Seven places to spend Summer 2018 in Canada

Grey Monk Estate Winery in Okanagan, BC

While many save their Canadian adventures for the snow covered winter months, the great country of the North has a lot to offer through the Summer months, too. With weather often as warm as Australians are used to, it will ensure you can pack a little lighter for the journey. It also means that a lot more of the country is accessible, and there’ll be a lot more happening in the streets and mountains than can happen when it’s all covered in snow.

If you’re looking ahead to travelling this Summer, there’s a lot of exciting new additions to the calendar sure to excite, as well as mainstays of the travel calendar. Here’s a look at just a few places and experiences to add to yours.

1. Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain: Vancouver, British Columbia

Let’s start in the city most Australians will visit before anywhere else: Vancouver, which is accessible direct from Sydney, Brisbane and now Melbourne (from 3 June 2018) with Air Canada. While you’re there, two destinations are favourites of locals and tourists alike.

Firstly, there’s the 1000-acre Stanley Park, situated right in the heart of the city. Grab the Canada Line train from the airport to Vancouver City Centre, which is a popular point for shopping and provides easy transit to buses to Stanley Park, where you can rent bikes and explore the stunning waterfront scenery and wildlife. It’s an incredible way to start the day, especially in the Summer months. Give yourself a good 90 minutes in the morning (at least) to enjoy the Park and surrounds.

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This year will see the launch of a new music festival in Stanley Park. The inaugural SKOOKUM Festival will bring music, art and food to the 1000-acre park from September 7th to the 9th, 2018. Among the music lineup are 50 stage performances on three stages, including The Killers and Florence + The Machine. There’ll also be gourmet culinary experiences, showcasing the best BC wines and original brews from local craft distilleries. Learn more about the festival HERE.

And then there’s Grouse Mountain.

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The drive to the mountain from the centre of town takes about half an hour, but give yourself a bit more time if leaving at a peak hour. Once you get there, the trip to the top of the mountain via an incredible cable car ride to “The Peak of Vancouver” takes only 4 minutes. Up top, you have a myriad of things you can do in the Summer months – during Winter, this is covered in thick layers of snow, covering much of what you’re able to explore in the warmer climate.

Some activities are an optional extra: you can go ziplining, paragliding or you can take a helicopter tour. Other activities are included with the price of every admission. There are bird watching tours, lumberjack shows, films, and you can watch the Birds in Motion show, which happens at set times during the day – don’t worry, you’ll get a timetable as soon as you enter the park. During the Birds in Motion show, we got to see Raptors in action, a Bald Eagle soar around the park, meet a Turkey vulture alongside an Owl and a Falcon. All the while taking in this incredible view. And nearby are two beautiful Grizzly Bears, who live permanently in an enclosure on the mountain. There is even an option to have “Breakfast with the Bears”.

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Another optional extra is one of the mountain’s newer attractions, incredible 360 degree views from “The Eye of the Wind”, which sends you up into “the world’s first and only wind turbine that allows you to stand in a clear glass viewPOD at the top of the tower, three metres from its massive, rotating blades.” The glass pod is covered in facts about the blades and the electricity generated from the turbine, which sites on a higher point of the Mountain. You have to get in a ski lift to get up there, which is an enjoyable ride in itself.

While in Vancouver, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport is one of the finest hotels in the city, and has a direct service to the centre of the city thanks to the Canada Line train line pretty much running to its door. Its on site Globe@YVR Restaurant is also among the best meals you’ll find in Vancouver. Another great place to eat is the Blacktail Restaurant + Lounge (which we reviewed HERE).

If you’re looking for something a bit different food wise, consider the new experience Dine the Line, which Metro Vancouver and TransLink (the city’s public transport system) have launched, offering visitors the chance to experience Vancouver’s diverse culinary scene with seven themed itineraries packed with local foodie hot spots, all accessible by SkyTrain, the longest rapid transit system in Canada. From funky craft breweries to the nondescript hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving up some of the best steamed dumplings this side of Asia, Dine the Line is a great way for travellers to immerse themselves in local culture and cuisine.

2. Whistler

If you’re an Australian reading this, I don’t need to tell you much about Whistler – one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations to the point it feels like an unofficial Aussie city – but you may not think to visit the popular mountain in the Summer. Interestingly, it’s actually the more popular time for tourists, with a slew of activities happening around the mountain and the region all through the season.

You can still take the gondolas up the mountain – the 25 minute journey to get to the top is an experience in itself – though you don’t need nearly as many clothes to enjoy the experience. Though when you’re up there, even in the dead of Summer, you’ll still find spots of snow, sitting right next to the mountain biking tracks. And you can even explore glaciers! But the real treat is enjoying the lakes with surround Whistler – with biking and walking tracks all over the area, and plenty of places to lounge around and go for a swim.

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Though don’t let the sun fool you – the water is still pretty cold. Given it’s fed by the glaciers of the region, that’s hardly surprising. But if you don’t fancy a cold dip, enjoy a warm one (before a cold one) at the Scandinave Spa Whistler. While in Whistler, why not stay at Legends, where you can hear the creek running from your bedroom, and don’t miss your chance to eat at the incredible Aura Restaurant, a short walk away from the hotel, and part of the Nita Lake Lodge.

3. Okanagan Wine and a Sparkling Hill in British Columbia 

With an easy flight to Kelowna from many Canadian cities, or a four hour drive from Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley is one of the best kept secrets in Canada. Flying there from Vancouver takes barely an hour in a tiny plane, and provides a beautiful journey over lakes and rivers and snow covered mountains, even in the summer time. But the view has nothing on the destination – a region as famed for its wine as it is its beauty. From the Grey Monk Estate Winery which features at the top of this article, to the 50th Parallel Estate, Ex Nihilo, Waterfront Wines and the Summerhill Pyramid Winery, pictured below on the Okanagan lake, there is no shortage of wineries to enjoy on a visit.

At Summerhill, they make a point to promote sustainable practices, with Organic and Biodynamic Wines produced, and a restaurant (which is open year round) that provides the farm to table experience; they forage locally for a lot of what you’ll find on your plate. You’ll enjoy Arctic char fish (a favourite of the establishment), sustainably farmed in Osoyoos, which is, ironically, the desert. I had the pasta of the day, which was covered in garlic cream with prawns and “all the vegetables” (basically, whatever they foraged that day). But every dish looked amazing. It’s worth noting, too, that Summerhill is the largest organic winery production in Canada.

While you’re in the region, a night (or more) is a must at the stunning escape that is the Sparkling Hill Resort. We spoke at length about this resort last year, but it is without question one of the finest resorts in the world. The project of Mr. Gernot Langes-Swarovski, patriarch of the Swarovski crystal family, is a $22 million resort filled with no less than 3.5 million crystals worth some $10 million, many of which you’ll find in your room. And many said rooms come with views of the Okanagan Lake you could only dream of (and a bath by the window you’ll never want to leave).

The resort is truly a retreat, with a focus on mind, body, soul, relaxation and silence. There’s no real competitor to what they’re doing in Canada. And it’s more than just a high end accommodation with a luxury spa (KurSpa, the intoxicating smells of which permeate the whole 40k square foot facility) – it’s all about health and wellness, with a European approach. Reportedly many athletes comes to these facilities to help with injuries – thanks in part to the -110 Celsius Cryotherapy chamber, the first of its kind in North America (learn more about it HERE). Elsewhere there are a number of incredible pools, seven steam rooms, saunas, experimental showers and more. And if that’s not enough, Swarovski items are for sale here that you can only otherwise get at their Austrian showrooms.

Oh and did we mention the infinity pool?

The author apologies for his inclusion in this photo. For more details about the resort head HERE. And while in Kelowna, your entry point to the region, stay at the Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel & Villas.

4. Thousand Islands: Gananoque

Once you behold the majesty of this region, you’d be surprised to know that even some Canadians don’t know this gem of a destination exists. Situated on the border of the US and Canada, south of Ottawa, where it’s separated by the St. Lawrence River, is a group of incredible islands (1,864 islands no less), dubbed the “Thousand Islands”. And yes, this is where the famous salad dressing came from. But it’s the views you’ll be coming here for…

Some of the islands form a national park, other are privately owned. Another, Heart Island (which is technically on the US side, so requires you to go through US customs to visit), has a mother-flipping-Castle on it (Google “Boldt Castle” – its story is quite amazing and worthy of its own article). Others barely even fit the house that sits on it. You can kayak around it, fly over it on a Helicopter, take a cruise… all departing from Gananoque.

The town on its Canadian side, Gananoque, is a remarkable and quaint in its own right. There’s really only a couple of months during the Summer time that you can fully enjoy everything the region has to offer – so be sure to get on that quickly, because this is a destination you have to add to your bucket list.

While in Gananoque, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites 1000 Islands – Gananoque.

5. Canmore-Kananaskis

Not far outside Calgary – a popular destination over the Summer, thanks especially to the annual Calgary Stampede -head into the nearby Rocky Mountains. But instead of running to Banff like everyone else does, stay a little closer to town and stay in the Canmore-Kananaskis region.

It only takes an hour to get out to Canmore, which is a bustling area of the mountains, with 12,000 residents (including plenty of Australians). You’ll find some of the best beer in Canada here, at the only brewing company in the Canadian Rockies, the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. And what makes it taste so damn good? The fact they’re using glacier fed water for their brews may be but one of the many reasons the microbrew is worth the trip.  And if a good view helps make a fine ale than you’ve certainly come to the right place here; the Three Sisters mountain range visible from the windows is certainly a nice touch.

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On your way back to Calgary from Canmore, especially if you love dogs, make sure to take a detour East and visit the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary (263156 Range Rd 53, Cochrane, AB), home to 15 permanent Wolfdogs (at the time we originally visited). I’ll let the Sanctuary tell you a little more about themselves:

As the popularity of wolfdogs as pets became more popular in Canada, Georgina De Caigny and Andi Scheibenstock identified a need for a knowledgeable and experienced rescue organization that would make the rehabilitation and rehoming of displaced wolfdogs a priority. It was in June of 2011 that Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary opened its doors as not only one of the largest sanctuaries within Canada, but one of the only sanctuaries to balance educational programs with a highly successful adoption program too.

You visiting the Sanctuary helps keep it going, and you get to hang out with and feed beautiful Wolfdogs in the process. Yes, this is real life and it is as beautiful as this magnificent creature below.

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You learn a lot while you’re visiting the Sanctuary, and you get to pet and feed beautiful, lovely, apparently quite murderous (though not to humans) Wolfdogs. It’s a fantastic day out, and a great cause. But if none of this takes your fancy, why don’t you go caving in the Rockies? You can read more about my experience with the Canmore Cave Tours HERE, which was a memorable experience to say the least – but may not be for everyone.

In Canmore we stayed at the Grande Rockies Resort. In Kananaskis we stayed at the Delta Lodge. Learn more about The Grizzy Paw at their official website. For more details about the sanctuary, head to their official website. They’re closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

6. Take a ride on “The Canadian” 

They say that the journey is half the adventure, and on Via Rail’s iconic long haul train, The Canadian, this is certainly true. I daresay it’s the entire adventure. Passengers travel from Vancouver to Toronto and back again, through the winding hills, the open plains and past the sun drenched lakes, which are sights to experience in themselves. But the luxury on board is what keeps guests coming back. We took the journey about halfway – from Toronto to Winnipeg – a great destination in its own right – for a two day experience I’ll never forget, filled with amazing food, great drinks and memorable company – both friends and strangers.

Now this might be an article celebrating Summer, and that time of year certainly has its charm; beautiful lakes and forests a common sight as you pass through Ontario, the sun beaming down for the majority of the day. But those on the train who had enjoyed a trip on the Canadian in the past mentioned that winter serves as the optimum time to travel. “Nothing beats the endless sea of white that sits outside your window”, one guest commented. I suppose there’s something to be said, too, for getting to explore the country in the most difficult time of year to do so, from the relative safety of your train car.

But they don’t trade that relative safety for an impeded view… the train’s world renowned glass roof cabin is where you’ll find many passengers counting the hours away; reading a book or catching up with a friend as they literally watch the world go by. Often a blur, yet a sight to behold, the consistency of the surroundings creates something of a hypnotic environment while guests have the chance to envelop themselves in the countryside. There’s no experience like it – Summertime, Wintertime or anywhere in between.

For more details on the Canadian services, head to their official website.

7. Walk the streets of Old Québec

And finally, there’s no place in Canada quite Old Québec in Quebec City. The streets of Old Québec are filled with charm and history – honestly it feels like another world. Or at the very least like a city in Europe. Set inside the remains of the city’s fortified walls you’ll find shops, museums and plenty of tourist attractions. You’ll also find some fantastic food. While you’re there, make sure to enjoy the view on the Old Québec funicular, which takes you from the Dufferin Terrace to the Petit Champlain neighbourhood, Place-Royale and the Old Port. But, as much as you can, walk through those cobblestone streets and breathe in the history.

There are nearly 400 km of bike paths in Quebec City, giving you the opportunity to truly discover every nook and cranny of this incredible city. You’ll also find great mountain bike trails in Mont-Saint-Anne, Vallée Bras-du-Nord and Sentiers du Moulin. Alternatively, if bikes aren’t for you, head to Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier and enjoy their 100 kms of hiking trails. Either way, this is what Summer was made for in this incredible city.

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And even with this much age and history, it’s always changing. Promised to be “one of the most beautiful spas in North America”, the Strøm Nordic Spa is being constructed and set to open this Summer, taking advantage of unrivalled views of the St Lawrence River, and the imposing Cap Diamant cliff. The Scandinavian inspired pavilions will service up to 350 people per day and include a dining room, Finnish saunas, indoor and outdoor pools, and three waterfalls. Head HERE for more details on the opening date of this facility.

Whether it’s Summer or Wintertime, you have to fit in some poutine in your visit. I wrote a little bit more about the poutine I found in Quebec City HERE. It is magical and delicious. There’s also a tonne of festivals to enjoy in Quevec City. Le Festival d’été de Québec is the highlight, from the 5th to the 15th of July 2018 – one of the best and most affordable festivals in the world. There’s also Festival d’opéra de Québec, The Grands Feux Loto-Québec and every night you’ll find venues around the city showcasing the world’s best talents.

We stayed at the beautiful Hôtel Château Laurier Québec while in Quebec City, walking distance from just about everywhere you need to be.

Getting There

Air Canada offers daily direct flights to Vancouver from Sydney and Brisbane. Additionally, Air Canada will commence year-round direct flights from Melbourne to Vancouver from 3rd June 2018. Direct flights from Sydney to Vancouver are also available on Qantas or you can travel via Los Angeles with Virgin Australia and a codeshare service through Air Canada.

Photos by the author unless otherwise mentioned.