After hiking beneath towering fir trees, along rocky shorelines, past crashing waves, we collapsed in our cozy cedar log cabin at the Point No Point Resort (250-646-2020), comfortably equipped with a kitchenette, wood-burning fireplace, queen-size bed, private bath, and best of all--a balcony overlooking the water with its own private hot tub. Double rates range from Canadian $85-185; dinner entrees in the resort's delightful restaurant, Canadian $17-23. Nearby is the famous Sooke Harbour House, a 28-room country hotel and first-rate restaurant.

"You're going to spend five days in Victoria?" exclaimed an incredulous but well-traveled friend. "How many times can you take an old-fashioned carriage ride around the Inner Harbour and have tea at the Empress? " Happy to say, our days were so busy with nature and nurture, culture and cuisine that we had no time for the carriage ride at all, and visited the Empress only long enough to tour their gallery of exceptionally beautiful sculpture by native artists.

Getting there:
The capital of British Columbia (known as BC), Victoria is located on Vancouver Island, not to be confused with the city of Vancouver, located on the BC mainland. Although we arrived in Victoria via the hourly Air Canada shuttle from Vancouver, you can get a head start on the city's maritime spirit by taking a ferry from mainland BC or Washington state. Lines are long in summer, so plan accordingly, especially if taking a car. For information, contact BC Ferries the Washington State Ferry or the Victoria Clipper.

Where to stay:
A favorite is the charming four guest room Andersen House B&B, an 1891 Queen Anne Victorian home, surrounded by lovely flower gardens. The eclectic but uncluttered décor includes antiques, modern art, and Persian rugs, enhanced by original fireplaces and stained glass windows. The location is ideal, on a quiet residential street, just a short walk from the Inner Harbour, Seattle ferries, the Empress Hotel, the BC Royal Museum and more. If you prefer a larger inn, you'll enjoy Abigail's Hotel an English Tudor-style building, with 22 guest rooms decorated in an elegant country-style look; all have private baths; some have a fireplace and Jacuzzi tub. More inns…

What to do:
Although this flower-filled city is delightful just for strolling along the water, exploring its historic, commercial, and residential areas, some "don't miss" activities include:

Butchart Gardens, a few miles north of the city, offers exquisitely maintained flower gardens, with beautiful blooms much of the year, evening entertainment and fireworks in summer, and Christmas lights in December. If time permits, the nearby Butterfly Gardens are also worth a visit. Royal British Columbia Museum, close to the Parliament Buildings and the Empress, depicts BC's history from many perspectives. Don't miss the First Peoples Gallery, which illustrates the stories of the area's First Nations (native tribes), including their lamentable treatment by European settlers. The Point Ellice House brings Victorian history alive. You arrive via the little Victoria Harbour Ferries, slip on a headset and tour the 130-year-old house as if you were the new houseboy being shown the ropes. Afterwards, tea is served on the lawn by costumed staff while you play croquet or relax in wicker furniture (summer only). Craigdarroch Castle was built in the 1880s by Scottish immigrants, and features an extensive collection of stained and leaded glass, magnificent woodwork, Victorian furnishings, and decorative arts.

Eating well:
Gone are the days when dining in Victoria meant either boring British food or tasty but utilitarian Chinese and Indian restaurants. Now, a number of restaurants offer creative cuisine featuring the freshest regional bounty of land and sea; most have house-made breads, pastas, and desserts, plus first-rate wine lists. Always ask your innkeeper for current recommendations and to make your reservations. Some favorites: Camille's , Cafe Brio, Herald Street Caffe, Restaurant Matisse.

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