapes (thus wine), meats and prepared local foods – an overflowing cornucopia. In August the North Saanich Flavour Trail Festival is a good opportunity to discover these.

To enjoy these tastes to the full and make your visit to Victoria even more fulfilling, try these:

  • Ignore the chain restaurants and dine at an independent restaurant whose owners and staff are offering the very best of Vancouver Island produce.
  • Visit local wineries, enjoy a tasting or three and purchase our local wines (whites are particularly good here).
  • Tour farm markets and farm stands on the Saanich Peninsula – the producers will proudly share their wares. Pick up a some fresh fruit for your travels.

Your bed and breakfasts hosts will be glad to guide you with further information to help you enjoy a tasty visit to Victoria.

Hiking trails on the Saanich Peninsula

Hiking trails on the Saanich Peninsula can be arduous or can be a relaxed stroll, but all offer lovely views in the natural settings of southern Vancouver Island.

We’d like to suggest some favourite walks, all a short drive from our bed and breakfasts. The Saanich Peninsula is only 30 km / 20 miles north (Sidney) to south (Victoria) so you can include several activities in a day without spending much time driving. The three parks below all provide everything from easy walks to rugged or lengthy hiking trails.

Elk Lake and Beaver Lake Regional Park

It’s likely that you’ll have driven by this largest lake here, in the centre of the Saanich Peninsula flanking Hwy 17 which connects BC Ferries and Victoria International Airport to Victoria.

The whole lake (two in one since they are connected) has a flat 10km / 6 mile path around its waters edge. Apart from a short section by the highway it is an excellent wide cedar path. I enjoy the variety encountered from the open sunny east side to the cedar woodland of the eastern bank. Walking the full circuit will take 2.5 hours or so, assuming you are relaxing and enjoying the scenery (look out for old rail tracks in the SW corner). Alternatively, just walk a short distance and return to your car.

Its principal access for parking is at the southern end reached from delightful little Beaver Lake Road. Nearby is the Victoria City Rowing Club where the Canadian national team train. Hamsterly Beach, at the northern end, is popular with families for swimming.

Mount Douglas Park

Mount Douglas Park is just south of Cordova Bay on the east side of the peninsula. Here you take a short walk or a steep haul up the hill from the bottom parking lot: your choice. Either way, you are rewarded with a splendid 360 degree view of the Saanich Peninsula Victoria to the south and the Gulf Islands to the east.  I confess to always driving to the small parking area at the top and then taking the short walk up to the summit. Mt Doug, as the locals call it, is a good choice for the beginning of your visit to Victoria since you’ll see everything in its context.

Gowlland Tod Provincial Park

For variety Gowlland Tod can not be bettered, with 25 km of hiking trails, from a stroll to the quiet waters of Tod Inlet to stiff rugged climbs up to vantage points over Finlayson Arm.

Tod-Inlet-walk

Above is our favourite family walk, from Wallace Road to the jetty of the old cement factory adjoining the Butchart Gardens (you can peek through fence to see the Ross Fountain). It’s an easy walk and delightful throughout, from old growth forest to flats near the inlet where boats moor and seabirds nest in boxes on jetty posts.

For a greater range of hikes the best parking spot is the McKenzie Bight access off Willis Point Road for the walk down Cascade Trail to the waters at McKenzie Bight or to climb up Timberman Trail. Views are memorable.