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Victoria is the Perfect Fit, Even in Winter

VICTORIA-Frankly, I'd never been in a rush to visit Vancouver Island. I figured it was a trip that could wait until I was old enough to apply for my pension.

I had a head full of stereotypes. I figured that the average age of an Islander was about 92, the weather was a succession of all day rains, the menus featured grey roast beef and mushy peas and the local culture revolved around a frightening fetish for the British royal family.

Of course, on my recent visit, I got set straight minutes after landing.

Blinded by the sunlight, I was nearly knocked over by a pack of cyclists looping past the sea and the mansions that dot Marine Drive.

Turns out that Victoria is wrapped in a sub-Mediterranean zone, guaranteeing it the mildest climate in the country with nearly 2,200 hours of sunlight each year and about half the annual rainfall of Vancouver, Seattle or New York. And, according to Statistics Canada, Victoria is, "the fittest city in Canada," with 36 per cent of the adult population physically active.

When you toss in the Island's near surreal mountain, forest and ocean backdrop, it makes perfect sense that it is now home to a dozen world-class spas. (Last year readers of Travel&Leisure magazine named Vancouver Island as the Best Island in Continental U.S. and Canada while Conde Nast Traveler readers voted it, the Best Temperate Island in the World.)

I started my spa pilgrimage at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa which rings the outside edge of Victoria's inner harbour, looking out to the Parliament buildings and the Royal B.C. Museum.

The spa is perched above the water and I had a ringside seat as the water taxis, float planes and yachts zigged and then zagged across the harbour. The ship docked at the pier was nearly as long as a football field and was rumoured to be owned by billionaire Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

Inspired by this luxurious indulgence, I called the spa desk and booked my very first pedicure. The aesthetician was named Gracie who soaked, buffed, polished and massaged me until my cuticles shone like the northern lights. I truly had happy feet.

The next stop was across the inner harbour at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Built in 1908, the ivy covered Empress is still Vancouver Island's most famous landmark. It's best known for its afternoon high tea - they serve more than 100,000 each year.

However, the Empress isn't stuck in the past. In 2002, the hotel built the Willow Stream spa, a $6 million facility that mirrors the stunning contrasts of the Island.

I decided to try out Willow Stream's new golf facial which was introduced to the spa menu in November. My therapist Sandra carefully wrapped my face with warm towels, exfoliated the skin with a sweet smelling maple sugar scrub and then revitalized it with a combination of vegetable-based cleansers and then toners until my skin tingled with vitality. For a little while, I even forgot about the triple bogies.

For the grand finale, I made the 4  1/2 hour drive down the west coast of the Island to the village of Tofino. It's an amazing trek, through the mountains, past old growth forests and the Pacific Rim National Park.

Tofino is a fun and funky place, home to artists, environmental activist, entrepreneurs, fishermen and surf bums. It's also home to the Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn, a Relais & Chateaux property that last year was ranked the No. 1 hotel in the world by Travel&Leisure magazine.

Built on a rocky spur above the beach, the original inn opened in 1996 and this past summer added an additional 30 units. All rooms have fireplaces, soaker tubs, private balconies and ocean views.

It's the kind of place where you hope it rains all day so you can curl up in front of the fire and watch the water crash on the rocks.

The spa includes a small cedar cottage that opens up to the rocks. It's close enough to the water to feel the spray.

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