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Footloose in Victoria

Genteel City That's Quite Proper

February 07, 1988|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

VICTORIA, Canada — This city is the western terminus of the Trans Canada Highway, but who's to know it when the place is filled with red double-decker buses, cricket pitches, lawn bowling, bagpipe bands and signs advertising "High Tea" and "Roaste Beefe?"

It all figures, since the town is the capital of the province of British Columbia, known for the quiet reserve and genteel ways of Victorian England. And most of its citizens are progeny of sturdy Brit and Scot stock, happy to look on their chosen land as a bit of the old country.

Victoria came by its proper ways and tranquil life style through a number of circumstances.

While it was the western headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Co. and its fur traders, nearby Vancouver became the Pacific end of the Canadian Pacific Railway, triggering industrial development and a more hectic pace for that city.

Old habits die hard, though, and today Victoria is about as placid a city imaginable, albeit a tourist haven, with folks coming here for the magnificent provincial museum, the world renowned Butchart Gardens and year-round salmon fishing.

The pleasant climate, water-bound setting at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and acres of parks and gardens have also made it a favorite of retirees. Let Vancouver have the high-rises; Victoria has Washington's Olympic and Cascade ranges as a backdrop.

Here to there: You can fly United, Delta or Canadian Airlines direct from Los Angeles to Vancouver. Or fly United, PSA, Northwest or Alaska Airlines to Seattle, then United or Air B.C. to Vancouver. Feeder airlines will get you to Victoria from either city. There is also frequent ferry service.

How long/how much? A couple of days for the city and some of Vancouver Island's mountains, forests and fiords. Costs for food and lodging are moderate.

A few fast facts: In exchange, the U.S. dollar will get you $1.23 Canadian. Fairly temperate weather year-round, with summers between the 60s and 80s, winters seldom reaching the freezing level, lots of sunshine. Get around town in those double-deckers, horse carriages and bike rickshaws called Kabuki cabs.

Getting settled in: Holland House Inn (595 Michigan St.; $62-$85 B&B double) is almost a perfect little inn, having the feel of an art gallery with its beautiful pottery, statuary, paintings and drawings everywhere.

The artist-owner and his wife have created a small wonder here, many rooms with four-posters and fireplaces, all with fresh flowers and ferns. Each room is distinctively furnished, and full breakfast is served. Just two blocks from Inner Harbor and ferry terminals, Holland House is a bright and happy place, a real find.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel (1175 Beach Drive; $61-$95 double), located in an affluent part of town locals call, "behind the Tweed Curtain," has been a marvelous Tudor-style inn right on the bay for more than half a century. Beams in ceilings and walls, a lovely garden down to the water, convivial pub where the town's gentry meet.

Rooms are comfortable and well furnished, full restaurant, afternoon teas of crumpets, scones, French pastries and trifle, all served on crisp linen. From May through August there are daily salmon barbecues on a terrace overlooking the sea.

Royal Scot Motor Inn (425 Quebec St.; $52-$65 double) is top-of-the-line as motels go, a handsome place at city center just steps from Inner Harbor. Modern and comfortable, the staff is outfitted in tartan kilts and is helpful beyond belief. There's a coffee shop, pool, exercise room, sauna and Jacuzzi. Four kinds of suites with full kitchens.

Victoria's renowned hotel, The Empress, was disappointing. Hordes of visitors pack the lobby. Afternoon teas are so popular they start them at noon. But the castle-like exterior is a town landmark.

Regional food and drink: As you might expect, the fare here is terribly British: shepherd's pie, Lancashire hot pot, steak and kidney pie, ploughman's lunch, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.

But there's also a large selection of ethnic restaurants, and the seafood is glorious: salmon, fresh crabs, oysters, shrimp and scallops. Rogers Chocolates on Government Street is famous for its handmade confections.

Moderate-cost dining: The Blethering Place (2250 Oak Bay Ave.) is named for the Scot pastime of "voluble senseless talking," a perfect place for the traditional afternoon tea. Or you might prefer Cornish pasties, Welsh rarebit or steak and kidney pie with your small talk. Lots of local "old ducks" chattering away, "woolie" tea cozies on the pots. They also serve the three other meals.

Chantecler (4509 W. Saanich Road, a bit out of town in Royal Oak) gives you fine dining in a beautiful Tudor house with hanging baskets of flowers outside. Lunches are on the light side-- quiche, crepes and such--while dinners offer salmon papillote, salmis of duck, rack of lamb, steaks and other sturdy fare.

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