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.

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.

Lakes and Beaches of Victoria

Relaxing at the lakes and beaches of Victoria should be included in the itinerary of any visit to southern Vancouver Island. Slow down the pace of life for a while.

We can not promise you white beaches and palms but you will enjoy the natural beauty of Vancouver Island’s coastline.

Victorias beaches

Victoria is situated on the Saanich Peninsula, 20 miles (30km) north to south, almost surrounded by water:
Haro Strait to the east with distant views of Mount Baker
Juan de Fuca Strait to the south looking across to the Olympic Peninsula
Saanich Inlet to the west, a deep fjord separating the peninsula from the Malahat region of Vancouver Island.

 

You are merely separated from these distant views by passing boats. Victoria beaches are a mixture of sand and pebbles, along with occasional driftwood adding to their character. Here are a few suggested places where you can stroll or relax with a picnic.

Willows Beach in Oak Bay has the reputation for the best sandy beach.
Another sandy option, though more tidal, is Patricia Bay west of Victoria International Airport where sunsets can be magical.

A favourite sandy beach is Wittys Lagoon in Metchosin which changes character greatly according to the tides. But our favourite is a little known gem (don’t tell everybody) at the end of Norris Road in North Saanich (GPS:48.673499, -123.481127).

Three other suggestions with pebbles and sand are:
– The coastline adjoining Dallas Road in SE Victoria, from Beacon Hill Park to Clover Point,
Cordova Bay,
– Island View Beach,
– beaches in East Sooke Regional Park.

Victorias Lakes

Two inland lakes on the Saanich Peninsula offer differing recreational attractions.

Most obviously, there is Elk Lake / Beaver Lake (two in one) right in the centre of the peninsula. Locals enjoy the northern Hamsterly Beach and the open area at the southern end. A 10km walk around the entire lake will take you about 2.5 hours: the western side with its wide trail through the forest at the lakeside is lovely. Look out for old rails of the old Victoria-Sidney railway of 100 years ago.

Then there’s another of Victoria’s secrets: Durrance Lake, off Willis Point Road. South of the Butchart Gardens it sits surrounded by woodland. You can walk around it in about 40 minutes or take a dip in its fresh water. You may want guidance from your bed and breakfast hosts to locate some of these lakes and beaches of Victoria.

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Saanich Peninsula

The weather on the Saanich Peninsula was simply glorious for this past Easter weekend. I daresay it was for much of southern Vancouver Island BC.

 

We were reminded that we live in a wonderful place. It is easy to take things for granted. However, the first full days of Spring re-opened our eyes to the privilege of living in the Victoria area. My wife and I went for a drive circling the Saanich Peninsula from the south west, driving along the short northern tip and then returning down the east coast. Its so compact that you can cover the whole peninsula in a short time but with little traffic, a beautiful place to explore.

We are spoilt. No wonder visitors to our B&B return to Vancouver Island. Let me tell you why: in that short drive we passed all these places, in less than a couple of hours:

 

  • The rolling hills and fields, the woods and lakes, farms and small communities.
  • Wineries. The grapevines are preparing for that process we know and love. You can visit numerous family-run Saanich Peninsula vineyards on summer weekends. Even a cidery.
  • Gardens. Forget The Butchart Gardens, if you can, and imagine little home gardens coming to life. Victorians (we don’t call ourselves that) counted 26 billion (with a b, not a m) blooms in February!
  • Parks. I noticed parked cars at the entrances to hiking trails at some of our parks. We took a walk the following day in the warm sun with great views.
  • The ocean. You are never more than a few minutes from the encircling coastline of southern Vancouver Island. Its an important part of the beauty we enjoy with kayaking, sailing, fishing and crabbing, whale-watching, diving or just beachcombing.
  • Saanich Peninsula attractions include all the above with many others like Butterfly Gardens, Mount Douglas, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Sidney the book town, Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre.
  • Golf courses – more than you can shake a golf club at, where you can play golf year-round.
  • Eat and drink at fruit stands, farm markets, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops.

After our jaunt we sat on the terrace of our B&B (strangely, there were no guests that weekend: their loss) with books and glasses of Saanich Peninsula wine. You should join us. Ah, the joys of life!

Visiting Victoria in the Spring

Visiting Victoria in the Spring makes good sense after the mild winters we usually experience on southern Vancouver Island BC. Avoid the crowds, stay at low season rates at Victoria B&Bs and enjoy the new life all around as Spring bursts into life.

Spring in Victoria is epitomised by displays of flowers. In February 2016 local residents counted 26 billion (!) flowers at the annual Flower Count. (Victoria likes to remind snow-bound Canada of its good fortune.) So where better to start than at The Butchart Gardens? Visit before 31st March to see their Spring Prelude indoor garden within a week they transform their Blue Poppy Restaurant into this delightful garden oasis. See their Spring displays of daffodils and massed tulips.

There are many more gardens to enjoy as March daffodils turn to April tulips and then the May rhododendrons and cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Other festivals, special events, displays and concerts range from the Victoria Film Festival in early February to the Swiftsure Yacht races in late May.

Victoria is located on the small Saanich Peninsula surrounded by the rugged natural parks, with lakes and ocean beaches. So, weather permitting, you can set out on foot or by car, or rent bicycles or kayaks and explore. There’s scope for taking it easy or having a tough adventure: your choice.

If it is wet then consider indoor options like the Royal BC Museum, Saanich Commonwealth Place with a superb pool, Butterfly Gardens, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, tours of Craigdarroch Castle or the BC Legislative Buildings,  select a venue for afternoon tea or just browse through interesting shops.

Your bed and breakfast hosts will be pleased to provide further information when you are visiting Victoria in the Spring.