Canada may feel far away, but it’s actually closer than it seems. Even Vancouver, which is right on the west coast, is only an nine hour journey from London, and the flight schedules are usually perfect to stroll off the plane just in time for dinner. In the six hundred miles between Vancouver and Calgary there is such a variety of terrain and weather conditions that you’re guaranteed to find something for everyone.
Vancouver regularly places near the top in lists of most pleasant places to live in the world, and walking around the city it’s easy to see why. From the shops downtown to the historic buildings in the West End and the greenery of Stanley Park, this city has a huge variety of terrain in a relatively small area. Even the trip from the airport only takes half an hour on the SkyTrain. The city architecture is also a fascinating mix of modern and historical buildings.
There are lots of old houses in the West End, the historic centre of the city, and a few of them have been turned into guest houses. One of these is the West End Guest House, a cosy bed and breakfast in a house that’s more than a hundred years old. The people who run it are incredibly warm and welcoming and the beds are comfy. Tea, coffee and homemade goodies are always available. They have a tradition where all the guests eat breakfast together around a large wooden table in the dining room so it really feels like a home away from home. It’s also right in the city centre so it’s a perfect base for exploring.
The Roedde House Museum is an old house that has been restored to look like it might have been at the end of the 19th century. The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable and it is well worth a visit. Just one block from the house is Vancouver Fire Hall No. 6, a fire station built more than 100 years ago that is still in use today.
The temperatures tend to be relatively warm compared with other parts of Canada, so even in winter it’s usually pleasant enough to walk around the city enjoying the sights and the sea. Stanley Park, situated on a promentory just north of the centre, is so much more than just a park; it has bits of proper forest to get lost in and it almost feels like being out in the countryside.
There are lots of other pleasant surprises, including the accessible provisions on English Bay beach, but the one that is really worth a mention is the food. There is such a variety to choose from; you can walk around and pick out pretty much any place and not be disappointed. The lunchtime places have delicious Japanese noodles and generous sandwiches and the prices are all very reasonable. A highlight for dinner is Forage, a restaurant which uses locally sourced ingredients. If you’re by yourself they sit you at the bar which gives you the opportunity to chat with other people. And the food is something out of this world.
Vancouver is also a perfect starting point if you like winter sports or hiking, because it’s right next to the mountains. Cypress Mountain, the nearest ski resort, is just half an hour away, and Whistler, the home of the 2010 Olympics, is only two hours drive. There are plenty of resorts to choose from in the Rockies, but Kicking Horse Mountain has to be one of the most exciting.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Kicking Horse lies about three hours drive from Calgary, set in the mountains above Golden. If you don’t have access to a car there’s also the option to take a bus from Calgary airport to Lake Louise and book the resort shuttle to pick you up.
There has been a chairlift here since the 1980s but the resort has been dramatically expanded in recent years and really offers everything a snowsport enthusiast could wish for, with huge ungroomed powder bowls and a wide range of runs that cater for everyone, from the beginner to the backcountry enthusiast. All the accomodation is conveniently close to the slopes. People are really friendly in Canada and it’s a great place to visit if you’re by yourself, as they often chat on the lifts. And the views from the top are stunning.
The resort is fairly small in terms of amenities but still has a couple of friendly bars and an excellent restaurant called the Copper Horse Steakhouse which serves local delicacies such as bison. If you really want a treat you can dine at the top of the mountain in the Eagle Eye Restaurant; you take the gondola up to the top and enjoy your dinner before having a leisurely ride back down again.
Calgary is sometimes dismissed as just the gateway to the Rockies, but there’s actually plenty to do here. There are lots of great restaurants to choose from and a good range of other activities for both adults and kids. In the summer it’s really pleasant just to cycle around the town or walk along the river.
If you’re looking for activities for kids specifically there is the Regal Cat Cafe, where you have the option of just watching the cats from the cafe area or actually going in to the enclosure to play with them. They are all rescue animals, and the cafe is used to find new owners for the cats.
The Calgary Zoo is great in winter because there are lots of heated animal shelters, and a cafe where you can buy food but they don’t mind if you bring your own picnic. They also have handcarts that you can borrow which are very useful when little legs get tired.
The Big Box is an amazing indoor adventure playground not far from Calgary airport which is meant for children but is totally fun for parents too. It has massive bouncy castles and an obstacle course with slides and tunnels. There’s also an aerial rope course for older kids, and a soft play area for smaller ones. After a couple of hours of clambering around everyone will be totally exhausted, which makes it a perfect stop just before the overnight flight back home.
Sasha Greene is an author and her first book, Something Like Happy, is an uplifting novel which touches on mental health issues. Sasha is also an adaptive snowboard instructor, which involves passing on her love of going fast down a hill to people with mental and physical challenges. Just before the world was turned upside down in March she took the holiday of a lifetime to Western Canada to research a new book, which is going to be about a Scottish man who comes to Canada to teach snowboarding but ends up falling in love.