Hugging the edge of the Pacific, the city of Victoria is a crossroads of cultures. While some have called the city more English than England (the red double-decker buses and colonial architecture help make the case), Victoria is home to a surprising mix of cultural influences past and present. The easiest way to get there for a weekend of exploring is to hop a midday Harbour Air flight from Vancouver's waterfront, which will have you in the heart of Victoria in 35 minutes (just in time for lunch). And as the warmest city in Canada, Victoria will soon be bursting with flowers. Perfect for a Valentine's weekend getaway, perhaps?

 

Le Petit Dakar

Le Petit Dakar. Photo by Serena Matter


After Harbour Air drops you off smack-dab in the middle of Victoria's Inner Harbour, your first stop is just a few blocks down the street at Le Petit Dakar for lunch. In-the-know locals love this tiny gem for its heaping plates of Senegalese food made with love by owner Bintou. Her superb culinary skills deliver delights like traditional maffe peanut stew and Senegal's most famous dish: yassa au poulet, a stewed chicken with pungent flavours of lemon, stone-ground mustard and chiles. Order a side of yam samosas (even better than the best samosas you've ever had) and enjoy them with a glass of ginger juice for a lunch like no other.

711 Douglas St., Victoria. 250-380-3705; lepetitdakarbc.ca

Chinatown

Photo by Oriol Salvador


Next stop: a brief history lesson. Victoria's British lineage may be evident throughout the city, but its history has also been strongly shaped by Chinese immigrants who arrived in the latter half of the 19th century. This influence is most evident when you pay a visit to the city's Chinatown district, the oldest such neighbourhood in the country. At the corner of Government and Fisgard, gaze at the ornate red-and-gold Gate of Harmonious Interest, then wander down Fisgard toward Fan Tan Alley. Once rife with opium dens and gambling houses, this alley is the narrowest street in all of Canada. While you're in the area, swing by Silk Road Tea Bar and see if there's a tasting you can join. Since 1992, Silk Road has been stocking premium organic teas — long before organic was a word on anyone's mind. With blends to suit all palates, you'll want to take your time to explore the shelves full of fragrant tea blends, and then pop downstairs to the spa for some tea-infused treatments.

Chinatown, Government & Fisgard Sts., Victoria

Silk Road Tea Bar, 1624 Government St., Victoria. 250-704-2688; silkroadteastore.com

Nourish Kitchen

Nourish Kitchen by Lyndsey Eden


Consider yourself warned: Dinner at Nourish Kitchen's Inner Harbour location will take you by surprise. Employing sophisticated culinary techniques, the team skillfully elevates healthy cuisine to an entirely new level. The food is so good that you won't believe it's actually good for you, too. Start with a bowl of charred carrot soup with harissa and sprouted buckwheat, paired with a shrub cocktail. For your main, the linguine made of vegetable noodles with pumpkin seed salsa verde is a sure bet, or opt for the flavour bomb that is the "Curb Your Hunger" plate, loaded with vegetable pâtés, nut cheeses and the ferments of the day.

225 Quebec St., Victoria. 250-590-3426; nourishkitchen.ca

Magnolia Hotel

Courtesy of Magnolia Hotel


After a day on your feet, there's no better place to take a load off than at the Magnolia Hotel. Just steps from the Inner Harbour, this boutique hotel's exterior conceals the charm that lies inside. With only 64 rooms, you can expect super personalized service from everyone you encounter — even Magnus, the hotel's resident Siamese fighting fish, who greets you from his fishbowl atop the check-in desk. Sophisticated decor is a hallmark of the property, with well-appointed rooms featuring luxe touches like raw-silk-inspired walls and marble bathrooms. We particularly love Magnolia's Curated Trails program, with self-guided maps highlighting local must-sees (the best tapas bars, secret viewpoints and the like) handpicked by the staff. Borrow one of the hotel's brand-new bikes and follow the map as it guides you through the city's historic streets.

623 Courtney St., Victoria. 877-624-6654; magnoliahotel.com

Catalano Restaurant

Catalano Restaurant via Website


Victorians are serious about their weekend brunches, with the lengthy lineups to prove it. For a scrumptious start to the day, opt to enjoy this most important meal at Catalano. With a focus on the foods of the Mediterranean, top brunch options here include lemon ricotta fritters for something sweet, Moroccan spiced chicken hash with poached eggs and apricots, and stuffed waffles. Enjoy with a Bloody Mary and soak in the views of the parliament buildings.

619 Courtney St., Victoria. 250-480-1824; ferrisoysterbar.com

Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel

Courtesy of Fairmont Hotels


Post-brunch, take some time to meander through the Inner Harbour and Fisherman's Wharf, where you might just chance upon a seal basking in the sun. But before you hop your flight home, there's one last thing you must do: indulge in the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel's tea service — one of the oldest traditions in Victoria. Since 1908, the Empress has offered a classic afternoon tea experience, with three-tiered trays piled high with scones, clotted cream and tiny tea sandwiches. Paired with tea blends created exclusively for the empress and a most regal atmosphere, it is truly an experience unto itself.


721 Government St., Victoria. 250-384-8111; fairmont.com


By Serena Matter

Serena Matter is a writer, trendspotter and founder of the lifestyle magazine The Wanderlust Report. When she's not uncovering the newest hotspots as Savoteur's Canadian editor, you can find her posting her escapades on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat (serenamatter).