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Review: Canadian blend of alpine peaks and stylish cities in British Columbia

14:00 05 July 2015

An aerial shot of Vancouvers harbour and peninsula

An aerial shot of Vancouvers harbour and peninsula

© Albert Normandin Photography Inc.

British Columbia, or BC as it’s known locally, is the westernmost of Canada’s 10 provinces and home to 4.5million Canadians, making it the country’s third-most populated province behind Ontario and Quebec.

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As with the rest of Canada, much of BC is wilderness which stretches for hundreds of miles from the Rocky Mountains in the north across 10 mountain ranges that push west to the Pacific Ocean.

Just over half of BC’s population live in the Vancouver region, which enjoys a mild coastal climate akin to Britain’s seasonal weather.

The city of Vancouver, which can be reached from London in just over nine hours with Air Canada (they now offer a very accommodating premium economy service), is positioned stunningly between mountain peaks and the ocean, harbouring a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors all year round.

We stayed at the heart of the city’s metropolis in the Opus Hotel, a funky little boutique place tucked away among endless coffee shops and plush apartment blocks in the swanky high-rise downtown area.

Victoria's harbourVictoria's harbour

From the Opus, you are little more than a five-minute walk from the water’s edge with plenty of opportunities for exploration and splendid views.

To really appreciate the city’s spectacular marriage of coastal waterways and mountain backdrops, take the Sea Vancouver harbour tour.

This high-speed boat tour launches hourly from the Westin Bayshore Hotel throughout the day and cruises right around the city’s peninsula, starting in the inner harbour before picking up speed out towards North Vancouver and then around Stanley Park, a 1,001-acre public park which borders downtown Vancouver and covers the entire top half of the peninsula, surrounded on all sides by the Pacific.

Another must-see is Granville Island which can be reached aboard one of the Aquabus mini-ferries which make regular pick-ups from the downtown dock for the short trip across to the island.

Air Canada offers a new premium economy class on flights to VancouverAir Canada offers a new premium economy class on flights to Vancouver

There you will find an array of attractions, including a vibrant food market, restaurants and cafes, arts and crafts shops and even an artisan sake maker.

For food and drink, Vancouver does not disappoint.

Gastown, the city’s oldest neighbourhood, is a stylish district of cobbled streets filled with restaurants, bars and nightspots.

Take a short trip south of the downtown area on Vancouver’s metro, known as the SkyTrain, to visit Commercial Drive, a diverse neighbourhood home to students, writers, artists and other bohemians, where you will find scores of hip bars and restaurants.

For fine dining, book a table at Hawksworth Restaurant in downtown, run by one of Canada’s foremost chefs Davis Hawksworth and widely regarded as the best in the city. For meat lovers, a rooftop meal at the downtown Black+Blue steakhouse is unmissable, not least for their extra special Brussels sprouts.

No visit to British Columbia is complete without a trip into the vast mountain ranges.

We travelled north from downtown Vancouver to the district of Squamish, about an hour’s drive, to check out the new Sea to Sky Gondola.

The gondola lift, opened in May 2014, takes visitors up 850m in just 10 minutes providing unrivalled views of the coastal mountain scenery.

There is a viewing platform and restaurant at the summit for those who wish to savour the breathtaking view. But for the more adventurous, there are eight hiking trails on offer and several rock climbing options during the summer months.

In the winter, skiers are welcome on the gondola with their equipment and visitors can take part in activities such as winter walking and tubing.

After returning to the city, we headed on to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

We boarded a specialist whale watching vessel to make the four-hour journey and were treated to the unforgettable sight of a giant humpback whale during the crossing.

Victoria, named after the monarch whose countrymen first settled in the area in 1843, is proud of its British heritage.

Arriving in the city’s harbour, you can’t miss the sightseeing buses emblazoned with the Union Jack and if you are visiting this summer, you may see ‘British bobbies’ patrolling the streets.

For a publicity stunt, the city’s police department have decked out so-called “community ambassadors” in the traditional “London-style bobby uniforms” worn historically by its own officers.

We stayed at the Inn at Laurel Point during our visit, a sprawling four-star hotel situated just a five-minute taxi ride from the harbour in downtown Victoria.

The best rooms in the house have balconies which offer glorious panoramic views of the waterfront.

Outside of the hotel, life in Victoria is laid back and residents enjoy the mildest climate in Canada throughout the year.

Known as the City of Gardens, Victoria is especially green and home to a number of notable green spaces.

The Butchart Gardens are Victoria’s best-known and visited by almost a million people a year.

Now spanning 55 acres, these pristine display gardens were started in 1904 on the grounds of the Butchart estate and continue to be run by the family to this day.

Another popular visitor spot in Victoria is the Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse, where you can enjoy tasting the farm’s potent mixes. Be careful to take a taxi though, as some of the ciders have alcohol content of up to 20 per cent.

The best way to get around the city and discover all its hidden treats is by bicycle.

Victoria is reputed to be the cycling capital of Canada and new tour company The Pedaler offers a fantastic three-hour Beans and Bites Tour, taking visitors around the city by bike and stopping at the best coffee roasters and bakers in town to sample their goods.

There is also a thriving gastronomic scene in Victoria, with a strong focus on locally sourced ingredients. OLO restaurant and Cafe Brio are two of the best.

For all its snow-filled winter charm, British Columbia is an equally alluring summer destination for every type of traveller.

There is action and adventure and glorious natural sights to behold, mixed with plenty of metropolitan style.

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