24-hour room service: The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

Imposing doesn't quite describe The Empress. The lavish dimensions and epic style of this grand old hotel occupy an unmissably prime spot, overlooking Victoria's genteel harbour and surrounded by a series of elegant lawns.

Imposing doesn't quite describe The Empress. The lavish dimensions and epic style of this grand old hotel occupy an unmissably prime spot, overlooking Victoria's genteel harbour and surrounded by a series of elegant lawns.

The finest hotel in BC's capital is reminiscent of an enormous Rhineland castle. It seems slightly sad that its original features and furnishings have been chipped away in the name of modernisation (the original wooden check-in area is now a parade of shops and the first, glass-roofed swimming pool has given way to something that feels more like a public baths) but the "improvements" make sense when you realise that the main consideration is comfort, and the Empress' staff can't do enough for you, which is probably why it keeps winning awards.

Eating is big here, whether visiting the Tea Lobby (tea costs £15, unless you're under 11, when you pay your age in dollars), gorging by candlelight in the Empress Room, tucking into a curry lunch in the Bengal Lounge or just taking the family down to Kipling's.

These days visitors to the Empress are as likely to arrive by seaplane and helicopter as by boat and its guests form a rather peculiar mix of honeymooning couples, wealthy businesspeople, elderly bridge players and small group tours.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The Empress is at 721 Government Street, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (tel: 001 250 384 8111, website: www.fairmont.com)

As you approach the building, a Canadian Heritage Property, you can't help but wonder how it managed to claim such a staggeringly impressive location. Built in 1908, the hotel doesn't appear to be built around the waterfront - the waterfront is built around the hotel.

Transport: the best bits of Victoria (the harbour, old city centre buildings, painter Emily Carr's childhood home and the Royal BC Museum) are easily walkable from the hotel. To get further afield, car hire is a reasonable £20 a day.

Time to international airport: from the UK you can fly to Victoria (the airport's about 15 miles outside town) via Vancouver but much more fun is to fly to either Vancouver or Seattle and take a boat (around £40 one-way to Seattle, £5 to the Canadian mainland) or seaplane (around £45 one-way) practically right to The Empress' front door.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

In contrast to its rather severe exterior, the hotel's 460 rooms are very cosy. Decor is an unfussy palette of dusky pink, cream and sage, extending from the firm mattresses and squishy pillows to the deep pile carpets. I was pleased to see that the central feature in my room was a graceful fireplace rather than the enormous TV.

Freebies: a copy of the Globe & Mail newspaper and an unexciting selection of own-brand toiletries.

Keeping in touch: all rooms come with phones, cable TVs, Sony PlayStations and radios. Some have CD Players and modem ports.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms start at C$159 (around £75) per night, without tax or breakfast, suites from C$449 (around £210) and Entree Gold (a kind of executive club with wider-ranging facilities and free breakfast) rooms from C$229 (£105).

I'm not paying that: Victoria is full of cheaper options, and five minutes walk away is Holland House Inn (tel: 001 250 384 6644, web: www.hollandhouse.victoria.bc.ca), a sparklingly clean guesthouse with doubles from £50 to £120 per night.

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