VICTORIA, BC: Magnolia Hotel & Spa – Classically elegant and convenient

Visiting Victoria over the Canada Day weekend, my wife and I checked into a delightful boutique hotel close to the Inner Harbour and discovered what may well be the city’s hidden gem.

The Magnolia Hotel & Spa is a 64-room boutique hotel in our favourite type of location: convenient to the action, but not right in the middle of it. It’s tucked away on Courtney Street, just a block east of busy Government Street and a block north of the venerable Empress Hotel.

Despite being close to the city’s active core, the atmosphere at the Magnolia is tranquil and relaxed.

The Magnolia has the feel of a vintage property that has been scrupulously kept up to date, so guests may be surprised to learn it’s actually only 14 years old. During a tour of the property, sales manager Ronette Nyhan told us that the hotel’s local developers built it specifically to fit in with the style of the older structures that surround it. As a result, guests enjoy the best of both worlds: old-world charm and 21st century conveniences.

Entering the lobby, we were greeted immediately by one of the bellmen. The front desk attendant was helping another guest so the bellman began our check-in process – an indication of the marvelous service proffered at the Magnolia.

When Alana took over and finished our check-in, we found her to be everything you’d expect at a hotel with a four-diamond AAA/CAA rating: courteous, efficient, polished, and helpful. As we had arrived well before check-in time, she gladly stored our bags, provided us with a map and an umbrella (it was threatening to rain and we’d neglected to pack our own), and noted my cell phone number so she could call when the room was ready.

The mahogany-paneled lobby with its comfortable seating area, cozy fireplace, and beverages and snacks (available 24 hours a day) would have made a great place to while away some time, but we were peckish and keen to tuck into a bit of lunch, so we headed off for Don Mee’s in Chinatown for its renowned dim sum.

We had booked the “Fire and Ice” package, which included a room with a fireplace and a bottle of bubbles on ice. When we returned we were given a room on the 7th and highest floor, facing the Inner Harbour. Rooms on the 6th and 7th floors all have gas fireplaces; rooms on lower floors do not. Rooms on the top floor also offer 10-foot ceilings, which add to the feeling of spaciousness.

A bottle of Segura Viudas cava, a sparkling wine from Spain, waiting on ice completed our package. All guests are treated to complimentary bottled water, fresh fruit, and local chocolates upon arrival and more chocolates upon evening turndown service.

Rooms at the Magnolia range in size from 300 to nearly 400 square feet and include two Signature Diamond rooms. Located on its top two floors, these rooms offer the postcard view of Victoria’s Inner Harbour and the green-domed British Columbia Parliament buildings seen at right.

Typical of luxury hotels, each room at the Magnolia has a comfortable bed, dresser, flat screen TV, iron and ironing board, desk with both wired and wireless Internet access, and in-room safe. Atypical of many hotels, the Magnolia has robes – and slippers! – waiting for each guest; a very nice touch indeed.

Rooms at the Magnolia also offer the increasingly rare in-room minibars. Somewhat surprisingly given the luxurious surroundings, I found the prices quite reasonable. A package of smoked almonds was only $2, and a bottle of white wine was only about 50% higher than the price at a nearby retail shop, as opposed to the more typical 100% markup found in many hotels.

The bathrooms are luxuriously appointed with soaking tubs, separate showers, and a wide array of Aveda amenities including a razor and shaving cream, and a vanity kit, in addition to the usual shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.

A deluxe continental breakfast is included for all guests and has a fairly broad variety of food items, from the typical cereals, fruit, yogurt, and waffles to the more European offerings of cold meats, cheeses, and hard-boiled eggs.

Breakfast is served in the Prime Steakhouse adjacent to the lobby. The restaurant, which was listed as one of “Canada’s Best New Restaurants of 2010,” is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner nightly.

Guests have numerous dining options nearby as well. They can pop across Gordon Street to the Bon Rouge Bistro, kitty-corner to the Sandwich Corner Café, easily walk to any of dozens of restaurants and pubs lining Government Street, or even trek to the city’s Chinatown on Fisgard Street, about a kilometre to the north.

Spa Magnolia, also adjacent to the lobby, offers facials, hand and foot care, body treatments, and spa packages for both men and women. The hotel also offers a well-equipped fitness center (at left), and offers access to the swimming pool at the nearby YMCA for those seeking a swim.

Valet parking is available for $20 per night.

While every staff member we encountered was polite and friendly, a few of the younger staff members lacked the polish I expect at a high-end hotel. One of the breakfast servers referred to a group of guests as “you guys” instead of “folks” or “ladies” or “gentlemen.” I also heard “No problem!” more than once instead of the preferred responses of “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure.”

In another instance, one of the housekeeping staff pushed a rather large linen cart into the elevator in which my wife and I were already riding. In keeping with the hotel's upscale service, she should have either asked if we minded if she joined us, or deferred to her guests and waited for the next elevator.

The Magnolia is the developers’ only hotel and, we’re told, their passion. As a result, the hotel is planning a “refresh” later this year, though in my estimation it's hardly needed. However, that refresh -- along with ensuring that staff members consistently exhibit polish and refinement -- could help the hotel earn its fifth diamond, which AAA/CAA describe as representing “the ultimate in luxury and sophistication.”

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, will definitely go back, and are especially looking forward to a return visit after the refresh is complete.

Whether you find yourself in Victoria sooner or later, my wife and I both highly recommend the Magnolia Hotel & Spa.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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