Good eats: High tea, Fairmont Empress Hotel. No import recalls the old country more than that most expensive yet wondrously pretentious experience of “high tea,” a formal riot of pots and silver, scones and jams, finger sandwiches and the extraordinary creation from Devonshire, clotted (like your arteries afterward) cream. Our bill came to $152 for two people, including tip. The price is steep, but having Earl Grey and a plate of cucumber, curry chicken, tuna and salmon sandwiches at 4 p.m. is more than enough for me as both lunch and dinner for the day. Details: 721 Government St.; 866-540-4429; www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria.
Why Victoria: The most British bit of British Columbia. It was “discovered” in March 1778 by Capt. James Cook, the British explorer who seemed to have “discovered” every other place between Alaska and Kauai. One of Cook’s senior officers was William Bligh, he of the future HMS Bounty mutiny. Within a year, Cook would be killed in Hawaii, his head cracked open in a fight with natives over a small boat.
VICTORIA TO COURTENAY
Distance: 147 miles by car
Along the way: Paradise Fun Park in Parksville has two “world class” 18-hole miniature golf courses. The easier one is called Surf n’ Turf, but I manned up and went for the tougher Treasure Island, built around the three-masted S.N. Sinkaputt. Around the hills, down the slopes, past the cuckoo clock and the sign noting it is 4,773 miles to London, I battled bank shots, chutes, clanking drawbridges and windmills. Result: Eight over par. A round will cost you $7.50 Canadian. Details: 375 W. Island Highway; 250-248-6612; paradisefunpark.net.
Good eats: Atlas Cafe, Courtenay. An eclectic mix of Canadian, Japanese, Greek, Mexican and anything else the chefs set their minds to. You can start out with hummus, continue with togarashi tuna salad and then have the sockeye salmon burger. The approach is more whimsical than pretentious, so expect to share the room with local families and serious foodies out for a romantic night. Dinner entrees $12-$24. Details: 250 Sixth St.; 250-338-9838; atlascafe.ca.
Why Courtenay: It’s the nearest major town to the ferry port at Comox. Since it wasn’t ski season and the hordes weren’t heading up to nearby Mount Washington, the plentiful supply of motel rooms made for a cheap night after the high life at the Empress. And it’s a great place to see streaking Canadian jet fighters over the waterfront from the big base just to the north.
COURTENAY TO POWELL RIVER
Distance: 33 miles, mostly by ferry
Along the way: The Patricia Theatre. Run by former Southern California residents Ann Nelson and her son Brian, the lovingly restored 1928 theater is the centerpiece of the town’s renaissance as an arts community. The restoration of old homes and shops has spurred a mini-boom, with the population now at 14,000. It’s a mix of artists, retirees, transplants like Nelson and longtime locals. It still has the feeling of a tough industrial town, but with a new lease on life.
Good eats: Rhodos Coffee Roasting Co., Courtenay. Along with Serious Coffee, Courtenay had some of the best espresso I found on the trip. Stop in on the way to the ferry if the brown swill at the motel breakfast doesn’t kick start your day. Details: 364 Eighth St., No. 106; 250-338-5592; rhodoscoffee.com.