With a staggering 4,000 eateries in Metropolitan, Vancouver, competition is fierce, so it is hard to find a bad meal. A population of foodies also drive the city’s restauranteurs to push the boundaries in quality and offering. Restaurants open with some frequency and some are world-class like Market by Jean-Georges (Vongerichten). The three-star Michelin chef presents the ‘best of the best,’ a collection of his most popular dishes, customised to highlight the richness of British Columbia’s local products, especially the seafood of the clean Pacific waters. Vancouver is also at the vanguard of Canada’s independent restaurant culture, with innovation as a key ingredient. Ingenious chefs who have been exposed to Vancouver’s myriad of cultures and flavours pull together unlikely influences in wonderful ways. An exceptional example, and a personal favourite of mine, is Kissa Tanto, a Japanese/Italian fusion restaurant with a designer speakeasy vibe. Situated above shops in Chinatown, from the outside you may miss it (in fact, I did at first) but once inside the door you are transported to another world somewhere between an Edward Hopper painting and a Wong Kar-wai film set. The interior was the creation of Ste. Marie, Vancouver’s hottest restaurant designer. But this is far from a case of style over substance, as the food and cocktails were perfection, and the service a masterclass in making one feel both welcome yet pampered. It’s no wonder they were named the country’s Best New Restaurant 2017 by Canada’s Best 100, meaning that you will need to book well in advance to even stand a chance of getting a table. This is the case for many of the city’s best eateries – if they allow bookings at all – so it’s worth checking local food blogs and websites before you visit. Alternatively, do what I did, and get your hotel concierge to pull a few strings.
“Another world somewhere between an Edward Hopper painting and a Wong Kar-wai film set.”
As much as I enjoy spending time in the city, it’s the proximity to areas of remarkable natural beauty that really make this such a special place. You don’t even have to leave the city to immerse yourself in nature, Stanley Park, a 405-hectare, heavily forested public park, is just a short walk from the bustling Downtown streets. Almost entirely surrounded by the waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay, it’s a peaceful and beautiful taste of the awe-inspiring British Columbian countryside which lies just across the Lions Gate bridge. Within twenty minutes of leaving my chic urban Downtown hotel, I was driving along the ‘Sea to Sky corridor’ a breathtaking, dramatic coastline, passing majestic bays edged with thousands of elegant tall fir trees which cover the mountainous landscape, creating its characteristic skyline. Even industry here is cinematically epic. Vast rafts of floating tree trunks are still a common sight, a hangover from the logging industry who uses the water to transport and store timber. Oversized locomotives power along open railway lines and supersized container ships, and even bigger cruise liners cut across the vast waterways.
Forty minutes later, I’m riding a cable car, taking in the awe-inspiring views from Stawamus Chief mountain, Squamish, a short walk from the impressive Shannon Waterfalls. Another hour drive north of Squamish lies Whistler, an Olympic-class winter sports mecca which in the summer months hosts all manner of adventurous activities from canoeing to heart-stopping downhill mountain biking. For those on a tight schedule, Whistler is still a very achievable day trip from Vancouver. Due to an abundance of water throughout the province, in the form of both coastal bays and inland lakes, seaplanes are a very common sight in the skies above British Columbia, making Whistler just a short, but very exhilarating and Instagrammable flight from Vancouver Harbour.
Over my two weeks here, I’ve spent more time engaging with nature than I have in the entire past year. It’s been thrilling – chartering a speedboat from Vancouver Harbour to Indian Arm; contemplative – camping on the beautiful shores of Harrison Lake; and freeing – dancing at sunset with drunk, naked hippies to the throbbing beat of African drums on Wreck Beach.
But most of all, it has been fun. It is safe to say that my love affair with Vancouver and British Columbia is set to continue. As I write this on the plane home, I feel much fitter and healthier than I have in a long time and I am already making notes on what I will do on my return. Paddleboard yoga anyone?
Photography by Martin Perry, John Bello and via Unsplash
Get out there
… get yourself a S’well water bottle. They are lightweight, keep your water cool or coffee hot and are very environmentally friendly. Plus, you’ll look like a local.
… take some time to immerse yourself in some First Nation culture. It’s fascinating and you will come away with a deeper understanding of what makes this place so special.
… hire a speedboat and head off to Indian Arm. It’s one of the most exhilarating things you can do and you will get a very different perspective on Vancouver and its surrounding watery wonders.
… be a purist, one of the most exciting things about Vancouver is its mix. The Japadog, a heavenly combination of a traditional hotdog covered with Japanese toppings, is a prime example.
… stay indoors. Whatever the weather, to get the most out of Vancouver and its surroundings you need to get out and explore.
… forget to pack some decent, comfortable walking shoes. The best way to see Vancouver is on foot or by bicycle. If you forget, don’t worry, Vancouver has a great selection of activewear stores, so buying quality, purpose-designed footwear is a breeze.
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