A Taste of Luxury in Victoria BC

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Views of the back of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel at dusk

We chose to stay at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for our three days in Victoria because we like this lovely area of Victoria, and I was fascinated by this sumptuous hotel that has been constructed on the site of an old Tudor-styled hotel that previously stood here. This is an elegant hotel with beautifully furnished rooms and wonderful bathrooms with separate tubs and showers plus heated floors. There are three restaurants: a pub, a formal dining room, and a café that we found perfect for a simple breakfast. We ate at the pub two nights, and the third night we ate dinner in our room which was furnished with a very small galley kitchen, re-heating leftovers from our pub dinners. The spa-like swimming pool pictured above is warm and good for easing a cyclist’s aches and pains. In addition, there is a free garage with easy access where we were able to leave our bikes locked in the car. And since we could catch an elevator from the garage to our room, we did not have to bother with valets. So although this hotel is upscale, it is comfortable and not at all stuffy. However, it is not inexpensive to stay here.

One day we rode along the  waterfront to Cadboro Bay Village where we had coffee and then turned up Sinclair Road to visit the University of Victoria. This was a big mistake; I could see that it was steep, but I kept expecting to turn left off of it on the road indicated on my phone. However, that road was at the top of the hill, one that was impossible to ride and almost impossible to walk. When we reached the campus, we found a pretty, leafy university with the bustle of students changing classes. We made our way to Henderson Rd. which turns into Foul Bay Rd. , an interesting street with a good bike lane giving us a nice long coast down to Oak Bay Avenue and Oak Bay Village, a charming old-fashioned area with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and practical shops. It is like some of the shopping areas that I remember from my childhood before strip malls started to mar the landscape. As we have several times before, we ate lunch at the atmospheric Penny Farthing Pub. After lunch we browsed at a bookstore and bought a couple of items at a most attractive food store. Then it  was a short ride up the end of Oak Bay Avenue down Newport back to Beach Drive and the hotel.

Another day, we parked at the shopping center at Cordova Bay and rode the Lochside Trail from there to Sidney, a pretty route traversing interesting neighborhoods and some farmlands, and  at points next to the Saanich Inlet. Sidney is a pleasant small town with lots of eating places and bookstores. It is also the place where one catches the  ferry to Anacortes. This is an easy ride of about 18 miles all together. When we returned to the shopping center, we had a pleasant lunch outside at Bill Mattick’s Restaurant and Lounge, which is located right next to a golf course and surrounded by attractive landscaping.

This area was the highlight of our vacation. Although we have been to Victoria and Vancouver Island many times, a visit there never fails to delight us.  The pace is slower than that in our own SF Bay Area, and the people are warm and friendly. Although it is not the same, a visit here is a bit like a visit to England.

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Bazan Bay Sidney

 

 

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Roaming the Napa Valley

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A couple of weeks ago, we spent four days in the Napa Valley to celebrate our 59th wedding anniversary. Although Calistoga is not the most centrally located town, we chose to stay there at the Stevenson Manor Best Western because this hotel is a bargain for this pricey area. It is not luxurious, but it is certainly attractive, clean, and comfortable with constant work going on to upgrade it. The breakfast is a bit above average for an accommodation of this level, and we were pleased to find the other guests to be a friendly bunch.

We did four bicycle rides during this stay which we were fortunate occurred within a break in the rainy weather that we have had this year. These rides were ones that we have done before and that I have written about on this site. Our longest ride was from Yountville to downtown Napa, and I just want to mention this ride because we found the bike path that runs from just south of Trancas Street diagonally across Napa to be one that we would recommend against using. It crosses several busy streets without four-way stops, and it runs through neighborhoods that are not particularly appealing. It does, however, end in downtown Napa, where we cycled to the new CIA restaurant at Copia, a pleasant place with memorable food. Coming back we used a bike boulevard that started at the end of this path and followed that across a good part of Napa through some interesting old neighborhoods along quiet attractive streets. When this bike boulevard ended, we just sort of used our instincts to return to  the wonderful Vine Trail that runs back to Yountville. Most streets in Napa are bicycle friendly.

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Patio at Ottimo

As always in the Napa Valley, we ate very well. In Yountville, there is a new restaurant called Ottimo across from Bottega, where the salads are served in jars and the panini are small and extraordinary. It is wonderful to sit out under the olive trees after a bicycle ride and enjoy the beauty of this area; I find it easy to pretend that I am in Italy. We ate two lunches at this spot.

Another restaurant that we truly enjoyed was the St. Helena Bistro, a small place on St. Helena’s main street that has an eclectic menu. We especially enjoyed the crispy calamari and the salmon tacos. And on our last night, we ate at Veraison,  a fairly new place on the main street  in Calistoga. We were seated in the window where we could watch the passing scene and savor our moules frites.

All in all, I would say that if you do not have the wherewithal for a trip to Europe, a trip to the Napa Valley is a good substitute. Despite lots of traffic, it is a pretty, relaxing place to roam and to linger over excellent food.

A Valentine’s Day Bicycle Outing

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For Californians, we have had a hard winter, so now in the middle of February, it is a pleasure to observe the resiliency of Mother Nature, the emerging blossoms and even the oft troublesome (for those of us with allergies) mustard weed. In the Napa Valley, where the Napa River has historically been prone to cause problems, we were not surprised to see the river at a high level as well as all the creeks running with water like rivers, and full ditches and rivulets everywhere. But all of this rain has turned the landscape green and lovely.  We were a little bit worried about mudslides or washouts on the roads, but we did not have any trouble.

We did our usual Yount Mill Road, Hwy. 29,  Oakville Crossroad,  Silverado Trail and back to Yountville Crossroad with one deviation, recommended by a pleasant woman in the Yountville tourist advice center. We took Finnell Road off of Yountville Cross to come back into town. It was a gorgeous short detour with vineyards growing right up to the road and attractive houses along the way. This kind of pretty, quiet country road is a cyclist’s dream.

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Having finished our ride, we headed for downtown Napa where we had reservations for lunch at the CIA at Copia, a new restaurant that has opened at the Copia facility next to the Oxbow Market. The interior is contemporary and spacious, and the service and food were both good. I had the lamb sirloin tartine for my main course, and it was outstanding. With the pots de crème dessert, I felt that my lunch was the perfect complement to a lovely day.

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A Wintry Ride on the Napa Vine Trail

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After having our New Year’s Eve day ride cancelled because of serious family illness, it was with thankful hearts for a quick recovery that our small family cycling group of my husband, a son, our grandson, and I set off on Friday January 6th to ride from Yountville to Napa. It was cold but clear with water running briskly through the small creek alongside the trail. The path was practically deserted and except for a little mud at the beginning, clear of debris from recent storms. We rode down to Redwood Rd. in Napa, had coffee at a Starbucks there and then rode back. There are still about three intersections where the signal system has not been integrated with the trail, and one must use caution at these.

Using Open Table to make reservations for lunch, we decided on Brix in Yountville, which turned out to be a good choice. Although the menu was not as extensive as we remembered its being in the summer, we were all pleased with our choices: stroganoff, black-eyed pea soup, and duck confit salad. But the star of the show was the dessert that I ordered: s’mores, which came with chocolate graham crackers, squares of chocolate, house-made marshmallows, and a petite pot with a flame to roast the marshmallows. We each took a turn and had one s’more. It was a lot of fun as was the whole day except for the traffic going home.

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A Visit to UC Davis

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Yesterday, we visited our grandson, who is a freshman at UC Davis. He gave us an extensive bicycle tour of the main part of the campus in the morning, plus a visit to downtown Davis and the farmers’ market. At noon we piled into the car to drive to Woodland for lunch at Kitchen 428 where we had a satisfying lunch in an interesting old building. We drove back to Davis on Hwy.98, a lovely country road.

Our grandson then led us to the west side of the campus, which is rural with some of the scientific sites reflecting the  agricultural departments of the university. We stopped at a beautiful garden with plants that foster the increase in bee populations. And we walked along a nature preserve on the banks of the Putah Creek, a major stream in northern California that is 85 miles long. One of the last stops on our ride was in Davis’ magnificent arboretum. We did all of this on bicycle paths and quiet country roads, an outdoor adventure that was a magic antidote to the stresses of ordinary life in our busy SF Bay Area.

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In the Bee Garden

Riding in the Town of Ashland

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Staying at the Ashland Hills Hotel, we found it  a bit of an uphill ride to get over the freeway and up to the main street of Ashland, Siskiyou Blvd., but once there we enjoyed a long coast through this attractive little town. Then turning on Third St., we rode down to the Central Bike Path, which we accessed behind Noble Coffee Roasting. This path is well used by locals, and while it does not have outstanding scenery, it does run along some parks and an old cemetery, which at my age I like to ride past. When we returned to Ashland St., we stayed on the path and circled around to access the street further along, making our return ride a bit easier. We did this ride on the morning of the second day of our recent trip to Lopez Island in Washington, and coming back, we repeated it to go to the Ashland Food Coop  between A St. and B St. to buy lunch supplies for our trip home. While this is not a long ride, it does get the blood circulating in the early morning.

Also during this stay in Ashland, we ate dinner at the Peerless Hotel Restaurant both going up and coming back. This is in an interesting old hotel with a wonderful restaurant, serving novel delicious food such as lobster potato skins and carrot cake with pea ice cream.  Despite many trips to Ashland, we had never stayed at the Ashland Hills Hotel before, nor had we eaten at the Peerless; we consider both real finds. The hotel is not within walking distance to town, but it is beautifully renovated with large, airy rooms and the prices are more reasonable than most of the closer-in accommodations. We will visit both of this places on our next trip to Ashland, whether we are just passing  through or stopping to see some plays.

The Arroyo Mocho with Water

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My husband and I spent Memorial Day riding the Arroyo Mocho Trail to Concannon Blvd. with a return on the Isabel Avenue trail. It was a glorious day with lots of people about, in a holiday mood, obviously enjoying themselves. We were greatly surprised to see the usually dry arroyo full of water, looking almost like a river. However, it was a great pleasure to ride along the trail with water bubbling close by. In fact, it was almost like riding along the Truckee River.

Some of the Livermore natives informed us that the water comes from faraway sources to recharge the groundwater. I found an explanation at this link. Where the trail passes under Stanley Blvd. there was about three inches of water covering the path. I wanted to go cross at the signal on the road, but my husband proved that the water was not too deep by walking his bike through it. Since I had on shoes with open tops, I rode my bike–it was sort of a splashy thrill.

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We had wonderful water views such as the one above all the way to Concannon Blvd., where Livermore assumed its usual dry but attractive aspect with lovely homes among the vineyards. And as is  a custom with us, we finished our adventure with a lunch at Garré Winery.

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