From snowshoeing in a cold snap to skiing on pristine slopes, Lizzie Pook argues that the best time to visit Canada is when the temperatures drop
You know it’s cold in Canada when it’s actually on the news. Which is exactly what happened when I travelled to Alberta to try out an alternative winter honeymoon in the middle of a “cold snap”. “Bundle up; we’re set to hit minus 40,” warned the newsreader (cue me frantically wrapping yet another blanket scarf round my face).
But the amazing thing is, when the temperatures plummet in Canada, the country is transformed into a Disney-esque winter wonderland. Ice hangs off the trees like Swarovski crystals, the crisp sun sparkles off vast frozen lakes, and drifts of snow the depth of two people carpet the ground like pure white foam. What’s more, there’s an almost ridiculous amount of winter activities on offer here, whatever the temperature – from ice skating and “fat biking”, to husky-sledging and cross-country skiing. That’s not to mention the fact that cold weather makes holing up in a cosy pub with a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of poutine (a traditional Canadian dish comprising chips, cheese curds and gravy) all the more appealing. Who needs fly and lop when there’s this much fun to be had, hey?
WHERE TO STAY
Instagram fans should head to the ludicrously photogenic Banff National Park, a place filled with snow-topped fir trees, glistening frozen lakes and herds of beautiful elk at the roadside. The Moose Hotel & Suites – all roaring fires and tasteful neutrals – is just a one-minute amble from the heart of downtown Banff. Once you’ve finished pottering around the boutique shops and bakeries, head back to the hotel’s Meadow Spa & Pools for an indulgent therapeutic massage, before taking a soak in the outdoor hot tub under a canopy of twinkling stars (warning: your hair will freeze).
For those after more active pursuits though, a trip to Sunshine Village – the only ski-in-ski-out resort in the Unesco-protected park – is a must. Check in to Sunshine Mountain Lodge and you’ll find yourself sleeping at 7200 feet above sea level in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Spend the day gliding (or if you’re anything like me, tumbling) down the wide, quiet slopes, then sink into a sofa, cocktail in hand, in the super cosy bar.
Finally, city lovers should make it their priority to stay in Edmonton, a four-hour drive that takes in some of the Trans-Canada highway. This glorious city boasts some of the best craft beer pubs, hyper-local bistros and indie bakeries in Canada. Chateau Lacombe Hotel offers comfortable rooms at reasonable prices, and you’ll be right in the middle of the action.
WHAT TO EAT
Food is a big deal in Canada. Had I not spent so much time hurling myself down mountains, I would have undoubtedly come back a stone heavier (but you shouldn’t hold back on honeymoon, right?). In Edmonton, head to Meat and don’t leave without trying the pulled pork, mac and cheese and hot bourbon cider (you’ll get that warm fuzzy feeling inside). For excellent, warming craft coffee you’ll do no better than Little Brick, a cute café and general store tucked away in the heart of Edmonton’s Riverdale community, and for something leaner, try Café Linnea, which focuses on locally sourced ingredients and food inspired by the chef’s Franco-Scandinavian heritage. In Banff, escape from the cold in the award- winning The Maple Leaf restaurant. Go for the maple-glazed salmon followed by the trio of crème brûlées and you’ll leave happy. Lastly, if you make it to Calgary, the city best known for its annual rodeo, “the stampede”, you simply must get a table at Deane House. Recently opened in a newly refurbished heritage home by the Bow River, the menu follows the theme of locally sourced ingredients worked into contemporary Canadian dishes. I’m still dreaming about the Longhorn beef with pickled pearl onions.
WHAT TO DO
With the dramatic Rocky Mountains on your doorstep, you will never be bored in Alberta, especially in the winter. If it’s a ski-moon you’re after, head to Marmot Basin for impeccable slopes – keep your eyes peeled for lynx, hare and even the occasional grizzly bear tracks in the snow, and if you’re lucky you might spot a sundog; not an animal, but a sort of “rainbow around the sun” that occurs when light interacts with ice crystals in the atmosphere. For something similarly energetic, fat bike your way around Edmonton’s snowy valleys (revolutioncycle.com). Like a mountain bike, but with four-inch tyres, fat bikes are a bizarrely satisfying way to get around (and their super-grippy tyres mean you won’t slip on the ice).
If you’re up for a road-trip, drive the Ice Fields Parkway, a 144-mile stretch of road that winds between Banff and Jasper national parks, taking in pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers and broad, sweeping valleys. It, quite rightly, has been described as one of the most beautiful drives in the world (tip: hire a car with heated seats – it’s a godsend when you get back into your vehicle after the many freezing photo stops you’ll inevitably take). Finally, if you do make it to Jasper National Park, the largest park in the Canadian Rockies, try a spot of snowshoeing with clued-up and friendly Sun Dog Tours. Like hiking, but with “tennis rackets” strapped to your feet, this was my favourite activity of the whole trip. You really feel at one with nature, as snow falls off the trees like glittering diamonds and you search the whiteness around you for the ash of a red squirrel or the beady eyes of an owl. Everything is calm, serene and almost ethereally beautiful. Which, really, is what honeymoons in a winter wonderland are all about.
Rooms at The Moose Hotel & Suites from £102 per night, moosehotelandsuites.com; rooms at Sunshine Mountain Lodge from £239 per night, sunshinemountainlodge. com; rooms at Chateau Lacombe Hotel from £91 per night, chateaulacombe.com. For more information, visit travelalberta.co.uk and explore-canada.co.uk
From kayaking with seals to watching humpback whales, Katie Phipps believes you can’t beat a trip to British Columbia during the summer months
With long stretches of wilderness, a bustling glass-towered city with a big foodie culture, mountain ranges within hiking distance and incredible wildlife, British Columbia in the summer months is an adventure-moon just waiting to happen. Unlike so many scorching summer destinations, this part of coastal Canada has a comfortable daily average of around 20oC, making its many activities, from climbing mountains to crossing suspension bridges, both manageable and enjoyable. And that’s just what I did – followed an activity-packed itinerary that took me on an unforgettable journey of culinary delights, exploration and excitement.
WHERE TO STAY
We drove through what looked like the set of the Twilight films, with roads winding their way through impenetrable forests of 20 foot Douglas fir trees. But suddenly the landscape opened up to reveal the impressive city of Vancouver. My home for the next few nights was the Fairmont Waterfront, and, like the name suggests, this modern glass-clad hotel is situated on the harbour front with beautiful west-coast views. The style here is utterly relaxed, with oor-to-ceiling windows showing city views behind, sea views in front and mountain ranges in the far distance.
Vancouver Island,with its colourful fishing villages and areas of unspoiled nature, is the perfect next stop after the city, and getting there is a mini adventure in itself. You fly over many little remote islands dotted in the Pacific in a 12-seater Beaver seaplane. It’s a route that certainly has the royal seal of approval – this is the journey that Kate and Wills famously made on their tour around Canada.
The Empress is another Fairmont hotel, but with a completely different vibe. The newly renovated building is grand and has a fairy tale glamour to it, but it has the feel of a family-run hotel. It easily has the best spot in the main town of Victoria, overlooking the harbour, and I had an incredible dinner of locally made cheeses, seafood and craft gin while sunning myself in the outside dining area. I would recommend booking in as gold members, simply for the private, luxury breakfast.
WHAT TO EAT
Vancouver has a bustling brunch scene. For big portions in a buzzing environment, vintage- style Jam Cafe in downtown Vancouver is the perfect option. Every dish is a twist on a classic, such as maple sausages with capers and red velvet pancakes – but be prepared for a wait, as it’s popular. If you’re looking for a more re ned atmosphere, without the queues, L’Abattoir, in the centre of Gastown, is a smart choice. Fast-forward to cocktail hour, and UVA does the best contemporary mixes using spirits from local craft distilleries, inspiring seasonal flavours and experimental combinations.
For real gourmets, a foodie tour (vancouverfoodtour.com) will take you to all the hidden gems. We discovered the Odd Society, a small-batch craft distillery that makes gin and vodka and has amazing walls decorated by a local tattoo artist. Once I’d stocked up on a few bottles of its Wall ower gin and East Van vodka, we made a stop at another distillery called Postmark. You can dine here while enjoying the freshly brewed beer. Last but not least, CinCin, a ne-dining Italian on Robson Street, is ideal for a special honeymoon meal.
Vancouver Island doesn’t disappoint on the food front either. For a stand-out meal, I would suggest Olo. The chefs have created some inventive and truly delicious avours for their dishes. I wolfed down ve amazing courses from a sharing-style menu, including local cheeses and cornbread, beetroot and pickled salads, courgette pasta, and to finish it off, a very indulgent s’mores dessert. It’s a very sociable way of dining that re ects the easy-going lifestyle here. You’ll nd the same vibe at Nourish, a cafe that’s essentially a house with every room uniquely decorated, serving a menu of tasty organic recipes.
WHAT TO DO
The best way to see Vancouver is from the water, or so I was told by my kayak instructor (ecomarine.com). Sitting rather awkwardly in my kayak, praying I didn’t fall out, I was struggling to agree. But after a few minutes paddling around Granville Island accompanied by cute seals, I changed my mind very quickly. The city’s glass buildings towered above, their reflections in the water creating a surreal landscape that’s just stunning.
Another great view can be found from the top of Grouse Mountain. The further you climb, the more magical it becomes, with a backdrop of gigantic firs covered in snow (even in summer, so pack a coat) and the city below. Within an eight-minute sky ride (or for more adventurous types, an hour’s hike) you’ll find yourself in a much wilder British Columbia. Up here you can take in a lumberjack show, have a romantic meal in the Observatory restaurant and see the mountain’s two orphaned grizzly bears rolling around in the snow. Continuing with a head for heights, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is the perfect place to get an awesome honeymoon selfie.
Back down on the solid ground of Vancouver Island, I joined a bicycle tour (thepedaler.ca). Bathed in sunshine and surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Victoria, our guide showed us little street markets and more foodie haunts. We stopped at an ice cream shop with exotic flavours such as rosemary and sour cherry. Delicious!
For my final adventure I was back on the water in a motorboat on a quest to find whales. We stopped off at little coves to hear stories about magical orcas and how the original inhabitants survived in this remote landscape. We came across incredible wildlife such as a bald eagle guarding its nest and a sea otter bobbing around among the kelp. But soon the information we were so eager to hear came over the radio... humpbacks had been spotted close by. Our driver killed the engine and we heard the tell-tale sound of the humpback’s blowhole and then saw the curves of its back. One swam right underneath our boat and surfaced up against the other side – I could have reached out and touched it. As it swam off into the distance it came up once more to show off its huge tail. It was a truly special encounter in this wonderful country, and a moment that will stay with me for life.
A nine-night holiday to Vancouver and Victoria including three nights at the Fairmont Vancouver, three nights at the Fairmont Empress, Victoria, and a nal three nights at the Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver, all on a room-only basis, from £1899, including return international ights with Air Canada from Heathrow, ferry transfers from Vancouver to Victoria and floatplane transfer from Victoria to Vancouver, hayesandjarvis.co.uk