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Having been to Windsor, Ontario in Canada on a few occasions, and having had two absolute blasts in Toronto several years ago, it’s safe to say I was pre-disposed to enjoy The Great White North the next time the opportunity arose to cross the border.
And when the chance came to pass last winter, what did I know about Whistler and Vancouver, my upcoming destinations in the province of British Columbia?
Not much, other than world-renowned skiing ruled the roost in Whistler. I knew that the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team migrated from Vancouver, where I knew attractive tax credits from the government had been luring more than a few American TV shows and movies to film.
So when it came to heading to those two destinations in Canada’s westernmost province (where you can ski and golf in the same day), if ignorance was bliss, then bliss quickly morphed into one of the most thoroughly enjoyable getaways in my 30 plus years of travel.
Put another way, if you’ve never visited Whistler and Vancouver, add both to your to your bucket list. The picturesque sights are an eyeful, the people hospitable, the food eclectic and delectable, and the social ambiance actively subdued and generally affordable.
Sound like I had a memorable time, eh? You think? British Columbia proved to be one of the best getaways I’ve ever taken (sorry Las Vegas, but you know I still love you). Read on with one eye and close the other while you daydream….
First, if you need a ride from the Vancouver International Airport, board the Pacific Coach’s YVR Whistler SkyLynx bus (pacificcoach.com) to Whistler – where the Blackcomb and Whistler mountains offer the largest ski area on the continent – for a calmingly visual ride.
Upon arriving in Whistler, about two hours outside of Vancouver, all things skiing obviously were the order of the day (and night) – and even more noticeable when you’re not a skier.
But Whistler can be for more than just skiers despite the fact that men, women and children in fashionable snow suits, glare-free goggles, colorful caps, expensive but noisy ski boots, and carrying skis were, like, everywhere in Whistler Village and its more than 200 shops.
But isn’t that what you (should’ve) expected in one of the world’s consistently top-ranked ski resorts, where there is “no such thing as too much snow,” as Breton Murphy of Tourism Whistler aptly admonished us.
An estimated 25 percent of visitors to Whistler are from the good old U.S. of A. and they’re among the one million wintertime visitors and 1.3 million visitors who frolic there in the summer.
But, don’t just take my word for it; check out whistler.com to learn why you can ski almost nine months a year as Whistler constantly becomes more of a year-round destination.
Seductively nestled “at the centre of it all” in Whistler Village and at the base of the imposing Blackcomb Mountains is the cozy Crystal Lodge, home for the next two nights.
The pedestrian-friendly village is full of nightclubs, day spas, pubs, art galleries, shops, boutiques and hotels; in other words, a small, self-contained city.
With the Crystal Lodge, think of a hotel that feels like home – except you can enjoy the great outdoors within walking distance, and you’re just steps away from some great eating and greater people-watching… starting with the Alta Bistro on Main Street. (altabistro.com)
A bistro in the truest sense and featuring local and naturally raised food and cocktails, Alta Bistro is cozy and homey. It’s the first restaurant in Whistler to feature the premium Enomatic wine-serving system that ensures consistency in each glass by protecting the vino from oxidation.
At the door, the mouthwatering aromas set you up for the food – including a first-ever sampling of sour cream-flavored ice cream – and creative cocktails.
However, owner Ed Dangerfield’s house-made chutney – yes, the chutney – was outstanding and worthy of sneaking back to the states.
Don’t sleep on dining at The Mix by Ric’s, (ricsgrill.com), another funky and charming bistro in the Village, and the Garibaldi Lift Company, which is ideally located at the base of Whistler Mountain…especially after an exhilarating, lip-biting and eye-opening experience on the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola ride (whistlerblackcomb.com) that takes skiers and hikers on a span of 2.73 miles for an aerial flight like nothing you’ve likely experienced before.
Yes, I was anxious and awed at the same time. Say “above the clouds” or “communing with a higher being” as you experience the world’s longest continuous lift system that gives fantastic vantage points that showcase snow-capped mountains, glaciers, peaks, flora and even black bears.
Since its December 2008 opening, the $52 million, 39-lift gondola system has carried 4,100 passengers – and one clothing-challenged travel writer – per hour to new, bitterly cold heights that make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience while elevating between the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Wonderful. Humbling. Chilling. Just dress appropriately for the ride and not like a clueless tourist hell bent on looking good.
First, a few glib but honest observations about Vancouver (tourismvancouver.com):
• Really clean city with great-tasting water.
• Urban and mountainous.
• Friendly people who offer frequent, ostentatious displays of wealth (is one out of every 10 people really a millionaire as the Vancouver Trolley Company guide noted?).
• Restaurant choices that (almost) rival Chicago’s.
• Lastly, Paul Done is a lot of fun.
What to expect was the question of the day on the way to Vancouver. Checking in to the St. Regis Hotel (stregis.com) on Dunsmuir Street meant spending three nights in a really cool, 65 room-boutique hotel with a loud, but muted personality.
Although steps away from multifaceted shopping and dining options galore, you still feel secluded. And who doesn’t appreciate radiant heat on the bathroom floor, free Wi-Fi, free international long distance calls and a cooked-to-order breakfast every day?
Speaking of eating, the red velvet and mahogany wood-appointed Gotham Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar (gothamsteakhouse.com) on Seymour Street is ideal for food, drinks and ambiance.
That’s where tour guide/funnyman/publicist Paul Done, owner of epicmedia, held court over drinks and over the businessmen and tourists who talked to – and over – each other in the high-volume eatery not far from Vancouver’s financial district.
When Gotham describes itself as “an American style steakhouse serving tender steaks and stiff drinks,” they’re telling the truth.
Multiculturalism is on display when you stroll through the urban oasis better known as Granville Island (granvilleisland.com), home to the Public Market, where many of the chefs at the island’s restaurants pick ingredients for the night’s menu, and where the dessert is to die for.
Think of Navy Pier in Chicago, but Granville Island is chock full of assorted and al fresco restaurants like Edible Canada (ediblecanada.com), theaters, galleries, studios and cafes that make you hungry when you’re not.
Speaking of eating, again, don’t leave the city without eating at two intimate and popular restaurants where the quality and presentation impress.
First up, don’t miss a fresh seafood dinner at Cork & Fin (corkandfin.ca) where a second-floor table with a great view adds to the atmosphere…make sure to order the seafood boil.
Next, make a reservation at Two Chefs And A Table (twochefsandatable.com) in the super cool Gastown entertainment district, the original heart of Vancouver.
Rest assured that whatever is on the multi-course meal will be artfully prepared and palette-smoothing, like roasted garlic soup and gnocchi and wild mushrooms.
Vancouver is for outdoors men and picture-takers. It’s for walkers and joggers and sightseers. It’s for eaters and shoppers and doers. Its reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities is well deserved, and the next time I cross the border, you only need one guess as to where I’m going, eh.