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By Jane Cassie
(for Travel Writers' Tales)

Succulent beef, doused with a demi glaze. Curry-infused chicken coupled with Jasmine rice. Mushroom ravioli, topped with tomato-parmesan. My husband and I salivate over the amazing spread. "Gotta love this ferry food," Brent says, when he also loads up at the salad bar.

Whether you're first-time BC ferry cruisers or veterans like us, you can't go wrong with the Pacific Buffet. The cost of this all-inclusive meal comes with bottomless cups of coffee - and is topped off with a roving view.

The purpose of this Victoria visit is to have foodie fun while re-kindling the romance. The Magnolia Hotel and Spa certainly caters to this need! The contemporary gem snuggles into the city's Old World charm and is just steps away from the bustling Inner Harbour. We're ushered into an intimate lobby that's decked out in exquisite décor and adjacent, is the trendy Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar where homegrown ingredients are crafted into Mediterranean fare. In addition to offering intriguing lunch and dinner menus, this is where the complimentary breakfast is served each morning -whether we choose the buffet, that includes everything from fresh fruit to Belgium waffles, or ala carte made-to-order options -it's a scrumptious way to start each day!

Delicious perks extend to the sixty-four recently-rejuvenated rooms. We bump up the romance-meter by going for a spacious fireplace suite that flaunts a view. A fruit plate is waiting on arrival. Freshly-brewed coffee and The Globe is assured each morning. Dutch Bakery sweets are presented at turndown. We'd also discover serenity at The Spa Magnolia, where their Intelligent Nutrient products are as organic as they come. If only we had more time!

But with Vicotria boasting the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada, there's a lot of sampling to squeeze in during.

On a three hour culinary tour, Karma Brophy shows us the best way to do just that! This gastronome has been enriching the minds and palates of foodies for over twenty years and, since 2010, she's been the proud owner of Feast Concierge. While leading the way on foot, she integrates her knowledge of regional edibles with personal anecdotes. And like followers of the Pied Piper we're lured by the tantalizing trail and her charming tales.

The majority of our taste trek takes place in the Victoria Public Market, a 1,762 square-meter (18,000 square foot) food-lover's haunt that would satisfy the hungriest appetite. Farmers, fishers, butchers, bakers -all work symbiotically under one roof to showcase their local bounty.

Our first stop is The French Oven Bakery, where owner, Sandra Castro, churns fresh, regional ingredients into favourites from France: Buttery croissants, decadent Pain Au Chocolat, savory brioche -yum! It's not surprising to hear that her husband and solo baker, Nick, was born, raised and trained in Lyon.

Next door, the epicurean secrets come all the way from the Marche region of Italy. Olive the Senses is family-owned and operated by Steve and Emily Lycopolus and here we have a choice of sixty-plus virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars to sample. "It's like trying a fine wine," Brophy says, while swigging back a spicy Chilean blend. We follow her lead, swishing and sniffing a few of the heady elixirs.

The Italian-inspired rotisserie, Roast, is next on our edible sojourn. Proprietor and accomplished chef, George Szasz, who works closely with local producers, dishes us up marvelous meatballs and porchetta. "We even season some of our selections with sea salts from Vancouver Island Spice Factory," he explains. "It's a delicious win-win partnership."

The business Szasz is referring to is just two doors down. Spanish paprika, banana pepper, Mandarin orange and lime -these unrefined sea salts that are harvested from Vancouver Island waters, stack up next to an array of spices and edible seeds. I look forward to trying out the potpourri of treasures that have been plunked into my goodie bag. But for now, this sauntering smorgasbord continues.

Up to Fort Street we rove, nipping, sipping, savoring -Spanish-style cured meats at Chorizo & Co, smoked wild salmon at the Hook and finally, the grand finale -a generous selection of handcrafted unique sweets at Chocolat, a family-run business that's been satisfying chocaholics for over twenty five years.

"How 'bout a little more sampling," Brophy suggests after we polish off these sinful pleasures. "I offer an even more indulgent tour of Oak Bay." Although we're familiar with this quaint seaside village that has an eclectic array of eateries, and these tours are a fabulous way to experience the flavours of our capital, we still need to make room for one more spread. And that's at the Pacific Buffet as we cruise back home.


BC Ferries
1-888-BCFERRY (1-888-223-3779) from anywhere in North America

Feast Concierge
Phone: 250-886-4604

Tourism Victoria

Where to stay:

The Magnolia Hotel & Spa 623 Courtney Street
Victoria, BC V8W 1B8
Phone: 250-381-0999
Rated one of the top hotels in Canada by Condé Nast readers and top twenty-five Canadian Luxury Hotels by TripAdvisor's® Travelers' Choice® awards.

PHOTOS: by Brent Cassie

Suggested captions:

1. Filling up at the Pacific Buffet
2. We enjoy a little deck time
3. Magnolia's intimate lobby
4. Relaxing in our chichi suite
5. Owner of The French Oven Bakery, treats us to her favourites from France
6. I look forward to trying out the potpourri of treasures at Vancouver Island Spice Factory
7. We wrap up the tour with a few sinful pleasures at Chocolat

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freelance travel writers Jane Cassie and Margaret Deefholts

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