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Courtesy of T'ashii Paddle School. Courtesy of Kerry Duff (Fairmont Empress Hotel).
Both quaint and wild, Vancouver Island is the antidote to Canada's gridiron. Its largest city, Victoria, is mild in climate but less rainy than nearby (and roughly equidistant) Vancouver and Seattle. British Columbia's quiet capital is a wonderful weekend getaway, with a walkable -- but even better, bikeable -- downtown packed with restaurants, pubs, and sightseeing.
Tofino, up the island's western shoreline, is a remote and densely forested town at the edge of the Clayoquot Sound. There's abundant recreational fishing, birding, plenty of surfing spots, and more fresh air than you can shake a sea lion at. It's the ideal place to unwind and forget there's a world beyond the waves. Here's how to navigate it.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel
With an unparalleled vantage point over Victoria's Inner Harbour -- and a close-up view of the provincial parliament building -- this grande dame is the symbol of the city itself. Established in 1908, the Empress was built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad during the rise of luxury train travel across the country (see page 62). Today it's undergoing a $30 million renovation (to be completed May 2017) ushering in new restaurants and stylish refurbs to its 464 rooms and suites. Don't miss afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge -- one of the most coveted hotel experiences for Canadians. Fairmont.com/Empress
The Butchart Gardens
In 1904, a cement tycoon's wife with a serious green thumb designed a garden to beautify the hollowed-out quarry on their estate, hosting friends and family for tea. The 55 acres of gardens are now a national historic site -- and you can still come for a cup of Earl Grey. In spring the decorative gardens overflow with acres of blooming reds, purples, and pinks, from Arabis to Viola.ButchartGardens.com
The best way to view Victoria may be from the seat of a city cruiser bicycle, and the Pedaler is there to outfit you with some wheels -- or better yet, guide you around town, stopping at castles, seaside suburbs, and funky neighborhoods. Two standout tours are the "Eat. Drink. Pedal." and "Hoppy Hour," which make stops to sample farm-to-table and craft-beer highlights -- and maybe an artisanal ice cream joint too. ThePedaler.ca
Among the many highlights at this soothing Relais & Chateaux property: the incredible, 240-degree view of the Pacific Ocean from surfer-paradise Chesterman Beach, and the giant soaker tub in every room with floor-to-ceiling picture window views of the sea. The rustic-yet-refined inn's two contemporary buildings are artfully integrated into the old-growth cedar forests, housing individually appointed rooms and suites, an intimate spa, and premier dining experience Pointe Restaurant (with panoramic ocean views). WickInn.com
T'ashii Paddle School
Tofino lies on the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht people, and recent generations of both aboriginal and non-native locals have taken the rediscovery of First Nations traditions to heart. Tsimka Martin, co-owner of the T'ashii Paddle School, guides visitors on a tailored tour through the forests of Chesterman Beach, exploring the old-growth ecosystem. TofinoPaddle.com
Hot Springs Cove Adventure
The best way to reach this natural hot spring -- that burbles out of the forest into small pools before splashing down to the Sydney Inlet -- is by boat. Bring a swimsuit and good walking shoes for the path meandering several miles through the forest; there are changing cabins at the end of the boardwalk before you scramble over some boulders to the hot pools. Book passage at Jamie's Whaling Station for a 6 1/2-hour adventure, which includes whale, otter, seal, and sea lion spotting from a 29-foot Zodiac vessel. Jamies.com
Wolf in the Fog
Chef-owner Nick Nutting creates an assortment of seasonal and sometimes-foraged plates and cocktails (try the cedar-infused-rye Manhattan) that feel inventive but not overwrought. Go for the signature dish, the potato-crusted oyster with apple and truffle, and save room for the Moroccan spiced octopus. Most importantly: Book ahead. WolfInTheFog.com
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