Diane Krys: Tulips, Tea and The Empress

I’ve been chasing spring to the lush, green tulip haven of Victoria, British Columbia. My husband’s work event was the catalyst so we extended the visit and made a little holiday of it. Since we were installed at the historic Empress hotel for the conference we embraced the experience and called it home for our entire stay. We’re pretty casual travelers so it was a treat to immerse ourselves in it’s lux ambience.

The hotel was built between 1904 and 1908 in  the Chateau style as evidenced by the steep slate roof and Gothic Revival gables.  The CPR ( Canadian Pacific Railway) ocean liners linked with  CPR trans-continental railway and a network right across Canada of grand “railway hotels” like the Empress.

It was such a different era in travel.  The world moved at a different pace and the features in the hotel reflected that with amenities like a writing room, conservatory, library, and a ballroom to name a few.  Changing times and two subsequent expansions  have seen the  detailed craftsmanship and general architecture preserved but most of the lavish original common spaces are now parceled off for meeting rooms or special events. Some ,like the writing room, were reincarnated. In 1954 it became the dark, exotic Bengal Lounge. In the past, it was all about luxury and leisure and I sense a different kind of dynamic now that it’s a hub for the hustle and bustle of many conferences.

The Empress is filled with beautiful black and white photos of days gone by,as well as, an archive. As I wandered the hotel I was able to piece together the original layout to some degree. I’d spy a feature like a stunning stained glass ceiling and remember it from an old photo of the conservatory filled with wicker chairs nestled amongst an array of foliage.  A spectacular decorative treatment that looked like carved wood but was actually original horse hair and plaster relief carvings placed the area as part of a much larger elegant dining room. I kept imagining what it must of been like to stay there during it’s original splendor.  Ladies would  be trailing steamer trunks full of frocks to take them through days filled with high teas and evenings in the ballroom.  Oh the glamor of it all.

The Empress continues their infamous daily high tea tradition and a rainy afternoon provided the perfect occasion for us to partake.  The tea room used to be the hotel’s grand entrance and reception area. It would have been quite a welcome for those traveling for weeks and months  crossing country and continent.

We sipped our tea and sampled dainty sandwiches and sweets while a pianist played softly in the corner. We watched the inner harbor through the rain and the steam roiling off our expertly brewed tea. It was  lovely.

There was  a richness and quality of experience you just don’t get with a giant “to go” thermos sitting in your car cup holder.  Some of those old traditions can make you realize how nice it is to take the time to stop and smell the roses or enjoy the tulips as the case may be.  Suddenly I want all my meals served on three tiers and prefaced with a bowl of fresh strawberries and cream. I also wonder how I could have missed the divine taste of a scone dolloped with cream and strawberry jam all this time.   I feel inspired to work up my own version of high tea on occasion now that I’m home. I’ll miss the harbor view but at least I know the tulips will be popping up relatively soon in Edmonton.  Anyone with a great scone recipe?

12 thoughts on “Diane Krys: Tulips, Tea and The Empress

  1. Hi Paula, There’s something about those pretty tiers. Maybe it appeals to our creative side where can build and layer things into a tempting tower of beauty. Isn’t there a saying that we taste with our eyes first? I’m thinking I want to use a tiered plate for a nice after dinner fresh fruit offering sometime. A pavlova is a pretty sight and I’m sure yours is tasty too! Enjoy and thanks for stopping in.

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  2. Hi, Diane.
    Pictures are beautiful as well as your write-up.I thoroughly enjoyed everything. I’m making Pavlova right now for tomorrow when my son and his family come for supper, but after looking at that beautiful display , I just want to serve something ….. anything……. on one of my three tier dishes. I remember my Mother always presenting food so elegantly. Thank-you for bringing back that memory to me.

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  3. Thanks for commenting Pam. I think it would work for a snowy afternoon in Alberta too! The scones they served were raison but cherry sounds delicious too!

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  4. Thanks Shirley, I’m glad you think I managed to capture it. Since you’ve been you know how many historic features and details there are. It was hard to edit to only a few images for the blog. There’s quite an amazing history with those hotels once you get into it. Great story with the jeans. ( you’re welcome to use the tulip photos… I know you have a way with poppies!)

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  5. It looks so decadent and luxurious!
    High tea sounds like a wonderful idea, especially on this drizzly, overcast afternoon.
    And I actually have a recipe for cherry scones that are deeeelicious!

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  6. Deanne, that would be fun! I’m not a fussy kind of cook but there was something so appealing in all those fancy little bites I just have to try my hand at it. Consider yourself invited for high tea if you ever find yourself out west!

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  7. Carol, I thought everything was pretty tasty but the scone was the star for me. I tried another tea shop’s version in Victoria and although it was good it didn’t come close. And now reading your comments,I’m thinking I may have tasted the best scone in the world! Thanks for stopping in.

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  8. Diane a beautiful blog. Pictures and write up truly capture the essence of The Empress. I too have had the opportunity of staying there. I made the mistake of wearing very nice brushed denim jeans one day to go to the bar, and was refused entrance. NO JEANS of any kind allowed!!Fortunately ,I had other outfits and was gladly allowed through the door.LOL. There is something to be said about those grand CPR Hotels (as they were known many years ago}I have had the privillege of staying in many across Canada.The tulip picture is perfect to hook.

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  9. I haven’t made this, but here it is….Fairmont Empress Scones
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    2 cups sugar
    1 cup butter
    2 tablespoons baking powder
    2 eggs
    1 cup cream
    1 cup golden raisins
    egg wash

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
    Mix the flour, butter, sugar, and baking powder together.
    In a separate bowl, mix cream and eggs together.
    Add raisins to flour mixture.
    Gradually add liquid to the dry mixture.
    Do not over mix.
    Toll out to the thickness of 1 inch.
    Allow the dough to rest.
    Cut with a 2 1/2 inch cutter. Let rest for 3/4 hour.
    Brush tops with an egg wash and
    bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown.

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  10. Been there, done that, and absorbed it all as you did…magical place. As for a scone recipe…have looked and tried many…even in the Victoria and Albert Museum tea shop…never found one quite like the Empress, although the museum came close…thank you for the trip down memory lane……Carol

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