"Your best colours are blues and greens," says Phil at the Whispering Dragon table, on a slightly blustery but sunny morning in Victoria's Bastion Square. "That's what you should use in your house. Blues and greens - no reds. No fire colours."
I'm enroute to Lower Johnson Street, but can't resist sitting on a fold-away chair in front of his table for a feng shui tarot and element readings. After some number wizardry with my name and birthdate, and a pronouncement that I'm a metal-wood combination, he offers me the décor tips.
The odd thing is, he's right. The only time I tried red in my living room, the ruby leather chair that had looked gorgeous in the furniture store refused point blank to fit in. So, I'm back to blues and greens - which is perhaps why Victoria appeals so much: the emerald stretches of the parks, an ocean that runs from sulky blue under a leaden sky to turquoise under sunlight - even the limes and emeralds of the nearby forested mountains.
These hues merge beautifully around the harbour downtown, where even the green copper domes of the Legislative Buildings add to the palette.
But as every good designer knows, pops of colour in an otherwise serene view can add energy and interest.
And that's where LoJo comes in.
Brightly painted Victorian-era shop-fronts flank both sides of busy Lower Johnson Street between Wharf and Government Streets. Once home to hotels and stores supporting the gold rushes of the 1850s and 1890s, today the area is known for its local and independent boutiques and restaurants.
It would be easy to while away a couple of hours here, but we've gone a step further and put together a full day's walking tour of sampling, sightseeing and, yes, shopping.
It's based on LoJo, but takes you easily from the harbour six blocks away to Lower Johnson and slightly beyond.
So, put on your comfy walking shoes, as we show you the highlights.
There are plenty of hotels and other accommodations around the harbour, so it's an ideal start point - spend a few minutes leaning on the stone wall surrounding it to watch the water taxis, sea buses and float planes buzzing in and out.
Then head four blocks north to 1110 Government Street to Murchie's Tea and Coffee, for breakfast.
More than a century old, the company roasts its own coffee beans and blends its own teas in Richmond (on the mainland); here, the restaurant offers break-fasts, lunches and afternoon teas, ranging from pastries and pre-serves to heartier fare, plus retail space.
A few steps north of Murchie's, look left for the entrance to Bastion Square, named after the log towers, or bastions, that were once part of the fort built here in 1843.
It now serves as an artisan's market, with everything from art cards and prints made from lo-cal seaweeds to jewelry and, of course, the opportunity for a few minutes of entertainment (and décor tips).
The market (look for the brightly coloured "tulip" sculpture) runs Thursdays through Saturdays, with a farmers' market on Sundays, until Sept. 30.
If you're into maritime history, Bastion Square also offers the Maritime Museum of BC; if you'd rather spa, the Sapphire Day Spa is about two blocks east on View Street, where owner Heidi Sherwood offers a warm welcome that focuses on community and authenticity.
Options include both esthetics and energy balancing work; many of the treatments feature Pacific seaweed and the locally produced Seaflora skincare line.
From Bastion Square, you can walk along Commercial Alley to Yates Street, shop and cross Yates into Waddington alley (look down at the wooden cobblestones laid in the early 1900s) - to be deposited onto the south side of John-son Street. A wander along the candy-coloured shopfronts here showcases a number of locally owned shops and boutiques.
A few to watch for? The tiny space of Smoking Lily, a label that belongs to several local women who create clothing, accessories and home items, along with the most amazing vertical merchandizing.
The small Paperbox Arcade, with several boutiques - including Salts, offering stylish, soft, eco-friendly and natural fabrics clothing made in Victoria.
Back on the street is Saltspring Soapworks, with products brought in from the nearby island (try the rainbow-hued body gelatos - a great sea salt scrub to soften hands and feet).
If you've worked up an appetite for lunch, try Willie's Bakery, at 537 Johnson Street.
It's the city's oldest bakery, offering hearty sandwiches and baked goods, along with excellent coffee, in a 19th-century red brick building with a lovely courtyard
Cross to the north side of Johnson, where Market Square offers more boutique shopping, with more than 30 stores and restaurants.
You can easily spend an hour or two here; if you're not shopped or walked out, head two blocks north of Johnson, to 1624 Government Street, where sits the bright red storefront of Silk Road, a Victoria institution - part tea shop, part beauty shop and spa.
Staff greet you with freshly brewed tea samples, and are always happy to share tips and testers.
Almost next door is the en-trance to Victoria's Chinatown, with the ornate Gates of Harmonious Interest spanning Fisgard Street, which leads you, left, to Fan Tan Alley (Victoria's narrowest alley) back toward Market Square.
Return south toward the harbour along Wharf Street. Since all that walking works up an appetite, try the blue-grey sea container-Cturned-restaurant Red Fish Blue Fish, at 1006 Wharf Street, on Broughton Street Pier.
Piping hot, locally caught and Ocean Wise certified fish options include Pacific halibut, wild salmon and Qualicum scallops, taking fish and chips well beyond the usual.
There's only outdoor seating, so if it's a wet day, you may want to opt for stopping back on Johnson Street at Il Terazzo, one of Victoria's oldest Italian restaurants, reservations recommended).
If You Go
- Getting there: WestJet and Air Canada fly direct from Calgary to Victoria several times daily.
- Staying there: Part of LoJo's charm is its independent boutiques. If this appeals to you in a hotel as well, try the harbourside Inn at Laurel Point (laurelpoint. com), designed in part by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson and home to the locally renowned Aura restaurant.
- Getting around: Although downtown Victoria is eminently walkable, and there are plenty of cycling trails, renting a car from the airport will assist with nearby touring, including the Saanich Peninsula, the Cowichan Valley and along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
- mmbc.bc.ca (maritime museum)
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