CHECK IT OUT FAIR­MONT EM­PRESS, VIC­TO­RIA, BRI­TISH COLUMBIA

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Dur­ing pro­hi­bi­tion, Win­ston Churchill took gin in a teapot in the lounge of the Em­press Ho­tel, a grand pile loom­ing im­pe­ri­ously above Vic­to­ria’s In­ner Har­bour on Van­cou­ver Is­land in Canada. The then Bri­tish prime min­is­ter was just one of a raft of stel­lar guests, in­clud­ing Katharine Hep­burn, Bing Crosby and sundry roy­als, to grace the grand rooms of the old dame dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury.

Hon­our­ing this his­tory, but em­brac­ing con­tem­po­rary style and modern-day com­forts (in­clud­ing retrofitting the gue­strooms with air­con­di­tion­ing), the Fair­mont Em­press has just com­pleted a two-year, $60 mil­lion restora­tion un­der new own­ers, Van­cou­ver de­vel­oper and phi­lan­thropist Nat Bosa and his wife Flora.

The ren­o­va­tion was of­fi­cially un­veiled last month with the com­ple­tion of a new-look health club, pool and day spa and the re­main­der of the 464 gue­strooms and suites. San Fran­cisco-based Hirsch Bed­ner As­so­ciates has over­seen the new look, care­fully bring­ing an el­e­gant, un­der­stated aes­thetic to the his­toric rooms with soft colours and qual­ity fin­ishes; each guest cham­ber fea­tures win­dows that open, with views of the har­bour, gar­dens or city, lux­ury bed-linen and cof­fee maker.

The Fair­mont Gold Club floors, fea­tur­ing pri­vate check-in and concierge, have ex­panded to in­clude 65 gue­strooms, two new lounges, a Royal Suite and a large ter­race over­look­ing the In­ner Har­bour. A new porte-cochere leads into a lobby dom­i­nated by a 6m-tall flower-shaped chan­de­lier.

DON’T MISS: Sam­pling the ho­tel’s de­li­cious new Em­press Torte. With a cas­sis cen­tre and mul­ti­ple lay­ers of choco­late ganache, the cake takes two days to make but mere min­utes to de­mol­ish. It’s part of a long af­ter­noon tea tra­di­tion in the el­e­gantly reimag­ined Em­press Lounge, which at­tracts about 800 people a day over sum­mer.

DIN­ING IN: Ar­gen­tinian ex­ec­u­tive chef Juan Bochen­ski joined the ho­tel in Jan­uary to over­see the glam­orous Q at the Em­press, launched in June and fea­tur­ing a quartzite bar, over­sized con­tem­po­rary light pen­dants hang­ing from tra­di­tional cof­fered ceil­ings and stylised por­traits of Queen Vic­to­ria. Try the Yar­row Mead­ows duck with beets, turnips and lin­gonberry or, in Q Bar, tuck into the de­li­cious short rib pies in­spired by the chef’s mother’s em­panadas.

DIN­ING OUT: Check out Matisse for clas­sic French fare, Blue Crab (lo­cal seafood and har­bour views), or Don Mee’s for dim sum.

ASK THE CONCIERGE: Join a tour of the is­land’s bou­tique winer­ies and dis­til­leries; Vic­to­ria Dis­tillers is an Em­press favourite with a new blue-hued gin crafted es­pe­cially for the ho­tel. Win­ston would ap­prove. If tea’s your thing don’t miss a tu­tored tast­ing at the lovely Silk Road in Chi­na­town stock­ing a dizzy­ing ar­ray of blends courtesy of Canada’s lead­ing tea master.

CHECK­ING IN: From $C249 ($250) low sea­son; $C349 in sum­mer. More: fair­mont.com/em­press.

ALSO TRY: Ho­tel Windsor, Mel­bourne; Fair­mont Chateau Lau­rier, Ot­tawa; Grand Ho­tel d’Angkor, Siem Reap, Cam­bo­dia.

CHRIS­TINE McCABE

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