Retreat to nature with your pets in tow
By Si Si Penaloza
Run, don’t waddle, to the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. Your droopy Daschund will find a new spring in his step on arrival. The grounds of the hotel are simply gorgeous, not to mention iconic. What better place to shoot a series for your dog’s Instagram feed than the legendary steps of this harbour-side gem, where everyone from Edward, Prince of Wales, to Rita Hayworth, to John Travolta have struck a pose.
Even she who is perhaps the most discerning dog lover of all time, Barbra Streisand – fully devoted to her Coton de Tulear – chose the Fairmont Empress. The songstress knows her Samantha (like all Cotons) is highly thread-count sensitive. Seriously, if the Empress can host Babs, Bing Crosby, Katherine Hepburn, Roger Moore and Harrison Ford in the last 100 years, there’s no telling who will swan into the lobby next. Even Shirley Temple came to stay, albeit amid rumors that she had fled from California due to kidnapping threats, a story borne from the presence of two bodyguards who took the room opposite hers and always left their door open. And Victoria is as safe a haven now as it was in the Little Princess’ day, a credit to Vancouver Island’s relaxed, positive vibe.
There’s a reason the Fairmont Empress is the queen of pet-friendly hotels on the island. It boils down to service. On my three night stay just this past May, I spotted many a bellman giving pooches a rough and tumble rubdown. Even more swimmingly, I spied a housekeeper sneaking an extra bag of treats at turndown on the Fairmont Gold Floor. I also witnessed a French Bulldog hanging out on a luggage trolley, which made my morning.
Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with a tour of the hotel’s many pet friendly areas and amenities, which include (upon request): a bed basket or kennel, food and water dishes, moist and dry food, bottled water, treats, pet waste disposal bags or litter box. Dog-walking maps are available should you wish to go out for long, extended wander sessions and best of all, the hotel has partnered with the Scruffy Dog Barkery, providing complimentary homemade dog treats for all canine friends staying at the Empress.
If you’re looking for a pet-friendly option away from the bustle of Victoria’s main harbour, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and Spa is your best bet. This is one of the city’s finest stays, and the hotel happens to be famous for its Perfect Girls Getaway package. This warm, contemporary hotel welcomes a maximum of two dogs under 30 lbs per ocean view room, so if you and your gal pal can’t part with each other or your respective pooches – this is the place for you! On my visit, I experienced an earth-shatteringly good massage. The treatment rooms are serene and the poolside sushi rolls worth having – what more could a girl want?
Whether you’re celebrating an upcoming wedding or special birthday or simply want to escape with your Yorkies in tow, there is no better place to reconnect and be pampered. Sip on the new Veuve Clicquot Rich with pamplemousse – my favourite new summer cocktail – at Victoria’s only licensed pool deck. Next, take a dip in the hot seaside mineral pools as you prep for your treatment at the Boathouse Spa & Baths. Later, swap stories over dinner at The Snug Pub, sample choice wines in the tasting room or simply take in the views from your walk-out patio.
The package includes two nights accommodation in a Panoramic Ocean View Guest Room, featuring two Oak Bay Beach Dream queen sized beds. A choice between an Organic Seaweed Facial, Organic Re-Hydrating Gel Wrap or a Boathouse Classic Massage for you and your bestie. A private wine tasting with an in-house sommelier and a $30 per person credit for the iconic Snug Pub. Full access to hot seaside mineral pools, steam sauna and fitness studio. Complimentary parking and WiFi (naturally). At only $463 in low season, this is seriously one of the best values for such a posh experience that I’ve ever seen.
No matter where you stay, Victoria is a pet lover’s paradise. In Toronto, the feisty, passionate struggle for off-leash dog parks is alive and well. Victoria could teach us a thing or two. The city’s Paws in Parks should be the gold standard for any city. This program sees twelve beautiful parks in Victoria dedicated to off-leash activity. Mere blocks away from the downtown core, Dallas Road offers a sunny trail and beach for your pup with the backdrop of jaw-dropping sea and mountain views. Clover Point is another great place to get a good stretch. On clear days along this scenic marine path you can catch views of Mount Baker while your dog navigates the rocky side terrain. You’re bound to meet many four-legged friends in this puppy playground – it’s the most social of the twelve parks. In Victoria West, just blocks away from the downtown core, visit the Songhees Hilltop and watch the float planes come and go in Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour.
The city also boasts over 40 pet-friendly hotels like The Inn at Laurel Point and Hotel Grand Pacific, offering amenities from custom beds and blankets to locally made organic treats. So pack up Pickles and ink in a visit to this tail wagging wonderland!
Before you book, visit these helpful sites:
The Fairmont Empress
721 Government Street, Phone: 250-384-8111, www.fairmont.com/empress
Oak Bay Beach Hotel
1175 Beach Drive, Phone: 877-411-3436, www.oakbaybeachhotel.com
Inn at Laurel Point
680 Montreal Street, Phone: 250-386-8721, www.laurelpoint.com
Hotel Grand Pacific
463 Belleville Street, Phone: 250-386-0450, www.hotelgrandpacific.com