Vancouver. This west coast Canadian city’s image has a bit of grime on it lately following the aftermath of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but for anyone who visits Vancouver you will still find the magnificent sights, people and experiences you lived vicariously on your TV’s last year during the 2010 Winter Olympics. For my own trip west I decided I needed to experience the best of what Vancouver is known for: the star attractions of the soul of downtown; the glory of the surrounding geography that culminates in Whistler.
Following a great experience that The Aspiring Gentleman had in Seattle staying at the Four Seasons last year, I checked into the Four Seasons Vancouver. The hotel is located right in the heart of downtown which allows for convenient access to restaurants, events and other amenities. From the first moment of our stay at the Hotel we were greeted with the flawless service that is the hallmark of the Four Seasons, especially from the concierge, who was quite knowledgeable in local restaurants and pointed us towards some hidden gems. The pool area provides a nice spot for relaxation, feeling sheltered from the streets below although the high buildings springing up around it leave the patio shady for most of the day. Some parts of the hotel building are starting to show their age, but this did not detract from the small details of the experience that make staying here so accommodating.
The physical wealth of Vancouver lies not just in the views of the mountains, trees, rivers and oceans, but also from the great foods that spring from these resources, of which local restaurants use to great advantage.
Breakfast and Lunch Within 10 minutes of the hotel, walking, were several delicious spots to start the day off right. Chambar, featuring Belgian-inspired dishes, is a great spot if you need something hearty, or simply over-the-top delicious to get going, but we had to wait in line even though we arrived right when it opened. Maybe this should be seen as a good sign, however. The Bellagio Cafe, right across from the Vancouver Art Gallery, has a wonderful patio and quaint atmosphere if you catch a nice day and during our casual breakfast there were lots of people walking their dogs on the street while they enjoyed their morning coffee from the famous Caffe Artigiano next door. The Yew restaurant right in the hotel is also a nice place to eat breakfast, especially if you need to eat early before departing on the day’s adventures. For lunch, grab a Porcetta sandwich from Meat & Bread or the toasted special at Salt.
Dinner The local ingredients such as fresh asparagus, berries, venison, oysters, etc really are served best at dinner, even better paired with some truly unique local wines. Our dinner at Yew the first night, right in the Four Seasons, was fortunate to be during the spot prawn season, and our menu was an assortment of dishes offering these delightfully tender prawns. These prawns have a very soft and buttery texture to them, unlike the crunchiness of your typical prawn. Paired with fresh local asparagus, halibut and strawberries, chef Grant MacDonald has created a delightful play on soft textures and subtle flavours. Yew’s wine list is extensive, but the wines by the glass are really done right, highlighting wines from British Columbia that display freshness and character. A Road13 Chenin Blanc had a real lime zest zip and gave extra life to the dinner.
If you decide to venture out to the trendy Yaletown district for dinner, there are two oyster hotspots that will give diners a lot to offer. Rodney’s Oyster House is a casual, fun hotspot with a brief menu but electric atmosphere. The chowder is licentious. The Blue Water cafe is decidedly more upscale, but expresses perfectly the heart and soul of Vancouver cuisine.
If you come all the way out to the west coast, you undoubtedly will want to experience some outdoor activities, and there are plenty to choose from in all seasons. In cold weather, there is skiing and snowshoeing at local mountains, both with terrain very accessible to the amateur. In warm weather there is kayaking in Deep Cove and hiking just about everywhere. Even right in the city, there are interesting walks to great tourist locations that usually avoid feeling too tourist-crowded: Stanley Park, with trails, beaches, and an Aquarium, or take a scenic water taxi across False Creek to Granville Island to walk the market, view some art galleries and pick up some souvenirs. In the evening, most of the theatres and sports venues are clustered just a few blocks down the street from the Four Seasons. When you get out of a sporting event or show, a walk down to gastown for drinks is a must; for the whisky drinker – Shebeen, and the cocktail aficionado – Pourhouse.
To say that a trip to Vancouver can become a whirlwind is an understatement. The amount of things to do, and the wealth of sensory experiences to see, hear and taste while doing them can truly create a great getaway.