Tuesday, February 05, 2008

4 Cities in 10 Days - from Ontario to Quebec - Staff visit by Sarah Jennings

The comfort of the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto and the polite and professional welcome was much appreciated after the flight. Toronto on a Sunday is quiet and thus was a nice way to ease into the holiday, exploring its towered streets and enjoyed a visit to the CN tower for the fantastic views across Lake Ontario all the way to Niagara. The harbour and St Lawrence street market were worth a stroll The food, as in all places we visited was excellent, especially The Armadillo restaurant on Front Street. After a very romantic proposal David & I concluded our Toronto visit with a visit to Niagara Falls with Toronto Tours who made the trip even more special.

We took the train to Kingston, enjoying the great views over the St Lawrence; Kingston was quiet but this added to the relaxed feeling of our trip. A bit of exploration revealed some good shopping, including the harbour front street market which offers food from around the world. The Radisson hotel housed the best restaurant in Kingston with excellent food and brilliant views over the river. We also visited the Kingston Brewing Company where we had to try their home-brewed beer!

A slightly longer train journey, but no less comfortable, took us up into the snow-clad countryside of Québec. Québec City was much busier than our previous two cities, but the Auberge St Pierre set in the heart of the old city provided somewhere quiet to rest. The staff were especially helpful advising us on must visit restaurants and what to see and do. The deep snow made the city enchanting and the old city in particular definitely feels more continental than Canadian. We visited the Citadel and other historical attractions in Québec, learning a bit about the colonial struggles that this part of Canada experienced.

Our final part of the holiday was spent in Montréal, which was a much more bustling city than Toronto. The choice of things to do was enormous, so we chose to visit the Biodôme first. This was an excellent opportunity to come close up against nature and even presented the chance to have a conversation with explorers at the South Pole. This whirlwind trip was a good introduction to what Eastern Canada has to offer and is perfect for deciding where to go next time round!

Ontario - Staff visit by Julie Thompson

Sandra and I compared the Toronto downtown hotels, from the 3-star Days Inn, via the lovely boutique hotels such as the Cosmopolitan and the Soho Metropolitan, to the regal Fairmont Royal York. Our visit to Niagara was wonderful, including a stay at the gorgeous Queens Landing in Niagara on the Lake (much more relaxed than Niagara Falls) and a superb helicopter flight over the Falls in glorious sunshine plus some wine tasting. We travelled through the Menonite communities for a further night of luxury at the Relais & Chateau Langdon Hall – a beautiful country hotel – and then visited Blue Mountain which as a resort with lots of activities on offer and the benefits of Intrawest properties to stay in, is a hard place to beat for a 2 or 3 night stay just a short distance from Toronto.

We then travelled through Georgian Bay enroute to Algonquin Provincial Park, comparing all the various properties in the Huntsville area, of which there is one to suit every requirement and budget, and then the hotels in the park itself. Here you can choose from the lovely adult-oriented Arowhon Pines and the family friendly Killarney Lodge or take a boat over to Bartlett Lodge and stay in one of their eco-friendly cabins, or even try their new resort platform tents for a ‘tent and breakfast stay’. After visit to the opulent Couples resort on the edge of the park, we completed our trip with an overnight stay at Elmhirst Resort. This family run resort is always a favourite with our clients and it was great to experience their facilities first hand before the flight back home.

Vancouver & Victoria - Staff visit by Gill Rice

In hot June sunshine, our first day in Vancouver, saw us exploring Granville Island – a group of shops, galleries, cafes, theatres with a market full of stalls bursting with mouth-watering produce. Partly straddled by Granville Bridge, the island developed from a disused industrial park into an artisan’s enclave. Although a couple of factories remain, trees and flowers and brightly coloured paintings lighten the gritty surroundings. I have an abiding memory of relaxing with a coffee and a bun at a café overlooking Vancouver harbour - busy with boats and bobbing Aquabuses - and taking in the view through Burrard Bridge along the coast to English Bay. We returned in the evening for dinner in a buzzing restaurant under the bridge, after a visit to the Museum of Anthropology to view looming, stately totem poles, housed in a dramatic museum building in the grounds of the University of BC. Excelling in shopping and eating venues, Vancouver is an attractive modern city with a great atmosphere, quite different from Victoria which we visited next. This city has a more open, sedate feel, particularly round the harbour, which is looked down on by the doughty Empress Hotel and the Government buildings. From Victoria, we went to Butchart Gardens – a spectacular acreage of beautiful show gardens pocketed in the vast scars of a worked-out quarry, and celebrating 100 years as a family-run business. To top off our brief (5-day!) trip to Canada we went whale-watching among the Gulf Islands, which was a thrilling experience.

Klemtu/BC/Motorhome - Staff Visit by Sandra Potter

With my two nearly adult children, we rented a 24 foot motorhome in Calgary and drove to Vancouver. Those are the bold facts; what they hide is my fear of driving the motorhome, how difficult it would be to manoeuvre, the difficulties of operating the septic tanks and the propane. I need not have worried! After very careful instruction from Westcoast Mountain Campers, between the three of us, we quickly became experts and came to appreciate both the space inside the vehicle and the freedom the RV gave us. We travelled through the Rockies, the Okanagan Valley (sampling the wine and fruit stands) and then drove to Siwash Lake Ranch where we abandoned the motorhome for the considerable comforts of the ranch. After a couple of days wonderful riding and having been thoroughly spoiled by our hosts, we said our reluctant goodbyes to one of the most luxurious ranches in Canada and hit the road again. This time, we headed west along the little travelled highway 20 towards Bella Coola on the coast. Being part holiday and part “educational” we looked at several properties more or less on our way. I particularly liked the Elkin Creek Ranch for a relaxed family holiday and Chaunigan Lake Lodge for the fishing. Dean on Nimpo would have been a lovely place to stay for a couple of nights and Tweedsmuir Lodge is in a beautiful position.

One of the joys of staying either at Tweedsmuir or the less expensive Brockton Place in Hagensborg is the bear watching. We were lucky enough to be there in September when the grizzly bears are stoking up for winter. Their favourite diet (like mine) is salmon and a float trip down the river allows you to watch the bears fishing. We took the ferry from Bella Coola through the inside passage seeing hump back whales and white sided dolphins en route to Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island where we again parked the RV and flew north to Klemtu.

Although I have been going to Canada for over 30 years, I have never been anywhere quite like this. For starters you take off from Port Hardy in the normal way, but find yourself landing on water in Klemtu – the plane has both wheels and floats! Klemtu is a tiny Indian village 450 miles north of Vancouver. With 315 residents, 2 miles of roads, this is somewhere special. There is now a new hotel which has 6 bedrooms and a restaurant. However, you don’t come to Klemtu for the accommodation or the food; you come to see the Kermode bears. If you are lucky (and sadly we weren’t) you will see the Spirit Bear. This white bear is a genetic freak – actually a black bear, just born white! It is not unheard of to see a family of bears where one cub is black and the other white. We did see lots of bears and some humpback whales. Seeing the bears was awesome, the boat dropped us each morning on Princess Royal Island and we walked through the forest to a river bank where we waited until the bears came and they did in good numbers. We watched as they ate, swam and played in the river, we heard wolves and saw their tracks and we were guided by a passionate and very well informed guide for whom nothing was too much trouble.

That sadly ended our adventure, we flew back to Port Hardy, collected our trusty RV, drove the length of Vancouver Island to Victoria where my daughter inspected the university as she too has fallen in love with Canada, then the ferry to Vancouver to drop the motorhome and spend a few days with friends before flying home – a trip that will live long in the memory.