When a Vancouver developer bought Victoria’s historic Empress hotel in 2014 and announced plans to restore the landmark property, locals held their collective breath.
What would become of their beloved hotel that has entertained countless royalty and celebrities and where they themselves proudly take out-of-town guests for afternoon tea or for cocktails in the Bengal Lounge?
They fretted. They complained. They petitioned. And then they breathed a sigh of relief. With renovations complete, it was obvious the developer loved the grand old dame as much as they did. Yes, the venerable hotel is proof that while you can’t turn back the clock, you can wind it up again with contemporary design and smart technology.
Fairmont Gold one-bedroom suite
Let the hotel know on-line when you’ll be arriving, for example, and a dashing grey-suited doorman will be waiting for you, keys in hand. Head up to your room, and discover new carpets, Edwardian wallpaper and updated bathrooms. Bedside technology includes reading lights that you can actually read by – but that don’t disturb your partner – and plug-insfor your phone. Rooms are air-conditioned, but you can still open your window and breathe in the salty air that confirms you’re on the Pacific Ocean.
Q at the Empress
Downstairs, the differences are grander in scale. A golden staircase circles a silver chandelier that floats overhead like petals in a breeze. The new restaurant Q – a nod to Queen Victoria – looks as fresh as its West coast cuisine tastes. Next door, Q Bar has already received a Wine Spectator award for its extensive selection.
The re-imagined Lobby Lounge with its potted palms, grand piano and two fireplaces is as elegant as ever. Overlooking the Inner Harbour, this is when you know you’re at the Empress. Come for tea. Enjoy scones with clotted cream, dainty sandwiches, bite-size pastries, and a century of tradition.
Written by Suzanne Morphet. Photos courtesy of Fairmont Hotels. Originally published in Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Spring/Summer 2018 issue.