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A Taste of Victoria

Victoria has always been a favorite destination for Calgarians looking for a reprieve from the cold and snow, but beyond lure of lush green in the bleak mid-winter and stunning Pacific Ocean seascapes, Victoria is a hotbed of culinary experiences, offering great restaurants, farmers’ markets, microbreweries, a leading edge cocktail culture and fun food tours to tie them all together.

Victoria has been called the most walkable city in Canada - not only do visitors tend to explore the city on foot, many residents walk to work every day. If you’re looking to get out to stretch your legs without navigating ice and snow, Victoria is an easy weekend destination; there are many culinary (and other) walking tours available (for a list, visit www.tourismvictoria.com), but if you’re planning a self-guided tour of this easy-to-navigate city, here are a few foodie hot spots worth checking out.

The Inner Harbor is the heart of Victoria, home to the Parliament buildings, the Royal BC Museum and the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, known for its afternoon tea service. A tradition since 1908, tea at the Empress has been served to royalty, celebrities and dignitaries; it features your choice of premium loose-leaf teas, freshly baked scones, tiers of tea sandwiches and sweets by award-winning Pastry Chef D’Oyen Christie, all served on dainty William Edwards’ china and sterling silver service to the enchanting ambiance of the live piano. Tea service starts at 11:30am daily, with the last seating at 4:45pm. For more information, visit www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria/dining/afternoontea.

If you walk up Wharf Street from the harbor, you’ll come across Willie’s Bakery & Café - British Columbia’s oldest bakery, founded in 1887. Housed in one of Victoria’s heritage buildings, it’s an old-school bakery that also features a full breakfast menu, and opens early – at 7:30am. For more information, visit www.williesbakery.com. A couple blocks over, you’ll find Silk Road tea shop - not only do they have a fantastic selection of loose teas, teaware and bath and body products, they also offer free classes and tasting events if you’re looking for an interesting way to spend an hour - or to take a break from your walk. For more information, visit www.silkroadteastore.com. One block farther up is the hip Union Pacific Coffee and the Jam Café, where they serve a hearty breakfast and lunch until 3pm. And then you’ll be at Victoria’s Chinatown - small, but the oldest in Canada. Besides the usual Asian food markets, you’ll find a mix of contemporary stores and live-work condos, as well as historical Fan Tan Alley - the narrowest street in Canada.

The Victoria Public Market opened downtown last year at the Hudson Building, a stunning historic building downtown that now houses farmers, fishers, butchers, bakers, cheese-makers, preservers, brewers and vintners - besides the year-round vendors, local farmers and food producers are there every Wednesday from 11am to 3pm for the weekly Farmers’ Market. The Victoria Public Market is open every day except Mondays. For more information, visit www.victoriapublicmarket.com.

Oak Bay is one of Victoria’s oldest neighborhoods, and Oak Bay Village is home to Ottavio Italian Bakery & Delicatessen, with a selection of over 200 artisanal cheeses along with breads, baked goods, gelato and Italian food products as well as a café. You’ll also find The Whole Beast, a hip new nose to tail producer of artisan cured meats, including seven varieties of salami, chorizo, bacon, prosciutto, coppa, pepperoni and pâtés along with more hard-to-find products like blood sausage, liverwurst, head cheese, cotechino and corned lamb or pork tongue. For more information, visit www.ottaviovictoria.com and www.thewholebeast.ca.

Cook Street Village, bordering on Beacon Hill Park (if you’re a fan of towering soft ice cream cones, visit the Beacon Hill Drive-In) is a great spot to go for coffee and people-watching. Food lovers won’t want to miss Pizzeria Prima Strada and Big Wheel Burger, serving up burgers made with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles. For more information, visit www.pizzeriaprimastrada.com and www.bigwheelburger.com.

You’ll need somewhere delicious to stay - the fabulously remodeled Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a Victoria landmark, and features a stunning mineral pool and spa overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s also home to the David Foster Foundation Theatre, where you’ll find a year-round lineup of live dinner theatre, and home to Victoria’s original neighborhood pub, the Snug, which offers a curry bar every Wednesday from 5 to 9pm - it’s a  serve-yourself spread of curries, naan, Jasmine rice and chutney for $18. For more information, visit www.oakbaybeachhotel.com.

If you’re hungry for some food truck food in the middle of winter, the city has 50 licensed mobile food vendors adding to the vibrancy of the city and its festivals; offerings range from Eastern European to Cajun to Mexican, with some specializing in seafood, others in mac & cheese. They’re always present at Victoria’s food festivals, which are peppered throughout the year. In February and early March, Dine Around & Stay In Town brings together about 60 Victoria restaurants offering select three-course menus for $20, $30, $40 or $50 per person, and there are great deals to be had on hotel stays.

In Spring, Culinaire offers the best tasting experience of the year, and the Spot Prawn Festival celebrates the seasonal specialty with live chef demonstrations, tastings and special events like a long table dinner. In summer, the annual Taste Festival kicks off with an evening sampling of more than 100 British Columbia wines and local cuisine, and continues with an extra long weekend of tastings, seminars and events. In the Fall, the Art of the Cocktail is a three-day event showcasing all things cocktail. For more information, visit www.tourismvictoria.com/events/dinearound, www.culinairevictoria.com, www.victoriataste.com or www.artofthecocktail.ca.

No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something delicious happening in Victoria.

Julie is a food editor for ParentsCanada, a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor, and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. For more information, visit www.dinnerwithjulie.com. And be sure to check out her and Elizabeth Chorney-Booth’s website, www.rollingspoon.com, or on Twitter, @RollingSpoon, exploring their mutual love of music and food.

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