I could bear Vancouver any day of the week!
I was determined to see a bear in the wild. Didn’t care whether it was black, brown or wearing a red jacket with a label round its neck and suitcase in its paw.
After a couple of days and not a sighting, I was getting worried that the only one I’d get close to was the stuffed life-size cuddly toy at the airport.
But the beasts in the land of our Commonwealth cousins didn’t let me down. On the way back to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel after a hike in the woods, I got lucky. A large and lumbering black bear appeared at the roadside.
My visit to Vancouver was complete and I hadn’t even hit the city.
After joining Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight from Heathrow to Vancouver, I’d driven two hours to fabulous Whistler, famous for being a skier’s paradise.
Olympic medallist Amy Williams was also on the trip and enjoyed an emotional return to the skeleton run where she won gold two years ago.
The mountainous scenery and treasures such as Nairn Falls are stunning and Whistler is a hotspot for cycling, sailing, hiking and more, even in the summer (whistlerecotours.com).
Bears appear on the hotel golf course
Stay at the fabulous Fairmont Chateau Whistler and you’ll never want to leave. Bears, evidently, often appear on the hotel’s golf course. Just not when I’m there!
Time to head back to Vancouver to see why it is one of the cleanest, greenest and most attractive cities in the world.
I felt safe walking the streets or taking a hop-on, hop-off bus, and here are some of my highlights:
Gastown: The city’s oldest neighbourhood, is named after a Brit — John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, a sailor from Hull! He showed up with a barrel of whisky in 1867, telling sawmill workers they could drink as much as they wanted if they helped him build a saloon. As you can imagine, it went up pretty fast. The area deteriorated into a “skid row” during the depression but was saved by locals in the 1960s. Now clubs, restaurants and gastro pubs, such as the Irish Heather selling whiskey “Gassy Jack” would be proud of and local Red Roof cider, line the brick-paved streets. See the statue of Gassy Jack and hear the Westminster chimes of the Steam Clock on Water Street (www.gastown.org). Take a walking tour www.vancouversightseeing.com
Stanley Park: Much of the 1,000 acres of Vancouver’s evergreen heart — half the size of London’s Richmond Park — with a sea wall running round the perimeter is forest but the park has attractions galore including a lake, aquarium, pitch and putt, tennis courts, miniature railway, waterpark and teahouse. Walking, biking and blading trails weave their way through the grounds and don’t miss a bit of England — Shakespeare Garden has 45 trees mentioned in his plays and poems.
English Bay: Three sides of Vancouver is fringed by water so it plays a big part in outdoor activities. West of downtown, English Bay is the most popular beach and, together with Stanley Park’s Third Beach, famous for breathtaking sunsets. You can go salmon fishing, boating, windsurfing and kayaking. A sea safari is great fun, bouncing on the water in a 30ft inflatable boat to see seals (www.sewellsmarina.com). And the finest way to see Vancouver is from the air — on a seaplane. Good value at around £43. (www.harbourair.com)
Chinatown: A must-visit and not just to eat. After strolling through North America’s second largest Chinatown where you’ll find markets, medicine herbalists and cheap houseware, relax in the tranquil Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and take your picture in front of the ornate Millennium Gate.
A gondola takes you to the 4,000ft peak
Grouse Mountain: This premier but unspoiled attraction is a breath of fresh air. It has it all — walking, hiking, biking, paragliding and zip-lining in the summer and skiing, snowboarding, skating and sledging in the winter. A gondola departing every 15 minutes takes you on a one-mile ride to the 4,000ft peak with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Gulf Islands and city. And at the top there are also a couple of grizzly bears to get close to! (www.grousemountain.com)
Capilano Suspension Bridge: Vancouver’s first visitor attraction can also be credited to a Brit. In 1888, George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer, bought forest on either side of Capilano River and built a rope bridge between. Thankfully, it’s now a wire cable, but make sure you aren’t suffering a hangover before crossing the 450ft swaying planks, 230ft above the waters of Capilano Canyon, into the rainforest. The Treetops Adventure takes you on a stunning walk along canopy bridges in 1,300-year-old Douglas Firs. It prepares you for Cliffwalk — a series of glass walkways jutting out from the granite cliff face over the river. (www.capbridge.com)
Granville Island: The foods in the Public Market are a superb, mouthwatering selection of meats, fish and fruit and veg producing a kaleidoscope of colour. But the island is also a warren of artist studios, potteries, jewellery and craft shops. (www.granvilleisland.com) To get from downtown, take a 10-minute cab drive over Granville Bridge, a water taxi or a hop-on-hop-off bus (www.bigbus.ca)
Where to stay: There’s a selection of hotels to suit every budget but choose the Fairmont Pacific Rim (www.fairmont.com) and you will not be disappointed. The staff are super friendly and the portside hotel has 377 rooms, fabulous restaurants, a spa and rooftop pool. You may never get in it but it also has the Owner’s Suite — nicknamed the “Rock Star Suite” and no wonder. Gems include an 8ft-long Swarovski crystal chandelier that cascades over two-storeys, a hand-carved soaker tub and rooftop patio with amazing views of Coal Harbour and the North Shore Mountains.
Where to eat: Forget hot dogs as street food, here you can get dim sum, fish tacos and fusion Korean barbecue beef for a couple of pounds. Head for South Granville for world-class dining, and Denman and Davie Streets for mid-priced restaurants. There are summer farmers’ markets, in Kerrisdale, the West End, Trout Lake, in front of Pacific Central station and Kitsilano. If you go to the one-time hippy area “Kits” with good vegetarian eateries, see the totem pole outside the Maritime Museum — it’s a replica of the one given to the Queen in 1967.
Where to shop: With around 1.6 Canadian dollars to the £, there are bargains to be had. Yaletown, a 20-minute walk from downtown and Vancouver’s renovated warehouse district is home to some of the city’s top fashion and design shops. Go downtown to Robson Street, a “high street” for brands such as Roots and Gap. The main mall is Pacific Centre with great American labels, Hollister and American Eagle, in the mix. Craft and souvenir shops are everywhere and don’t forget to buy maple syrup to bring home.
GETTING THERE: Virgin Atlantic (0844 2092 770/virginatlantic.com) offers return fares from £820, including taxes. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859/virginholidays.co.uk) offers packages to the 5V Fairmont Pacific Rim and 5V Fairmont Chateau Whistler. For more information see www.tourismvancouver.com and www.BritishColumbia.travel