Villa Marco Polo Inn I was recently chatting with a visitor from Italy and it suddenly dawned on me that Victoria has much more in common with Italy than most people realize, (myself included until my epiphany). It begins with our unique micro-climate, which makes us the warmest place in Canada; it also allows us to grow Mediterranean herbs year round such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage. We also have a deep appreciation for fresh, locally grown food.  Our best chefs use fresh seasonal ingredients and let the individual flavours of food shine through (which in my opinion is also the true essence of Italian cuisine). Our local island vineyards produce excellent wine and we are also home to a vibrant coffee culture with highly trained and passionate baristas with an equally discriminating and passionate clientele. If you're feeling like you want a bit of Italy interspersed on your west coast adventure, this is a list of essential places to visit: Zambri's has been in business since 1999 and lovers of Italian food who live in Victoria have been in bliss ever since.  Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, they have received many well deserved awards and are usually bustling. They have also recently started offering a fantastic Sunday brunch. This past year, Zambri's moved to a gorgeous new location, just a block or so from their original address and are centrally located in downtown Victoria. Although I am a shameless and hardened tea drinker, I have it on very good authority that for coffee you must check out Caffe Fantastico (they have multiple locations).  The newest location is called Tre Fantastico and is inside the recently built Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, near Beacon Hill Park and the serene grounds of St. Ann's Academy. Renowned for ultra fresh beans, micro-roasting and much more, they take coffee very seriously and it shows!  Macchiato Caffe, located just steps away from the main Government Street thoroughfare (at 1002 Broad Street) has a lovely Franco-Italian decor, tempting pastries and drinks. For Italian pastries, bread and gelato (none of which I can seem to ever get enough of), it is best to take a short drive from downtown Victoria, either to the Italian Bakery (five minute drive) or Ottavio (ten minute drive).  Both locations offer takeout as well as casual cafes.  On a warm day, pick up some gelato and go for a stroll.  When it is chillier, hang out indoors at either place, armed with a cosy drink and a heavenly and authentic Italian dessert. For a true wood-fired Neapolitan style thin-crust pizza, a visit to Pizzeria Prima Strada is de rigeur.  Their Cook Street location is a short walk from downtown.  This is the perfect place to bring kids or enjoy a casual dinner. Have dinner inside, or on a warm summer's night, order a pizza to go and enjoy a picnic in Beacon Hill Park or along the water on Dallas Road. For a gorgeous array of Italian ceramics, linens and cookware, stop by The Tuscan Kitchen located downtown Victoria on View Street. This store is sure to get you inspired about cooking (and eating), Italian style. For accommodations, stay at the Villa Marco Polo for a lavish Bed & Breakfast experience with romantic Italian style gardens and Italian Renaissance-inspired architecture. There is also a penthouse spa as well in case you need to be pampered in the style of a Roman Emperor.  It is located a pleasant walking distance from downtown in the stately Rockland neighbourhood.  For an equally majestic but more urban and contemporary experience, stay downtown at the Hotel Rialto.  This exquisitely renovated boutique hotel is located in a beautiful heritage building.  The owner is Italian and the renovation reflects the timeless, tasteful and elegant principles that Italian design and craftsmanship can be - at its finest. The Hotel's award-winning restaurant and bar Veneto has a huge following for its exceptional cocktails and bartenders. They have a lovely cafe as well. Instead of renting a car while you're visiting Victoria, try a scooter instead.  Thanks to our climate and environmentally conscious residents, we are a scooter friendly city.  It is easy to get around on scooters and is a ton of fun (and romantic too). Meander along Dallas Road into neighbouring Oak Bay along what feels like a never-ending ocean promenade. If you like vino, consider taking a tour of some of the fantastic Vancouver Island wineries. There is a terrific book called Island Wineries of British Columbia that was recently released, which provides an in-depth profile of Island Wineries and even provides maps and excursions. In addition to what I have outlined here, there are many more Mediterranean-inspired experiences to be had in Victoria, and further examples of our similarities to Italian culture such as our love of shoes and handbags!  However, I'll leave that for a future post.  In the meantime, I think I hear the sound of a Vespa calling my name...Vroom vroom. Ciao bella!