Captivated by Canada
With its Rocky Mountains, Pacific coastline and endless forests, rivers and lakes, they say that wilderness is only a heartbeat away in British Columbia. But with just a few days to fill, why not make your focus more metropolitan, in the beautiful waterside cities of Vancouver and Victoria.
After a nine-hour flight sitting next to a lively 12-year-old, I’m desperate to get to our hotel. We’ve booked a few nights at The Westin Bayshore and it is a mercifully short cab ride from the airport. Located in Coal Harbour Marina, close to Stanley Park and within walking distance from most of the major sights, we couldn’t ask for a better base, and after a long day of planes, trains and automobiles, the gorgeous views of water and greenery are very welcome indeed.
We sit awhile watching the coastal traffic and seaplanes – a curiously mesmerising experience – and the comings and goings of the neighbourhood. A jogging track runs alongside the hotel: I’m not even vaguely tempted, but it is clearly well used. The good folk of Vancouver are obviously healthier than me – further evidenced in the hotel’s well-equipped gym and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. There’s also a regular programme of activities including the somewhat barmy-sounding Liquid Yoga.
The foodie offerings are more to our taste. Amazing breakfasts are served daily in the H2 Rotisserie & Bar, overlooking the pool. On the menu are omelettes, fruit platters, smoked salmon bagels and more bacon and maple syrup than even my ravenous pre-teen can eat (though he makes a valiant effort), all served by incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff, who offer us tips on what to do with our time in Vancouver.
Following their advice, we start with a stroll through Stanley Park and a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium, before hailing a cab and making for Granville Island (granvilleisland.com). Once an industrial wasteland, the area is now an artistic and cultural hub, bustling with quirky independent shops and galleries. A huge public market is open here daily, with hundreds of stalls selling local produce, gourmet goodies and fresh seafood. All of which piques our appetite for dinner: we’ve been told that Forkhill House, which opened relatively recently, is not to be missed. An upmarket Irish bistro located close to the hotel, it has a reputation for serving hearty, wholesome food. It is all familiarly comforting, with top marks going to a sausage dish served with baked duchess potatoes, entitled Bang the Duchess! The name reflects the atmosphere here – the friendly Irish service makes for one of our best meals in Vancouver.
It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the best way to get around this part of Canada is on the water, and after a couple of nights at The Westin, we hop on a ferry to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, choosing a relatively new route with V2V Vacations. You know the old adage about the journey being as important as the destination? We are genuinely disappointed when this one ends: super comfy seats, a full bar and restaurant menu and a witty and informative Captain’s commentary make for a memorable trip. Apparently dolphins, whales and seals are often spotted along the route; we aren’t lucky enough to spot any but we have a lot of fun looking out for them on the windswept top deck, before returning to our seats to enjoy some excellent local wine.
Victoria is such a picturesque town that I find myself going a little Instagram crazy, snapping anything and everything in sight (sorry, not sorry). We are staying at the Magnolia Hotel & Spa, an award-winning boutique property tucked away on a quiet side street. The peaceful outside terrace is a beautiful setting for a restorative drink (try the refreshingly aromatic mint and ginger iced tea) before more exploring. We end up at local fish and chippie Red Fish Blue Fish. Situated in an up-cycled cargo container on the dock, it has quite the reputation and the queue is immense. It is well worth the wait though. Just how one small shack can serve such amazing food, to so many, only the ocean knows!
The next morning we walk up to Beacon Hill Park. With the gardens here in full bloom it is breathtakingly beautiful (cue more pics of flowers I will never be able to name). We continue our wander up to Fisherman’s Wharf, where colourful little houseboats have been turned into quirky restaurants and shops. We treat ourselves to an ice cream before taking a scenic water taxi ride over to the other side of the harbour.
All too soon it is time for our last supper. We’re after something special, and have been told that with its friendly service and sophisticated environment, 10 Acres should deliver. Fresh fish dishes are the house speciality, naturally, all served with seasonal vegetables grown on the restaurant’s own farm, and washed down with wine from Canada’s Okanagan Valley. It is a fine end to a wonderful trip. Both Vancouver and Victoria have been such a hit with all of us that we will almost certainly be back, next time for longer.