VICTORIA, BC: The Magnolia Hotel & Spa Revisited

Revisiting the Magnolia Hotel & Spa in Victoria, BC after a two-year absence I was pleased to see what had changed, but more pleased to see that many things were still the same.

When we discovered The Magnolia over the Canada Day weekend in 2012, we were immediately captivated by its charm and dubbed it the city’s hidden gem. Located close to the Inner Harbour on Courtney Street, it is just a block east of busy Government Street and a block north of the venerable Empress Hotel. It is in our favourite type of location: convenient to the action, but not right in the middle of it.

Hotel entrance
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 was actually built in 1998. During a tour of the property on our previous visit, hotel executives 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.

When we pulled up to the curb on our most recent visit with our German Shepherd in the back seat, we were greeted immediately by one of the bellmen who helped unload our luggage and our pooch. The hotel welcomes pets, has designated certain rooms as “pet friendly,” and levies a modest pet fee of $60 per stay -- whether that is one night or several -- to perform a deep cleaning of the room after departure.

Despite being close to the city’s active core, the atmosphere at this 64-room boutique property is tranquil and relaxed, with service befitting its CAA/AAA Four-Diamond rating. Everyone we encountered at the hotel was gracious, bidding us a “Good morning!” or similar greeting, asking if they could be of help, and generally displaying the level of hospitality one would expect in an upmarket hotel. If anything, service actually seemed even more gracious than our first visit.

Our room was on the seventh and highest floor, facing the Inner Harbour. Rooms on the sixth and seventh floors all have gas fireplaces; rooms on lower floors do not. However, they’re usually not needed because Victoria’s weather is generally mild, as it was during our late October visit. Rooms on the top floor also offer 10-foot ceilings, which add to the feeling of spaciousness.

View from Signature Diamond room
All guests are treated to complimentary bottled water, fresh fruit, and local chocolates upon arrival and more chocolates with the evening turn-down 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.

Typical of luxury hotels, each room at the Magnolia has a comfortable bed, dresser, flat screen TV, iron and ironing board, work desk and in-room safe. The refresh completed in 2013 updated the furnishings and décor, replaced the previous palette of saturated colours with a more neutral and contemporary palette, and added wall treatments intended to evoke the feel of raw silk. The update included the addition of digital telephone centres which also receive local radio stations and have inputs that allow guests to connect their own MP3 players. In-room TVs are accompanied by a channel guide that lists more than 80 available cable channels and 60 digital music channels.

Room 705
Atypical of many hotels, the Magnolia has robes and slippers waiting for each guest; a very nice touch indeed.

The hotel has won accolades from many quarters, including Conde Nast, which named it one of the Top 10 World’s Best Business Travel hotels in 2013. I certainly concur that it is excellent. The in-room work stations are stocked with pens, pencils, highlighter, Post-It® notes, paper clips, a proper task chair, excellent lighting, enough outlets to charge the panoply of electronic devices with which we travel, and excellent Internet connectivity.

While most of the hotels at which I have stayed offer connectivity at about 1 MBPS, connectivity at the Magnolia was 16 Mpbs download speed and slightly slower upload speed, as measured by Those higher speeds come in quite handy when transmitting and receiving larger files such as graphics-heavy presentations.

In-room work station
Rooms at the Magnolia also offer the increasingly rare in-room minibars with prices I thought were quite reasonable. A package of Pringles potato crisps was only $3, and bottle of wine were only about 50 percent higher than the price at a nearby retail shop, as opposed to the more typical 100 percent 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.

Bath amenities
Breakfast is served in Catalano, the restaurant adjacent to the lobby that was previously the Prime Steakhouse. The restaurant features Italian fare in the evenings and offers half-price cicchetti and $4 drink specials from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and from 9 p.m. until close. Although not managed by the hotel itself, guests can charge their meals and beverages to their rooms at the Magnolia.

There are a number of other dining options nearby as well. The 10 Acres Bistro + Bar + Farm is across Gordon Street to the west, the Sandwich Corner Café is kitty-corner from the hotel, and dozens of restaurants and pubs lining Government Street, or even the city’s Chinatown on Fisgard Street, are within easy walking distance.

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, and offers access to the swimming pool at the nearby YMCA for those seeking a swim.

Valet parking is available for $24 per night.

We were told The Magnolia is the developers’ only hotel and their passion, and it shows. Although the lack of a swimming pool on property will keep it from fulfilling all the criteria for its fifth diamond, in my estimation it already meets the AAA/CAA definition of a Five-Diamond hotel: “The ultimate in luxury and sophistication.”

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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