During Christmas Break, John and I hopped across the pond and got a room at the Fairmont Empress Hotel on the special BC residents rate (20% off plus free parking). We splurged a little and upgraded to the Fairmont Gold level which includes a separate check-in away from the unwashed masses and access to the Fairmont VIP Lounge overlooking the harbour. While booking a room higher up in the Empress was the same price, we felt it was worth it due to the world class treatment and VIP lounge.
We arrived way earlier than check in but they were able to accommodate us with a room within the hour. In the meanwhile, we entertained ourselves by walking around Downtown Victoria browsing the many used book stores until we received a text notifying us our room was ready.
The room was luxurious with a separate area to care for clothes, like ironing. The bathroom was very clean with beautiful fixtures and tasteful art. After getting Juno's approval that the room was sufficient, we got dressed for Afternoon Tea. The staff volunteered to look after Juno while we enjoyed our tea, which we really appreciated. We quickly handed her leash over and made off like teenagers.
The Tea lobby was lavishly decorated with chintz, wingback chairs, and hand carved tables. We were seated close to the fireplace with a view overlooking the harbour. Our waiter greeted us and helped us choose our tea from a menu. I settled on the Fairmont Blend (when at the Empress, one should have Empress tea, right?) and John opted for the Earl Grey.
"The Empress blend is a selection of seasonal, quality teas, created exclusively for The Fairmont Empress by the Metropolitan Tea Company. With components from Assam (thick malty and full bodied), Kenya (floral-like flavour and a golden coppery infusion), South India (superb fruity and sprightly flavour), Ceylon (airy, almost piquant flavour), and China (burgundy depth with light oaky notes), it is truly one of the finest blends in the world."
We were served a melon and grape salad to start, then without too much delay he returned with three tiers of china laden with cream cheese and salmon pin wheels, curried chicken, cucumber and cream cheese, ham and egg salad finger sandwiches, fruit cake, gingerbread cookies, almond rocha, chocolate mousse cakes, scones and mini butter tarts. Of course there was clotted cream and preserves which we slathered generously onto the scones! The food combined with the service, high quality tea, china and room decor made it a special experience. We lingered for a bit just enjoying the moment then settled up the tab.
Before freeing the Fairmont Staff from their new benevolent overlord (Juno) we ducked into the Fairmont Store where we happened to catch the oldest living Murchie - of the Murchie's tea fame, holding court to crowd of tea enthusiasts. She regaled everyone with stories of the Empress when she was a girl over 90 years ago.
Later that night, we had an Indian/Holiday buffet at the Bengal lounge. It sounds like a strange combination for sure, but we had no complaints. We walked around the harbour snapping pictures of the Christmas lights, then turned in early as Victoria is notoriously quiet after hours. Many choose to retired here for this reason.
The next morning, the staff greeted us by our first names as we arrived at the lounge. We lazed over a breakfast of flaky pastries, a selection of cheeses, cold cuts and lox, fresh fruit, a variety of cereals, yoghurts, fresh squeezed juice, tea and coffee. I wish I could live like this every day. *sob*
My bucket list item of staying at the Empress and having Afternoon tea can now be checked off... but we'll be back, Victoria.
TEA FUN FACTS
- Afternoon Tea was started by the Duchess of Bedford in the 18th century when she had a "sinking" feeling in the afternoon. She had her chef prepare a little meal with tea, and soon it became known as Afternoon Tea
- During the centennial restoration in 2008, the hotel's original Tea Lobby floor was replaced and the wood of the original floor was transformed into delicate Afternoon Tea tables; - one may say you're eating off the floor
- Nearly 100,000 guests are served tea annually with an estimated 500,000 cups of tea
- Although very popular and reservations are recommended, rarely are guests ever turned away from Afternoon Tea. Often the artful hand-cut glass dome of the Palm Court adjacent to the Tea Lobby is transformed into an additional Afternoon Tea space
- Our Tea servers are some of our most tenured colleagues in the hotel with over 42 years of service
- The most recent royal visitors to enjoy Afternoon Tea were the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
- The Empress Tea China was originally presented to King George V in 1914 upon the opening of the Booth factory in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The china was first used by The Empress in 1939 for the Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The pattern is now produced by Royal Doulton exclusively for The Fairmont Empress
- The portraits in the tea lobby are King George V and his wife Queen Mary, who originally intended to wed his brother, Prince Edward, who died of pneumonia. The portraits have been in place since the hotel opened in 1908
- The difference between high tea and afternoon tea? High tea is generally taken at 4:00 p.m., and was more of a "working man's" dinner and they included hot savory items. High tea is mistakenly thought to include champagne or sparkling wine, but this should be referred to as Royal Tea.
- Notable guests have included Queen Elizabeth II, Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Temple, Spencer Tracy, Princess Margaret, Rita Hayworth, the King and Queen of Siam, Bob Hope, John Travolta, Barbra Streisand, Joan Lunden, Sarah McLachlan, Mel Gibson and Nelly Furtado.
- The Empress Tea Blend comes from six estates, including Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka, and China.