Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Victoria B.C. Day Trip: By Sea for Tea at the Empress

Part 1 of 2 about a terrific day trip to Victoria, B.C., from Seattle via the Victoria Clipper. 

One of the great things about being in the Pacific Northwest is our proximity to beautiful British Columbia, Canada, just a few hours north of Seattle. A fun way to travel north is via the Victoria Clipper, direct from downtown Seattle to Victoria's Inner Harbour in less than 3 hours.

While I usually head to B.C. for epic kayaking, hiking, or skiing, sometimes I go for more urban pleasuresLast weekend I had a thoroughly enjoyable day in Victoria, B.C., with my niece Willa via the Clipper, where we indulged in the famous Victorian-style tea at the grand and historic Fairmount Empress Hotel.

It's an early morning start for sure, with a 6:30 a.m. check-in at Pier 69 on Seattle's waterfront, but definitely worth the predawn wake-up. Because we went just for the day, we opted for the 7:30 rather than 9:00 a.m. departure to make our reservations for tea and have more time to explore.

And we're off! Seattle skyline receding in the Clipper's wake.
First, I'd like to say the Clipper staff and crew were exceptionally friendly and helpful on the trip up and back. Everyone was already in vacation mode, but the crew added to the ambiance. For onboard food and drink, they feature as much Northwestern fare as possible, and I enjoyed some excellent tea and a sandwich for breakfast, while Willa had locally made Greek-style yogurt and fruit.

As Willa napped enroute, I chatted up other travelers. Although I heard several languages besides English being spoken, interestingly, most of the people I talked to were fellow Northwesterners from Washington and Oregon.

Just arrived. The Empress from the Inner Harbour.
After disembarking about 10:30 a.m. at the Clipper terminal, we wandered over to the Empress a few blocks away for our tea reservation at 11:15. While the Victorian tea is traditionally a mid-afternoon treat, for us it was perfect timing. This early lunch left us more time to explore in the afternoon.

The impressive French chateau-style Empress facade.
Recently renovated, the tea lobby is spacious and light in an Old World charming way.  We were seated close to the big windows shown in the photo above at the old entrance.

Even though it's not promoted as such, this was a filling and satisfying lunch for us both. Our über friendly server Jan (yes, everyone who served us all day was gracious) started us off with an impressive tea selection. I chose a delicate, floral jasmine tea, while Willa went for a fragrant mint. (Neither of us are caffeine fiends.)

The Empress Tea China was first used here for the 1939 Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

We're each given our own pot with a timer for steeping, and when I understeep, Jan quickly refreshes my pot so I can get a stronger steep. Because it's about the tea. And the sweets, scones, and tea sandwiches, which are perfectly prepared and decadently delicious.

"It doesn't feel like it's warm, but inside it's perfect," said Willa as she raved about the creamy, soft warm Empress signature raisin scone, served with English-style clotted cream and strawberry jam. 

Neither of us could finish everything, but I tasted a bit of each treat.  My favorite tea sandwich was the island egg salad with basil on a mini brioche bun. My favorite sweet was the chocolate cremeux dome tart, while Willa's was the passion fruit strawberry pavlova. And the warm raisin sconedivine. As I ate it, I thought to myself: This might be the best scone I've ever tasted.

I've never seen my petite gymnast niece eat as much food in one sitting. Now, Empress, that's saying something about your excellent fare. To quote my niece:

"Canada, you Empressed me." 

We lingered over the tea for as long as possible, but it was time to move on and go explore for a few hours.  Check back soon for the next post about walking around the Inner Harbour area!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
The Clipper ferry departs Seattle for Victoria seven days a week (weather permitting), check schedules and fares here. Because we traveled on a weekend, we got reservations for tea at the Empress in advance. Here is their tea menu. They accommodate dietary needs (e.g., my niece is a vegetarian and got meatless sandwiches), especially if you let them know in advance. They do have a dress code, so basically leave the torn jeans, sports clothes, and flip flops at home and opt for smart casual attire (or dressier if that's your thing). I wore clean jeans and a jacket, which was fine.


JoJo said...

I'm wearing my 'Victoria Clipper Crew' tshirt even as I write this! I loved going up there and I miss it so much. But in all the times I went, I never did tea at the Empress, due to the dress code. I was knocking around the city in shorts and a tshirt and I wasn't about to pack nice clothes to go to tea all by myself. Personally I think the Empress is totally ruined now that the ivy and weeping trees are gone.

jill said...

Hey JoJo! Yes, the tea was a splurge, but I wore jeans, just nicer jeans and a nice shirt/jacket. Yes, the ivy and trees are gone! I hadn't noticed since I hadn't been there in many years. Unfortunately the ivy damages the building. But yes, I know what you mean. There is still heavy ivy over the main entry way, just didn't post a shot of that.

Mab said...

I remember taking this exact same trip with my Grandma Bernice Piper many years earlier, but it could have been yesterday, I remember it so vividly and also, my experience was much the same as yours Jill. We had good hot tea, good scones, and good conversation that still stays with me to this day. Empress, I am empressed too.

jill said...

Ah Mab, that's sweet about your trip with your grandma! Yes, I think tea at the Empress is a rite of passage for girls and their moms/aunties/grandmas here in the Northwest. Glad I brought back fresh, good memories for you. The only things I missed was white linen tableclothes. :)

Suezy P said...

And isn't it just the perfect trip? It has a lot of everything/ Being on the water, round trip, you see so much you don't normally see from the road. My hears skips a beat coming into the docking station for the Clipper. It's amazing how different the Empress looks without ivy covering most of the building and it looks like the tea food upped it's game since we were last there. Best of all, I love that it was just you and Willa and the sweet picture at the with the two of you, is the desert!