It’s one of my favourite events in Vancouver’s culinary calendar, the Vancouver International Wine festival; a blizzard of fun wine-based events, tastings, and special winery dinners which takes place each February, just in time to give us all a boozy lift in those grey winter days. Each year the festival’s focus shifts to a different country –last year celebrated Australia – this year it’s all about Italy with 60 wineries from nine regions representing the country and offering visitors to the festival a chance to sample some 50 varieties in the tasting room.
I love this event for so many reasons; I’m just starting to learn more about wine and each year I come away with a little more knowledge and a whole lot more favourites, thanks to the fascinating seminars and winemaker dinners. Last year I was lucky enough to attend an incredible event showcasing rare wines from California winery legend Robert Mondavi. A gloriously Vancouver-ish event, it took place at the Observatory restaurant, a the tope of Grouse Mountain. I got to watch the bright winter sun set over the city and then learn more about Mondavi’s divine wines in the company of their winemaker Nova Cadamatre, all paired with Observatory’s Chef Dennis Peckham’s inspired cooking.
If you’re planning a trip to Vancouver now’s a great time to snap up discounted tickets on tasting room events until December 31 (or until quantities last). Or, for an excellent bargain, you can score a free ticket to the tasting room, which, this year along with Italy, will showcase 156 wineries from 14 countries by booking a hotel via beVancouver.com. Best paired with a ski holiday to Whistler or maybe a city trip to Victoria, start planning your wine break to Vancouver now…
Further booking info:
Phone: 604-873-3311, toll free 1-877-321-3121 (Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.)
In person: 305–456 West Broadway, Vancouver (Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.)
I guess it makes sense that the prairies are so utterly cycle-friendly: flat, wide open spaces and oh, those endless skies. I got to spend some time in Alberta recently on trips to Calgary and Edmonton, both cities that I’d always associated with gleaming high rises and traffic-packed downtown cores. Turns out I was wrong: there’s plenty of green space and winding rivers in both cities and good cycling to be found in both.
I took a tour around Calgary, freewheeling across bridges and pedalling through the recently opened St Patrick’s Island Park, a gorgeous newly renovated leafy space in the middle of the Bow River, with hiking and biking trails and killer views across the city’s skyline.
in Edmonton I cycled the River Valley Trails and had to stop a dozen or more times to take photographs of the lush parkland all around me. It was the start of fall; the seasons were sliding from one to the next and the trees blazed with their autumn finest. I love it when I’m genuinely surprised by a city –and to have two such similar experiences in a matter of days delighted me. It always reminds me: forget what you think you know – go find out for sure what things are really like.
I travelled with support from Destination Canada and Travel Alberta. For further information check out Tourism Calgary and Tourism Edmonton.
Ever since I discovered that hummingbirds can exist on sugar-water it confirmed all my suspicions that these tiny vivid flying miracles were Disney-ish creatures, who, in all likelihood exist in cartoonish technicolour and probably help Cinderella get dressed each morning. I was pondering their adorable feeding habits as I sat in Atelier, chef Marc Lepine’s restaurant, after my own gloriously improbable meal. I’d been introduced to Marc by Frankie Solarik, of Barchef fame. Frankie is one of the world’s most dazzlingly creative bartenders. The first time I had one of his deconstructed cocktails– an Aviation magicked together with a multilayered jelly, pearls of maraschino and edible flowers– I remember clapping my hands together with pure childlike joy, quite intoxicated– first with glee and then gin. ‘No wonder the two are friends.’ I thought, as I beamed at the hoop of crispy carrot that circled my plate, evidence of that same mischievous mad-scientist brilliance, yet this time with food, not cocktails. Continue reading →
It’s been an amazing few months travelling around British Columbia researching for the 2016 edition of the Rough Guide to Canada. It’s been exhausting, frustrating, hard work made a privilege thanks to exploring the jaw-clanging beauty of this huge province. Researching for a guide book means a life on the gallop, you never really have time to explore or to take a breath, always going on to the next place, and the next. Spending your days in a blur of checking attraction and museum opening times, room inspections and switching hotels every night, endlessly checking in and out. But although I was bone tired, I always had moments of heart-soaring happiness thanks to the dazzling wild nature of the province. Early in my trip, I had to pull over to see if I wasn’t hallucinating at this green-blue lake on the Sea to Sky Highway to Lilooet, that looked for all the world as thought has been photoshopped, all ready for a spread in a guide book. Continue reading →
Even the relentless drizzle of west coast rain couldn’t spoil the thrill of spotting bears on the beach just 20 minutes away from the surfers and ice cream shops of Tofino. Their coats shaggy in the downpour, twice a day as the tide rolls out, they come to feast on the seafood that’s trapped beneath the rocks. Continue reading →
On the Balcony at Spirit Ridge
I was already a little sunburned when I left Osoyoos, I’d sat out on the balcony of my hotel writing and revelling in that soft morning sunshine –not realising until I went back inside that it hadn’t been so soft after all and I’d turned a rosy shade of pink. Before I checked out I sprayed myself with Factor 60, vowing I’d not get caught again on the drive to Rossland.
So it was that the car smelled of sun cream and summer holidays as I drove up, up, up the winding highway away from the town, high into logging country along the Crowsnest Trail. The road runs from Vancouver to Calgary following the old gold rush trail over the mountains and through the desert, going from the wild West coast and Pacific Ocean at one end to the ranches and oilfields of Calgary at the other. Continue reading →
It’s the kind of sunshine that warms bone-deep. I close my eyes and feel soft morning rays as comforting as a cashmere scarf wrap me in a delicious warmth.
I’ve missed the sun.
I’ve dreamed of seeing Canada’s desert since I first knew it existed. It sounds like the most ridiculous of contradictions: to think of Canada is to imagine snow and skiing, moose and mounties, but here I am amongst the cacti and rattlesnakes in Osoyoos. Below me are the smooth calm waters of the lake and rising up on either side barren, scrubby, arid hills dotted with determined Ponderosa pines. Continue reading →
Not even joking. This is everything I wore in minus 35 Winnipeg
I’m a firm believer in the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Coming from England, I had no idea at all when I first came to Canada what truly cold weather felt like. I vividly remember it, I was staying at the Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto in late December. I’d taken a cab to the hotel from the airport, so hasn’t a clue what it was really like. I left my room and pulled on a coat, gloves and scarf. I got as far as the other side of the pavement before I scuttled back inside to, well, to put on pretty much absolutely everything else I owned.
Icy Canadian sub-zero temperatures cut like a knife. It starts like a vicious whipcrack shock of cold which smarts and aches, and then it builds, first burning and then numbing your bones and body. Oh man. It hurts. And that’s not even getting into the horror of your eye lashes freezing, the weird and deeply unpleasant sensation of your nose hairs freezing solid –and then the raw burn that just breathing sub-zero air brings to your nose and throat.
For once, I got smart fast. After all, I realised that people live quite happily in sub-zero Canada: so how do they do it? The answer? The right kit. I managed to camp in minus 46 degrees with the right clothes this year without running shrieking into the snow, begging for it to end. I’ve come a long way from that gal just four years ago who thought you could put a cardigan on and you’d be fine. Now I have a stash of winter gear and that’s what I want to recommend right now, so if you’re planning a trip next winter you can score a deal in the sales. Continue reading →
In wintertime Scandinavian-style spas make a virtue of the pay off between a little ‘pain’ and a lot of pleasure. Stepping carefully in flip flops dressed in a woolen ‘toque’ hat, and a towelling robe, across an icy path as a blizzard of snowflakes pelt you from every angle, it’s hard to not look longingly back at the warmly-lit indoors and wonder what on earth you are doing… and whether perhaps, instead of stripping down to your swimming costume in the sub-zero night, you might actually be better served putting a few more layers on and wrapping yourself around a velvety cup of rum-spiked hot chocolate instead.
And then you kick your sandals off, shiver as you take off the robe and step into the steamy water and everything makes sense. I defy anyone to go from the bitter cold into an invitingly hot pool and not loudly sigh ‘Ahhhhhh!’ as they do so. The blissful relief! As the steamy hot water bubbled around I wriggled my now-unfrozen toes with glee and admired my surroundings. Quebec’s OFURO spa is in Morin Heights, I drove there along quiet roads which seemed plucked from christmas card scenes, all snowy churches and towering spires. Continue reading →
I think I may have just found my new favourite spa. And, wonder of wonders, it has a hotel attached too, so should your heart desire (and your wallet allow) you could never, ever leave. After twenty minutes in the spa and hotel Le Finlandais that’s pretty much all I was planning so consider yourself warned, this spa and hotel have impressive powers.
Hyperbole aside, what makes this great? It is, as ever, the attention to detail which elevates it from ‘wow’ to ‘ZOMYGOD!’ Firstly it’s overcoming the issue of location; it’s true that the spa and hotel are located on a singularly unlovely strip of highway some 30 minutes drive from Montreal, and, to make things worse, the hotel and spa are on opposite sides of the road. I snorted to myself when I saw this and rolled my eyes, but a toasty-warm shuttle service from door to door, that I never waited more than 30 seconds for, soon squashed any negative thoughts. Continue reading →