Modern hospitality in old world style

One of the delights of traveling is getting more than you expected, especially in terms of accommodation. Choosing where to stay is often a risky proposition when you’ve never been to the area. All you’ve got to go on are website descriptions and photos, which are often too good to be true, or Trip Advisor reviews, which are highly subjective. More often than not, you make a reservation and hope for the best.

During the past five months traveling across the United States and Canada, Gregory and I have experienced our share of average to bad hotels. But it’s the ones that exceeded our expectations that we remember the most. Petit Soleil in San Luis Obispo, California did that (see Living “La Vie en Rose”), and so did the Oak Bay Beach Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia.

There has been a hotel on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island in the residential neighbourhood of Oak Bay since 1927. The Tudor-style hotel became a hit with guests and locals alike, with its seaside pool, grand lobby, and friendly pub.

In 2006, Kevin Walker, the son of the last owner, recognized that the 80-year-old building had run its course, and decided to re-imagine the hotel and re-build it. Six years later in 2012, he opened a new building, modern in its construction, but incorporating beloved elements of the former landmark.

There was still a grand lobby and formal dining room, as well as a British-style pub with lots of wood trim and beamed ceilings. But the swimming pool was re-incarnated as a spa mineral pool, and a theatre was added to provide musical and theatrical entertainment.

Although we booked a standard guest room with a residential view, the layout was similar to those with water views. We were impressed with the luxurious feel of the room and could tell that attention had been paid to each detail of its furnishings. Lighting was on dimmer switches, the electric fireplace had different settings, and the bathroom had both a soaker tub and an enormous shower, plus panels that opened to the room. And a bit of whimsey sat on the bed in the guise of the hotel bear (dressed in a robe). This was not our usual hotel experience.

Overall, the room felt more like a high-end condo than a hotel room. We later discovered that many of the rooms and suites were available for long-term lease, much like a time-share. There was even a Residential Floor where people had bought units. No wonder they described the hotel as a “home away from home.”

But the lack of view in the room was not an issue for us, since we were able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the distant San Juan Islands when having breakfast in the elegant dining room or relaxing on a leather sofa in the lobby seating area.

We even met the owner, Kevin Walker, who was on hand at the Mother’s Day brunch. He was as friendly and outgoing as he appeared in the promotional video on the hotel’s website. We could see that his attitude filtered down to the staff who were just as welcoming and willing to make our stay as wonderful as possible.

We didn’t know the old hotel, but the new one is definitely appealing, inviting, and comfortable. And I don’t think it’s just our opinion. When we were in the lobby seating area one evening, a couple (with a baby!) sat down in the central sofa area and were served champagne by one of the waiters. A troubadour walked in singing a love song, and the man got down on knee to propose marriage. Needless to say, she said yes.

Visit the Oak Bay Beach Hotel online.