Last Sunday night Marcia and I had the pleasure and the privilege of staying at the Villa Marco Polo Inn here in Victoria, giving us an opportunity to be tourists in our own town. Before I get to that, our being there is a story in itself.
One of the e-mails that arrives in my Inbox every week is from Mindi & Dave Pettitt and the rest of the crew at HarbourLiving.ca Basically it’s a weekly newsletter that let’s us know what’s happening in and around Victoria, and it also includes information on events for the rest of the island as well. Now, last December I noticed an article asking for a photograph and a story to do with Christmas, as a way of celebrating the holiday season. Being a storyteller at heart I grabbed one of my Christmas images out of Lightroom, added a story, and sent it off. Several days later we received a phone call from the folks at Tourism Victoria informing me that I had won one of the daily prizes in their ‘Christmas is Here‘ contest. Among the prizes was a carriage tour, annual passes for the Royal BC Museum, and a stay at the Villa Marco Polo Inn.
Perhaps the most interesting and ironic aspect of this blessing in our lives is that I didn’t realize it was a photo contest. I don’t, as a rule, enter photo contests. Ever. I have done in the long past and discovered that the judges and I tend to have different ideas over what constitutes a good photograph. For whatever reason, Providence was smiling on us that day.
The Villa Marco Polo lies in the Rockland area in Victoria’s southwest. It’s two blocks south of Fort Street, and close to both Craigdarroch Castle and Government House. We had dinner Sunday night at the Bengal Lounge at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and easily walked back to the villa from there.
What would become the Villa Marco Polo was built in 1923 by a local man as a wedding gift to his daughter. It’s built in the classic Italian Renaissance style, with a garden and a reflecting pool out back. The first thing that impressed us was the location. The neighbourhood is very quiet, which suits us just fine.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by Danusia, who brought us in as guests to her ‘home’. If you’ve read other of our food posts you’ll know that both Marcia and I have traveled fairly extensively, and with that can come a certain weariness of the ‘standard’ hotel fare – a bedroom, sometimes a living room area, a television, a bathroom, a phone, a desk, a coffee maker. Because of that we’ve developed rather particular tastes when it comes to travel and to food, and the Villa Marco Polo satisfied them all. The best compliment I can give to any hotel is that our stay was adequate, for in my estimation a facility must be excellent to be adequate. The Villa Marco Polo Inn is most excellent. Anyway, I digress (it’s a bad habit among writers).
As I said, we were greeted at the door by Danusia, and she led us into the living room where we completed the necessary paperwork. Following that we engaged in a quiet discussion about dinner locations in Victoria, and Danusia made some wonderful suggestions. Look for them in future ‘Eating our Way’ posts! I should interject here that many B&Bs in which we’ve stayed tend to be very ‘busy’, some tending almost to ‘kitsch’. The Villa Marco Polo is nothing like that. It is tastefully furnished with many antiques and many books. I have an interest in samovars, and was pleased to see a couple on display. There are also several large plants, and this also fits in well with our tastes. Marcia has often said all of my plants want to be trees. In our suite there was a lovely white butterfly orchid in bloom on a table in the sitting room. Our suite’s bathroom had both an air-jetted tub and a stand-up shower; after dinner we had a long soak in the tub and it was a perfect way to end the day! We turned on some classical music in the .mp3 player, put the timer on the gas fireplace, and crawled into bed.
There was (thankfully) no television in the room, although there was one in a cabinet (as well as an iMac) down the hall in the library. Other than a quick check of my e-mail we didn’t use either, preferring to sample some of the books on display in the library. There was another couple staying at the inn, but we didn’t see them until breakfast and returned from dinner feeling that we had the place to ourselves – and that we had come ‘home’.
The following morning fresh brewed coffee was awaiting us in the living room prior to breakfast, and we were soon joined by the others – a younger couple up from Washington state. It was their second visit to the inn, and, like us, I’m sure they’ll recommend it to all of their friends. There’s always a careful dichotomy to finding a place one truly loves. On the one hand it’s important to encourage such enterprises, but at the same time, we selfishly want to keep them to ourselves!
Liam (one of the owners and managing innkeeper) came in shortly thereafter and led us all into the dining room for breakfast. Breakfast was served over several courses, each of them very tasty. To begin with we were served a fruit smoothie (without yoghurt), a parfait of fresh strawberries, granola and yoghurt, and some hot-from-the-oven croissants. On the table was soft, decoratively-shaved butter and two different fruit preserves for the croissants. The four of us engaged in some lively conversation (between mouthfuls!), the topics ranging from our various travels to different interests we each had. Liam also joined the conversation as he was able. Our next course was a baked egg, served in a dish with an accompaniment of courgette, onion, and tarragon, I believe, similar but different to my own recipe for shirred eggs. We topped the meal with star anise French toast, served with small pitchers of a combination of maple and birch syrup. As chef, Liam acquitted himself very well.
Shortly after breakfast our new friends left to catch their ferry south once again, and we took the opportunity to have a look at the inn’s third floor, which houses the nicely-appointed spa. Up there one will find a large sitting window complete with pillows, an exercise area equipped with both yoga mats and exercise balls (perched on a Persian carpet), a separate room with two massage tables, and a bathroom with a large claw-foot tub.
As much as we hesitated, we took one last look around our Alexandria Suite and headed out, catching Liam in a short conversation on our way. Except for the season our stay could have been a midsummer night’s dream… one we’ll happily repeat!
P.S. You can read more of our Food posts and restaurant reviews here.