Vancouver: gateway to Western Canada – Glass discovers a lifestyle city like no other

AFTER arriving in Vancouver, it will not be long before your spirit responds to its appeal as a lifestyle destination: dramatically framed by mountains, and sea, it takes a cable car or a hike to the top of Grouse Mountain to open a window on the Pacific city’s stunning setting. The overwhelming sense of an omnipresent wilderness makes it easy to rhapsodise and the urge to get out and experience soon demands to be satisfied.

Vancouver West Coast Wilderness Adventure - Credit Destination BC and Graeme OwsianskiWest Coast Wilderness Adventure. Photograph: Destination BC and Graeme Owsianski

One way to do so is with the Shangri-La Hotel’s West Coast Wilderness Package, a quest for daredevil adventure that begins tamely with a ten-minute morning stroll from the lobby to the airport – a pier that accesses a line of waiting seaplanes. You clamber into a floatplane: it sounds like a waterpark attraction but is a type of seaplane with floats under its fuselage for landing and taking-off.

Inside, if a window could be opened, it feels like you could stretch out an arm and ripple the water. Nothing doing – the engine revs up, the plane is skimming the water, the sea-to-sky moment is happening and the glassy skyscrapers of Vancouver fade into the distance.  You’re gazing down at the fjords of Howe Sound, flying from altitudes of only 3,500 to 7,000 feet and the arrays of mixed conifers on the mountain sides are so close and ultra-green that the scene looks like a virtual reality.

Touch down is a lake near Whistler, the famed upscale skiing centre but with a whole lot to offer all year round; in summer, downhill mountain-bike riding is all the rage. Gondolas transport bike and rider to the summit and – the limb-saving news – lessons are available for novices. For wusssies like myself, Whistler is also a paddler’s paradise and Shangri-La’s package includes canoeing from Alta Lake through narrow passages along a gentle, serpentine river. The scenery is relaxing – forest and wildflower-lined banks – with perilous-looking, snow-capped mountain peaks safely in the distance.

Waking up in Vancouver's Shangri-LaWaking up in Vancouver’s Shangri-La Hotel

Vancouver may be on the edge of nature but in a non-geographic sense of the word this metropolis of over two million inhabitants is the least edgy of big cities. Not comatose – too many outdoor activities for that – but remarkably at peace with itself and easy on the eye. Urbane comforts are the order of the day, epitomised by the rosewood furnishings in the stylish Shangri-La Hotel, the bars and restaurants in its downtown neighbourhood and the ongoing feeling that this design-conscious city is the antidote to urban angst.

VancouverRavioli with black pepper at Beach Bay Café & Patio

Greenpeaces birthplace is Vancouver and maybe the farm-to-table ethos that nowadays so distinguishes the best restaurants was also born here. It helps to have Pacific seafood landing on your doorstep, plus the vineyards of the Okanagan Valley close by, and Shangri-La’s Market restaurant has another top-drawer ingredient, being the first in Canada for three-star Michelin chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Highlights include fresh halibut from Queen Charlotte Island and a truffle pizza that adds a delectably new taste to that most familiar of foods.

Named after one of the city’s few black citizens in the early twentieth century, Joe Fortes serves seafood and steaks with the aplomb that comes from having its tables always busy – not just the daily happy hour when oysters are a dollar a piece. Live piano music from a balcony and the buzz of contented Vancouverites combine to make a visit here a quintessential downtown experience.

VancouverShangri-La Hotel in Canada’s lifestyle city

Harbour-side Ancora is equally appealing, with outdoor tables facing the water while the clean colour scheme of the light-filled interior tempts you to linger at the bar before eating. The food is a mix of Peruvian and Japanese – cerviche, caviar, sushi, picarones – and, the de rigueur hallmark of Vancouver’s food scene, sustainable seafood.

Eating and drinking outdoors complements the open-to-the-sky character of the city and sitting at a place like the Beach Bay Café & Patio, facing the sea and enjoying toast with a blueberry and maple compote plus crème anglaise with strawberries, it is not difficult to understand why Vancouver regularly comes at the top of the world’s most desirable cities in which to live. The DK Eyewitness Travel Top Ten guide will keep you busy sightseeing: Stanley Park, Canada Place, Granville Island and a trip over to Victoria for a walking tour. The Marco Polo Canada West guide opens wider windows on the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories: more than a million square miles for adventure travel.

by Sean Sheehan




Leave a Reply