From gourmet cuisine and vintage wines to wilderness spa resorts, Canada has plenty to offer those who like the finer things in life
Canada is a country that invites exploration. Its stunning landscapes make such a wonderful backdrop for adventure that there’s a tendency to focus on active pursuits, but tourists looking for relaxation will find plenty to satisfy them – whether their explorations focus on the gourmet cuisine, award-winning wines, or pampering spa experiences.
Whether clients want a few days of pampering stitched into a more active itinerary, or a whole trip with a relaxed pace focusing on the finer things in life, there are more than enough options to choose from.
Spa treatments can fit well into any Canadian itinerary, whether treatments are designed to ease aching muscles after a rigorous day’s skiing or hiking, as a wind-down after a busy city tour, or as part of a relaxing stay at a wilderness resort.
Hot springs in the Rockies mean tourists can visit pools naturally heated to a toasty 40C with amazing views at Banff, Jasper and Kootenay. Massages, facials and body treatments are available too. hotsprings.ca
There are great hotel-based spa options too, for those who crave exclusivity. The spa at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge has reopened after a £4 million redevelopment, and the Willow Stream Spa at the Banff Springs Hotel has 23 treatment rooms, including a couples room with a Japanese Onzen soaking tub, plus special après-ski or hiking treatments.
Whistler has a new eco spa, the Nordic-style all-season Le Scandinave Spa. Green construction technologies and recycling systems mean it’s good for the environment, and a range of hydrotherapy and massage treatments at a spa set in acres of cedar forest mean it’s good for visitors’ wellbeing too.
Ontario styles itself as the spa capital of Canada, and there are many spa resorts set in the beautiful countryside among rolling hills and tranquil lakes – perfect for relaxation. One of the most popular is St Anne’s Country Inn & Spa in Grafton, an hour west of Toronto. This winter, it offers hydrating chocolate wraps and chocolate massages scented with peppermint. The large 100 Fountain Spa at Niagara’s Pillar and Post hotel is set right in wine country and makes the most of this with vinotherapy treatments.
For something a little different, try Bota Bota, Montreal’s first floating spa. This spa on a boat has just opened and offers a range of treatments.
Life in Canada’s north-easterly provinces is tied to the tides. Atlantic Canada – as the provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador are known – protrudes out into the ocean, so it’s unsurprising that the area is famed for its fantastic seafood.
Lobster, scallops and oysters are plentiful and are served up fresh from the ocean at restaurants and during the regular festivals celebrating one type of seafood or another. Blueberries and the exotically-named partridgeberries and bakeapple berries grow wild, and are made into pies.
Many tourists enjoy self-drive itineraries around the manageably-sized Maritime provinces, so gourmet experiences fit well into these relaxed schedules.
The Halifax Seaport farmers market has been redeveloped and is the perfect place to pick up not only fresh produce, but gifts and crafts too.
Prince Edward Island has a whole website dedicated to its culinary experiences, with details of local events, markets, producers and restaurants to read up on.
Vancouver has more restaurant per capita than any other Canadian city, and its ethnic neighbourhoods have given rise to a wide variety of cuisines from Chinese and Indonesian to Russian and Ethiopian. The area’s own Pacific Northwest cuisine uses fresh seafood such as spot prawns, black cod and wild sockeye salmon. In early spring each year, the Dine Out Vancouver celebration means many restaurants offer good value fixed-priced menus.
Luxury operator Bridge & Wickers recommends Edible British Columbia’s gourmet tours, particularly a two-hour guided visit to Granville Island Market, from £31.
With its French connection it’s hardly surprising that Quebec places great importance on fine dining. Artisan cheeses are made locally, and game is farm bred, so expect deer, bison, wild boar and ostrich alongside Charlevoix lamb. Recommend a meal at Chateau Frontenac, the historic fairy-tale castle hotel overlooking the St Lawrence River in Quebec City, which has an award-winning restaurant.
Quebec produces 75% of the world’s maple syrup. Those with a sweet tooth should visit in early spring, when the snow melts and the buckets attached to maple trees fill up with sap. A visit to a ‘sugar shack’ can include all-you-can eat traditional food and sleigh rides as well as homemade maple taffy to sample and buy. Smaller, family-run establishments are often in the countryside, but there are larger shacks in Montreal too.
The lion’s share of Canadian wine is produced in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. Icewine, a sweet dessert wine produced from grapes frozen on the vine, is Canada’s most famous export, but it also produces traditional white and red wines very successfully.
Canada’s alcohol production doesn’t begin and end with wine, either – cider is brewed on Vancouver Island, and the prairies of Alberta grow most of the country’s barley, fuelling the production of both beer and beef.
January sees Icewine festivals in Sunpeaks, British Columbia, and Niagara, Ontario. Niagara on the Lake is most developed area in the province for wine production and only 90 minutes from Toronto.
Many operators, such as Thomas Cook Signature, Kuoni, Canadian Affair and 1st Class Holidays feature Niagara Wine Tours as add-ons to stays in the area, and Trafalgar Tours has added a wine tasting experience to its tours that stop in the Niagara area.
The Pointe Restaurant at Wickanninish Inn, Vancouver Island. With 240-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, guests can enjoy Pacific northwest cuisine cooked using
organic local ingredients and fresh seafood.
The Five Fisherman, Halifax. Atlantic Canada is known for its seafood and this is a legendary spot to taste it. Housed in a 200-year-old-building there are all sorts of fishy treats, including a mussel bar where patrons can help themselves.
Vinelands Estates Winery, Niagara. This was one of the first of Niagara’s winery restaurants and guests can sample the finest of Ontario’s flavours and tipples while enjoying views of vineyards, forests and Lake Ontario.
Miku Restaurant, Vancouver. This downtown Japanese restaurant features aburi sushi – a unique style where fish is lightly seared or blow-torched to release flavours.
Kuoni offers stays at the Fairmont Banff Springs from £137 per night. kuoni.co.uk, 01306 747008
Travel 2 offers a 13-day Splendour of the Maritimes self-drive itinerary touring Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island from £1,789 including flights, car hire and room-only accommodation. travel2.com, 0800 022 4182
Trafalgar Tours’ Best of Eastern Canada tour starts from £1,399 excluding flights, and includes a tour of a family-operated winery with tastings and dinner. trafalgartours.co.uk, 020 7468 4335