Exploring Vancouver

Whistler and Victoria
By Paul Horne for PASSPORT Magazine

The Whistler Factor
Just a two-hour drive North of Vancouver is Whistler/Blackcomb, Vancouver's co-host for the 2010 Olympics. These two mountains anchoring the Canadian Rockies have it all: the largest vertical drop (5,280 ft), expert terrain, glaciers for year-round skiing, and wide alpine bowls. Whistler's charming, pedestrian-only village offers everything snowboarders and skiers crave: international stores, cafés, and more than 100 restaurants, many with outdoor patios and heaters. If you don't feel like taking a car or bus from Vancouver, just hop on the Whistler Mountaineer. It's a three-hour train ride, but seating is comfortable, they serve you breakfast (high tea in the afternoon), and the scenery is spectacular. You can walk to the open car to feel the brisk air on your face as you pass by waterfalls and other sights you'll miss if you drive. The list of year-round activities in Whistler boasts heli-skiing and indoor rock climbing, cooking lessons, spa therapy, and more. In summer, the major ski runs turn into the world's best dirt-bike runs, with lifts transporting bikers up the mountain to trails graded from beginner to expert. The hands-down favorite year-round activity in Whistler (after skiing) is ziplining (www.ziptrek.com) through the treetops on the village's extensive zipline "freeway." There are also many festivals that go on throughout the year, but the most exciting thing happening in Whistler is definitely the yearly WinterPRIDE (www.gaywhistler.com), February 3–10, 2008. Event organizers realized that many non-skiers were interested in attending WinterPRIDE, so they set about creating a weeklong series of events where world class skiing and snowboarding were just two of the options. They added cross-country skiing for all levels, spa activities, dog-sledding, cooking classes, singles dinners, zip-trekking, snowmobiling, bootcamp workouts, seminars on sex, anti-aging, flirting, and "law of attraction," and even continuing education courses for attendees in the legal and medical profession (can you say tax deduction?). That's just during the day! Nights are filled with parties, dances, cocktails, and entertainment. www.tourismwhistler.com

The Charms of Victoria
Whether you come for the day or stay for the weekend, Victoria offers great food, a mild year-round climate, and a beautifully landscaped change of scenery. From Vancouver it's a 30-minute seaplane trip or a two-hour ferry ride, but both modes of transportation offer spectacular scenery and potential for whale sightings. This capital of British Columbia is called the City of Flowers for its 3,000 hanging baskets along the streets and picturesque harbor (and no power lines to obstruct the view—they were all moved underground in the 70s). You can't miss the exquisite Fairmont Empress, a luxury chateau-style landmark hotel overlooking the Inner Harbour. People come from around the world to dine in this grand hotel or take part in its traditional and very elegant afternoon high tea. The centrally located Swans Suite Hotel is a striking all-suite Victorian hotel with beautifully designed loft, studio, one- and two-bedroom suites with living rooms and fully equipped kitchens. The brewery downstairs features live music every night and lots of windows for people watching. The #1 attraction in Victoria is the extraordinary Butchart Gardens. It takes about two hours to walk the winding paths through the plantings, and you can have lunch in one of the fine dining restaurants afterwards or just make a quick stop at the caffeteria. Throughout the year there are events like summer concerts and fireworks, and their light show over the Christmas season has to be seen to be believed. Best restaurants in town include Café Brio, contemporary West Coast food prepared with a Tuscan touch; Brasserie L'Ecole, French bistro fare like lamb, mussels, and frites using local products; and Pagliacci's, local favorite for simple and delicious Italian (call it Pag's). Check out the Visitor's Center in front of the Fairmont Empress to book activities like sea kayaking, day hiking, bike touring, golf, horse-drawn carriages, and tours. www.tourismvictoria.com

Published: 2 Nov 2008 | Last Updated: 1 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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