CHECK IT OUT FAIRMONT EMPRESS, VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
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.