Just one look, you’re hooked

Lonely Planet re­veals why vis­i­tors keep com­ing back to Van­cou­ver – spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral scenery, a buzzing me­trop­o­lis and a kalei­do­scope of dis­tinc­tive neigh­bour­hoods

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - DIVERSE VANCOUVER -

VAN­COU­VER al­ways lands atop the ‘‘ best places to live’’ lists, and who’s to ar­gue?

Sea-to-sky beauty sur­rounds the laid-back, cock­tail-lovin’ me­trop­o­lis.

With ski­able moun­tains on the out­skirts, beaches fring­ing the core and Stan­ley Park’s for­est just blocks from down­town’s glass sky­scrapers, it’s a har­monic con­ver­gence of city and na­ture.

It also mixes Hol­ly­wood chic (many movies are filmed here) with buzzing Chi­nese neigh­bour­hoods and a free­wheel­ing coun­ter­cul­ture – in­clud­ing a pop­u­lar nude beach and the Mar­i­juana Party head­quar­ters.

Fly­ing into Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port on a cloud-free sum­mer’s day, it’s not hard to ap­pre­ci­ate the city’s rep­u­ta­tion as a nat­u­ral utopia.

Gen­tly rip­pling ocean criss­crossed with ferry trails, the crenu­lated shore­lines of dozens of for­est-green is­lands and the ever-present sen­tinels of snow-dusted crags glint­ing on the hori­zon give this city ar­guably the most spec­tac­u­lar set­ting of any me­trop­o­lis on the planet.

But while the city’s twin­kling out­door back­drop means you’re never far from great ski­ing, kayak­ing or hik­ing, there’s much more to Van­cou­ver than ap­pear­ances.

When hit­ting the streets on foot, you’ll come across a kalei­do­scope of dis­tinc­tive neigh­bour­hoods, each one almost like a vil­lage in it­self.

This di­ver­sity is Van­cou­ver’s main strength and a ma­jor rea­son why vis­i­tors keep com­ing back. If you’re a first-timer, soak in the breath­tak­ing vis­tas and hit the ver­dant forests when­ever you can, but also save time to join the lo­cals and do a lit­tle ex­plor­ing off the beaten track.

Van­cou­ver Aquar­ium

Home to 9000 water-lov­ing crit­ters – in­clud­ing wolf eels and bel­uga whales – the aquar­ium, in Stan­ley Park, also has a walk-through rain­for­est of birds, tur­tles and a statue-still sloth. Check for feed­ing times and con­sider an An­i­mal En­counter trainer tour (from $C24). The newest draw here is the 4D Ex­pe­ri­ence: a 3Dmovie theatre with added wind, mist and aro­mas. One of North America’s largest ur­ban green spa­ces, Van­cou­ver’s magnificent 404ha Stan­ley Park en­joys a breath­tak­ing set­ting, sur­rounded on three sides by rip­pling ocean and watched over by loom­ing moun­tains.

The park’s pop­u­lar 8.8km sea­wall skirts a tem­per­ate rain­for­est that’s home to beaches and blue herons.

Stan­ley Park’s Lost La­goon na­ture re­serve is a tran­quil, wa­tery oa­sis now colonised by in­dige­nous plants and beady-eyed birdlife and is ac­cessed via a shore­line trail.

Drop into the Na­ture House (stan­ley­parke­col­ogy.ca; ad­mis­sion free; hours: 10am-7pm Tue-Sun MaySept) to learn about the park’s ecol­ogy and ask about the Ecol­ogy So­ci­ety’s guided walks (adult/child $C10/$5). One of the re­gion’s most pop­u­lar out­door hang­outs, Grouse Moun­tain is only 20 min­utes from down­town.

Restau­rants and at­trac­tions – in­clud­ing a skat­ing rink – of­fer cold­sea­son respites from the slopes.

In sum­mer, Skyride gon­dola tick­ets to the top in­clude ac­cess to lum­ber­jack shows, alpine hik­ing trails and a griz­zly­bear refuge.

Capi­lano Sus­pen­sion Bridge

The Lower Main­land re­gion’s most pop­u­lar at­trac­tion, Capi­lano’s mas­sive, gen­tly sway­ing ca­bled bridge spans the roil­ing wa­ters of spec­tac­u­lar tree-lined Capi­lano Canyon.

Walk­ing gin­gerly across the world’s long­est (140m) and high­est (70m) sus­pen­sion bridge, re­mem­ber that the steel ca­bles you are grip­ping are em­bed­ded in huge con­crete blocks on either side. That should steady your feet – un­less the teenagers are stamp­ing their way across.

Food­ies’ Van­cou­ver

With an in­ter­na­tional di­ver­sity that even ri­val foodie cities such as Toronto and Mon­treal can’t match, Van­cou­ver vis­i­tors can fill up on great eth­nic dishes and the re­gion’s flour­ish­ing West Coast cui­sine.

Fork into salmon, oys­ters and other West Coast spe­cial­ties, washed down with lo­cal wines and mi­cro­brews.

Tap into the lat­est re­views at ur­bandiner.ca or pick up a free copy of either Eat Mag­a­zine or City Food.

Van­cou­ver and Bri­tish Columbia’s best Ja­panese din­ing is at Tojo’s (ph 604 872 8050; to­jos.com; 1133 WBroad­way; mains $C19-$26).

Hidekazu Tojo’s leg­endary skill with the sushi knife has cre­ated one of North America’s most revered sushi restau­rants.

This is an edited ex­tract from

(1st Edi­tion) by Karla Zim­mer­man, John Lee, et al. Lonely Planet 2011. RRP: $45.99. lone­ly­planet.com

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