Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 27, 2021

The grand 1923 mansion at Villa Marco Polo was originally built as a wedding gift.

Bookmark and Share

Victoria’s aristocratic B&Bs

Escape, romance, luxury — these four properties have it all

When Victoria’s Abbeymoore Manor was named best bed-and-breakfast inn in North America and second-best in the world in TripAdvisor’s 2010 Traveler’s Choice Awards, the people of Victoria didn’t bat an eye. The BC capital is, after all, famed for its Britishness — and what’s more British than a B&B?

Victoria’s top establishments are sprawling country houses hidden away in the city’s green downtown, the estates of a disappeared uppity class, with gardens designed for receptions, halls festooned with antiques, breakfasts you won’t find just anywhere and, lately, spas.

For the most part, they’re not cheaper than hotels, unless the hotel happens to be a Four Seasons. They’re retreats, as romantic as you want them to be, and getaways from an increasingly haranguing world. Even in a depressed economy, they’re heavily booked by people who can’t stay away.

To the manor born

The winning Abbeymoore Manor (tel: 888-801-1811;; doubles from $129) is one of the most affordable among them. The manse sits in the exclusive, tree-lined Rockland neighbourhood. Across the road is the stately home of BC’s Lieutenant Governor Steven Point. Guests might catch Point, a former chief of the Skowkale First Nation, carving a native canoe.

Not quite a century old, Abbeymoore is a 1912 Edwardian manse. Its rooms, 12 in all, come outfitted with features including gas fireplaces, claw-foot tubs, four-poster beds and sprawling verandas.

What they don’t have is the rash of tchotchkes found in so many inns with a past. “We don’t like frou-frou,” says Anne Mosher, who with partner Ian MacPhee, operates the inn. Out with the chintz curtain tassels; in with art from the innkeepers’ trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Breakfast is taken in a glassed-in veranda looking out into the leafy neighbourhood. Mosher cooks in a big country kitchen. MacPhee serves and disperses sound recommendations in a town with too many ambitiously bad restaurants. Guests may find themselves sitting opposite a rocket scientist, a native artist, an inventor. “It doesn’t matter what you do,” says the affable MacPhee, “at breakfast, we’re all ordinary people.”

Breakfast is an old-fashioned big one. Fresh fruit come with locally made yogurt. Main courses vary: this time out, it was eggs Benny with ham or smoked salmon and a sun-dried tomato hollandaise.

When they aren’t cleaning, cooking and chatting up guests, MacPhee and Mosher are one of nine vintage properties that market themselves as Victoria’s Historic Inns ( All were rated over 89 percent for guest satisfaction in the TripAdvisor poll.

Affair of the heart

The 745-square-metre Italianate manse now known as Fairholme Manor (tel: 877-511-3322;; doubles from $110) was built in 1885. When Austrian-born Sylvia Main and her husband Roscoe found it, it was a dilapidated rooming house.

“We worked at it for 10 years,” she says. “I realized we needed an income to fix it up. In 1999, we opened it as a B&B. We didn’t have to wait for guidebooks to put us on the map: the Internet had arrived. Suddenly, we couldn’t open rooms fast enough.”

Five individual suites marry spaciousness, simplicity, soft colours and big windows pulling Island light into the house. Main’s love of fresh flowers is through the roof: white orchids grace every part of the house. In spring, tulips colour every room.

Guests rave about breakfasts. And Main published Fabulous Fairholme, Breakfasts and Brunches three years ago, with recipes ranging from Asiago and green-onion omelette to deep-dish blueberry vanilla French toast.

“I was sick and tired of running upstairs and making photocopies of my breakfast recipes,” she explains. It came as a surprise to her when it sold briskly in bookstores everywhere, eventually qualifying as a Canadian bestseller.

Globetrotters welcome

Also in Rockland, Villa Marco Polo (tel: 250-370-1524;; doubles from $190) recalls a European Relais & Châteaux. Its terraced garden is a genteel Georgian postcard, a perfect setting for curling up with a fat book on a sunny afternoon.

The manse, built in 1923 as a wedding gift, struck gold as a B&B in 2004, when innkeepers Eliza Livingston and Liam Morton took over, garnering instant praise from press and public.

Evoking the name of the legendary Venetian who served in the court of Kublai Khan is fitting: the inn is a hodgepodge of Chinese exotica and Baroque Italian flourishes, like the home of a travelled and slightly dotty aunt.

Much of the furniture comes from Livingstone’s family, who lived in Iran for years. But certain pieces come from Morton’s. After signing on as manager, he researched the history of the house; the builder turned out to be his own great-great-uncle.

Morton takes a hands-on approach to guests, quickly becoming family. He orchestrates multi-course breakfasts. He directs people to local activities from garden tours to whale-watching.

The Villa offers four wholly different suites: Silk Road, Zanzibar, Persian and Alexandria. All boast hardwood floors, king-size beds and bathrooms with soaker tubs.

The Spa Hamaan is a third-floor space overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca (recently renamed the Salish Sea). The menu runs from massages and facials to pedicures and body wraps. Massage therapist Melissa Brown demonstrates the generous, intuitive gift of touch that makes for a memorable spa experience. And blessedly, there’s no gawd-awful New Age music to undermine the sensual bliss-out.

Tudor fantasy

With 23 rooms and suites, Abigail’s Hotel (tel: 800-561-6565;; doubles from $189) seems too big to be a fetching B&B, but it delivers luxury, charm and intimacy aplenty. Considering Victoria has Canada’s greatest concentration of Tudor architecture — you expect to see Henry VIII walking around, dragging some poor, headless wench behind him — Abigail’s half-timbered look and English gardens fit right in.

Five minutes’ walk from the city core, Abigail’s accommodations are immaculate and comfortable, no two alike. Top-of-the-line is the honeymoon suite Canterbury Belle, with a king-size, four-poster bed, log-burning fireplace, crystal chandelier, Italian marble bathroom and double Jacuzzi soaker tub. It’s also not your typical B&B bedroom, with a top rate of $450.

The latest addition is the Pearl Spa (tel: 800-561-6565;, the work of visionary Gaynor Round, who has been in the business for decades. “I see it as anti-stress, not as a luxury.” she says, “I keep my prices at the level I’d like to pay as a spa customer.” The menu is comprehensive. Book the 90-minute aroma stone massage and there’s a free 30-minute reflexology treatment, facial or pedicure.

Breakfast introduces guests to full-time chef Matt McGinn, who came from Camille’s and Brasserie L’École, two of Victoria’s most successful restaurants. His bread basket comes filled with Parmesan-and-sundried-tomato scones and lemon-poppy seed muffins. For mains, there are buttermilk waffles with Granny Smith apples and maple syrup or crêpes stuffed with spinach and artisan feta from Quebec, sided with perfectly grilled back bacon and addictive roast potatoes.

The breakfast “B” has never been better.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


Showing 1 comments

  1. On April 15, 2010, Allison Fairhurst said:
    Thank you for including Abigail's in such a complimentary review of some of Victoria's finest B&B's. You have described the Abigail's experience perfectly and we are thrilled you enjoyed your stay with us.

Post a comment