This past May, I was supposed to be discovering the historic Greek Islands — a trip I first hoped to do back in the late ’70s. Finally, 2020 was going to be the “year” I fulfilled my lifelong dream of exploring the Mediterranean marvels. Well, as we all know, the pandemic dashed any hope of visiting the wonders of the ancient civilization, at least for this year.
So, what to do? When you live somewhere long enough, sometimes you forget how interesting it is.
As a Vancouverite in a world-class city — a metropolis that is one of the most beloved and visited in Canada (just behind Toronto) — the coronavirus-related restrictions offered me the time to rediscover why I live here.
Ultimate Chic Hotel Staycation
To me, an ideal staycation is to feel as if you got away, and staying at a high-end hotel is a good way to do that. A personal favourite is the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Dubbed “The Castle in the City”, the green copper-roofed grand dame is a mix of the posh and grandeur dating to Canada’s rich railway past — with modern comforts and luxury amenities.
It is worth taking a stroll through the distinctive chateau-style architecture, inspired by the castles of France and Scotland. Not only is the iconic landmark an urban oasis and architectural jewel, it is renowned for its culture of service and hospitality. Anyone who has ever stayed at one of the city’s Fairmont hotels understands what I mean. Although stately, there is nothing stuffy about the impeccable service.
Before my weekend getaway was over, high tea was in order. Last year, for its 80th anniversary the hotel brought back its popular century-old tradition of Royal Afternoon Tea, and with it has all but reinvented high tea in its Notch 8 restaurant. The scones with clotted cream and jam (made in-house), petit fours and sweet treats are worth every calorie ($69 per person, plus taxes and gratuity).
Reacquaint Yourself With Vancouver’s Gems
I can’t think of a better way to start the day than a brisk walk along the Stanley Park Seawall, which extends from the Vancouver Convention Centre to Spanish Banks Park. Lace up your runners and take in everything the seawall offers. Explore trails that meander through the forest, as well as Lost Lagoon and Beaver Lake, which are great vantage points for wildlife sightings. Or, check out the park’s gardens and Indigenous totem poles. (For updates relating to the park’s accessibility and what is open, check the city’s parks and recreation website).
A two-hour kayak with Vancouver Water Adventures had me sharing False Creek’s bustling waterways with cruise ships, freighters, and sailboats. My coastline adventure took me down to English Bay for a mix of city and nature, before paddling my way over to Stanley Park to enjoy the natural vistas of the park’s forest.
Endless West-Coast Culinary Possibilities
What is a staycation without partaking in Vancouver’s dynamic culinary scene? From farm-fresh ingredients, local award-winning wines, sustainable seafood, and organic meat, Vancouver chefs have a huge arsenal of ingredients to play with — whether the cuisine of choice is west coast, Asian fusion, or any number of ethnic cuisines.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Cardero’s Restaurant: Tucked in amid the yachts and seaplanes of Coal Harbour Marina, Cardero’s is as well-regarded for its expansive views as it is for its seafood entrees and curated wine list (which boasts excellent BC wineries, such as Burrowing Owl and Painted Rock Estate).
The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant: Situated under the Granville Street Bridge, Sandbar offers a carte du jour featuring spectacular rustic food, with a strong focus on sustainable seafood. The third-floor heated patio, open year-round, is perhaps the most sought-after space in the restaurant.
Glowbal: The flagship restaurant in the Glowbal Restaurant Group features a multi-sensory experience to go along with its hand-crafted cocktails and happy-hour menu. The 400-seat stunner serves up cult classics such as pan-seared Brussels sprouts and signature meatballs. Happy hour is a great way to bring locals into restaurants.
COVID-19 Note: I felt safe in all the restaurants I visited as each adhered to strict measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus and followed public health protocols.
Explore Granville Island Public Market
A short boat ride from downtown Vancouver on the rainbow-coloured Aquabus False Creek is one of the easiest, fastest and convenient ways to get in and out of Vancouver’s historic Granville Island. The Aquabus is a fantastic way to experience the spectacular waterfront scenery.
During these unprecedented times, you can rest assured that it is also safe. The company has put in place several initiatives to keep its customers safe, such as reduced capacity from 30 passengers to six or a maximum of 12 passengers (if they are family). They also offer complimentary masks, sanitary wet wipes, and hand sanitizer and each vessel is disinfected every hour.
Our city’s most famous food market is both a locals’ favourite and a huge draw for visitors. Long known as a gastronomy destination, Granville Island Public Market acts as a hub of activity, while being one of the city’s most important cultural districts with theatres, artisan workshops, and craft studios. This is a great place to explore Vancouver’s foodie scene, whether you take a tour or stroll on your own, you’ll uncover product markets, options to dine by the water, and unique shopping experiences.
Two years ago, four of Vancouver’s most celebrated chefs founded Popina Canteen — housed in brightly coloured repurposed shipping containers. This waterfront gourmet counter-service eatery features burgers, sandwiches, and more.
At the entrance of the island, right under the Granville Street Bridge is a French-inspired café with west-coast flair. Part of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA), Blue Hat Bakery/Café is a gastronomic treat because the carte du jour is inspired by a team of award-winning, globally experienced pastry chefs. While you bask in its waterfront vistas, enjoy any of its sandwiches, daily soups, bowls, salads, or ever-changing entrees.
Certainly, the pandemic has changed our lives in lasting ways. Amid all the gloom, there are also wonderful opportunities to reconnect to the place in which you live. For me, exploring Vancouver anew has been a very good thing.
MORE ABOUT EXPLORING VANCOUVER
Where to Stay: At Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, guests unwind in cozy rooms outfitted with plush beds, pillow-top mattresses, and fine linens and duvets. Location: 900 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC (see map below). Reservations: Visit the website or call toll free at 1-800-257-7544 (Canada and U.S.) Rooms Rate specials include 25% off overnight accommodation, free parking for one vehicle, room upgrade to next category, check-out of 5 pm and pets stay free.
COVID-19: Protocol includes free face masks to all guests and is a requirement for all employees, a 48-hour “settling period” for occupied rooms after a guest’s departure before another use, and increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting especially high-touch points. Find out more by visiting www.allsafeandwell.com.