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When you think of Canada you immediately expect to see glorious scenery with snow-capped mountains and vibrant cities with warm friendly people. I definitely was not disappointed. I experienced a small part of Canada in the Fall which is the off season, but it was still a great time to visit and not as expensive.
My journey started on Air Canada who offer flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. I was lucky enough to be seated in premium economy on my flight from Sydney to Vancouver at the bulkhead. It was comfortable seating; cabin crew were attentive; however I found the 777 aircraft was not as good as the 787 Dreamliner direct from Vancouver to Melbourne where despite sitting in economy, I found it a smoother flight and I landed feeling more refreshed.
We arrived in Vancouver in very heavy fog so could not see anything of the city skyline. Clearing customs was very efficient. Don’t forget an ETA is required when arriving by plane into Canada even if you are just transiting.
We were met by our driver/ guide from Landsea Tours who drove us for two hours to Whistler. During the drive the fog lifted and I had my first sight of the fall foliage and mountainous panorama which was spectacular.
We checked into the Fairmount Chateau Whistler Hotel nestled at the base of Blackcomb Mountain close to the village. As our rooms were not ready we took a leisurely walk around Lost Lake, a ten minute walk from the hotel. It was good to stretch the legs after a long journey and take in the beautiful sights. The Fairmont is a striking hotel with a great reputation around Canada and we got to experience some impeccable service and outstanding cuisine in the Wildflower Restaurant, but there are many other features that makes this a warm and friendly hotel.
Dogs are welcome to stay and when you are sitting in the bar having a refreshment or snack or listening to some entertainment, you can bring your pooch as well, I must say there was quite a few in-house that were very well trained! If you’re staying at the Fairmount Chateau Whistler, don’t forget to visit the Health Club and, if you want a true bit of added luxury, stay on the Gold floor – similar to Club floors where you can get added bonus’ throughout your stay.
That evening after settling into the hotel we were taken on a Whistler Tasting Tour which was like a progressive dinner featuring local cuisine at a selection of local restaurants in the Whistler Village. A great experience and most of the restaurants served locally grown produce.
Whilst in Whistler we visited the Westin Resort and Spa and the Hilton located across the road from each other right in the Village. My pick was the Westin, for its prime position at the base of Whistler Mountain in the Village. This suite hotel has the usual Heavenly beds and other features include a gas fire place and full kitchen and most rooms have small balconies and are all very tastefully decorated.
Most people go to Whistler for the skiing but there is plenty of other activities to experience for non-skiers. You can go on an ATV tour up the mountain or do Zip Trekking like I experienced on five different ziplines suspended high above Fitzsimmons Creek which divides Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Although I did not get to experience “Sasquatch” the longest zipline in Canada and the USA, I would strongly recommend this half day activity for the thrill of the high-wire adventure and also the ecological exploration of the Canopy walk between ziplines. Another adventure you may wish to experience is to go bobsleighing on the former Olympic track and experience exactly what the Olympians experienced in 2010 as now the track is so fast you can do speeds that would have won you the Gold Medal at the Olympics. If the thrill and adrenalin of these activities is too much, then take a visit to the Scandinave Spa Whistler for a pampering treatment.
Our next stop was a ferry ride to Victoria, the capital of the province of British Columbia, where we stayed at the Chateau Victoria. An older style accommodation, that has been bought back to life with a recent refurbishment. Located in the heart of downtown Victoria, this hotel boasts Victoria’s only rooftop restaurant and lounge and you are only steps away from Victoria’s Inner Harbour where you can experience one of the highlights of the capital – whale watching. A good half day option that can be done by ocean cruiser or on a Zodiac with Spring Tide Whale Tours. Their professional staff including experienced captain, skippers and marine biologist and naturalist are so experienced at locating the marine life. Whilst I was hoping to see the Orcas, I had to settle with getting up close and personal to some humpback whales instead.
If you have some free time you can also enjoy a two-hour Victoria Food Tour that introduces you to the local history, food and customs of this beautiful city.
Another must see attraction is the breathtaking 22-hectare Butchart Gardens. I will let my photo do the talking as it was just a “WOW” experience. The Gardens are divided into five different areas, The Rose Garden, The Sunken Garden, The Japanese Garden, the Italian garden and the Mediterranean Garden. My favourite was the Japanese Maples with their vibrant colours of gold, russet and red. If you are there in summer, then visit on a Saturday afternoon and stay into the night to watch lavish fireworks and they also have musical entertainment as well. If you are feeling hungry then I can recommend the high tea in the historic homestead.
When we left Victoria, we took a seaplane to Vancouver. What a great way to take several hours off your journey as you arrive right in Vancouver harbour and a short walk from our first hotel, the famous Pan Pacific Vancouver, overlooking the busy harbour and rugged mountains. This hotel is in a great location, close to the Convention Centre and attached to the Cruise terminal where all the Alaskan Cruises depart from. You can even get the Bellman to take your luggage to the ship for you.
The Pan Pacific is also very close to one of the must-see attractions FlyOver Canada – a flight simulation ride for all ages where you get to see some unforgettable adventure travel experiences in Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver and other parts of Canada including the Niagara Falls. You are just moments from Gastown, a historic area with preserved Victorian buildings and cobblestone streets and home to the world’s first famous Steam Clock.
In fact, Vancouver is an easy city to navigate around whether on foot, by pushbike, ferry, train or even seaplane. I got to experience all modes of transport. Vancouver is aiming to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. They have an action plan and around the city you can see examples of this including the roof of the Convention City down on the waterfront has a grass that has four beehives, home to thousands of bees that pollinate the green roof and provide honey for the kitchen. They are currently removing a lot of the downtown parking structures to encourage locals to ride to work, walk and not use cars and have added many bike lanes around the streets of the city. They have had an action plan since 2011, and it involves all areas of the community.
Other must-see attractions include Granville Island which is a short 15 minutes from the city. A former Industrial hub that is now a food lovers paradise. The Public Market is a must see experience especially the way I experienced it on a foodie tour. Our private guide cum chef, who shops there regularly, was a full of information and knew all the good stalls selling fresh produce, most organically grown locally. The tour gives you about eight stops with tastings at each, including Artisan breads, cheeses, fresh fruits, nuts and beautiful honey dipped donuts to name a few.
With 360-degree views of Vancouver the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre is a must. From here you can see, the majestic North Shore Mountains and even Vancouver Island just off the Pacific Coast.
If you have time don’t miss the beautiful Stanley Park, a 1000-acre oasis located downtown, featuring a 9km seawall path, great for cycling, walking or running. For families it is also home to one of Vancouver’s top attractions, the Vancouver Aquarium but there is so much more, the famous totem poles, an outdoor swimming pool, beaches, restaurants, outdoor theatre, gardens to name a few.
Although it rained on one of our days in Vancouver it didn’t dampen our spirits and we still braved the weather to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park featuring the world-renowned suspension bridge that is suspended 70 metres above the Capilano River. Here you can also experience the newest tourist addition the CliffWalk and the Treetop Adventure with a series of mini suspension bridges hanging high in the tree tops. There is a free shuttle to and from the park offered from downtown Vancouver. Also close by we did an eco-tourism tour of the Capilano River and Salmon Hatchery where you can learn about and see how the salmon develop from eggs to their juvenile stage and then they are released to the river in Spring. This is a good place to go hiking, do a rainforest walk or have a picnic.
If you don’t get to see a bear in the wild on your travels, then you can head up to Grouse Mountain located on the North Shore. Take a gondola ride to the top of the mountain to go and meet Grinder and Coola two orphaned grizzly bears at their five-acre alpine sanctuary. Not only is this a place you can ski during winter, there is also a Mountain Ropes Adventure and a Kids Tree Canopy Adventure Park for small children. For the fit there is also the Grouse Grind, one of Vancouver’s most used trails that is renowned for its challenge requiring physical strength and endurance to make it to the top of the mountain.
During my time in Vancouver I also stayed at The Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel located in the heart of downtown Vancouver. This is the largest hotel in Vancouver and has two towers with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the City. If you are wanting Club access this is in the South Tower only though I believe the better rooms and views are from the North Tower. This hotel is surrounded by boutiques in Robson Street and Yaletown with many local and international dining choices close by – my favourites, Coast restaurant and Earls Kitchen and Bar.
Other hotels I saw in Vancouver were The Georgian Court Hotel, Hampton Inn and Suites, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, St Regis Hotel (not part of the Starwood/Marriott Group), The Rosedale on Robson and another favourite of mine The Opus Hotel Vancouver located in Yaletown. If at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, make sure you visit Prohibition Nightclub and see the famous Moet vending machine.