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Vancouver offers scenic, culinary and cultural delights

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Situated on Canada’s British Columbia coast, the city of Vancouver is consistently voted as one of the best places in the world to live. Vancouverites enjoy a year-round temperate climate, with snow skiing only 20 minutes from downtown and sailing, windsurfing or swimming just out the front door.


Backed by the snow-capped Coastal Range and warmed by Japanese ocean currents, Vancouver was placed firmly on the map when it hosted the World Expo in 1986. Now, along with Whistler/Blackcomb Ski Resort, Vancouver is preparing to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The energy and excitement is building as fast as the Olympic venues are being put into place and becoming part of Vancouver’s long-term vision.


After arriving at Vancouver’s YVR International Airport, one immediately steps into a Northwest rain forest complete with bird sounds, waterfalls and Aboriginal art. And all this is before Customs and Immigration. YVR’s newest U.S. arrivals terminal features pay-per-use lounges, including napping stations and showers, and a rapid transit system called the Canada Line will be able to whisk passengers from the airport to downtown Vancouver within minutes. From downtown, travelers will be able to check their bags and receive their boarding passes for the worry-free, 25-minute ride to the airport, or connect with the TransLink system to other destinations.


Vancouver’s cruise business is booming, especially from the Port of Vancouver/. Named the most passenger-friendly cruise port in North America by London-based Berlitz Travel Publishing a few years ago, Vancouver received top marks for user-friendliness and luggage handling. Many cruise passengers are also discovering that Vancouver offers much to see and are booking pre- and post-cruise stays in order to explore the city and other parts of British Columbia.


Vancouver has experienced a room boom as well. The Kor Hotel Group’s first Canadian property, the Loden Hotel, located at Melville and Bute streets in downtown Vancouver, opened in 2007. The 130-room luxury boutique hotel features a fitness center, spa, restaurant, 3,500 square feet of meeting space and a 16-seat boardroom. Guest rooms feature 42-inch flat-panel TVs, DVD players, iPod docking stations, cordless speakerphones and high-speed wireless Internet access.


Forget Hollywood for stargazing. Vancouver’s movie business has made it Canada’s Hollywood North, and you are likely to see your favorite stars at some of the following hotspots: the Opus Hotel, the Metropolitan Hotel, Sutton Place Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel and Pan Pacific Hotel. As for restaurants and watering holes, there are major celebrity sightings at the Gotham Steakhouse, Bacchus Lounge, Gerard Lounge, the Opus Bar, Cin Cin, Blue Water Cafe, Diva at the Met, Tojo’s, Lumiere and Feenie’s.


Among the stars of the restaurant scene is the Salt Tasting Room, in Gastown’s historic Blood Alley, specializing in artisan cheese, small-batch cured meats and great wines. Salt’s goal is to source small suppliers and do business with them directly.


“Fuel from the Earth. Fuel for the soul” is the credo at Fuel Restaurant, which dishes up the finest food from local farmers and purveyors in an elegant kitchen-party atmosphere.


Those interested in food should learn about Edible BC, which provides the food-minded traveler with unique and personalized culinary experiences. Services can be as simple as an exclusive reservation in a top restaurant or as elaborate as a multiday culinary-focused holiday. Travelers can visit bistros, restaurants, farmers’ markets, wineries, cheese shops and even street vendors that celebrate the best of food and wine from the region.


Serious gourmands also should consider an experience with Chef & Chauffeur Tours. These programs begin when guests step into a chauffeured luxury SUV and settle back for some of Vancouver’s best breakfast treats while a guide maps the day’s adventures in sampling and sipping.


Vancouver is host to numerous festivals and events throughout the year, with big-name talents giving it their best. Sonny Rollins, Sting, the Rolling Stones, Pavarotti and many others have graced Vancouver venues. Summertime sizzles with jazz and folk concerts, comedy and dance festivals, dragon-boat racing and Bard on the Beach, a contemporary take on Shakespeare. The four-night Celebration of Light is an international fireworks competition that sets the summer skies ablaze with color, and Vancouver’s Gay Pride Parade is world renowned.


Many visitors to Vancouver may want to know more about the First Nations or Aboriginal people and their time-honored cultures. Through Aboriginal Tourism, one can book canoe or kayak tours; attend traditional festivals and ceremonies; sample ancestral cuisine, such as buffalo, elk or sockeye salmon; and sleep in a traditional teepee or long house. Aboriginal guides lead excursions through some of the most scenic parts of B.C., combining active adventures with visits to modern and ancient village sites and providing interpretation of the surrounding nature and wildlife as it relates to their culture.


For a great day trip or extended stay at Whistler/Blackcomb Ski Resort, hop onboard the Whistler Mountaineer Train. As dome-car passengers enjoy a delicious hot breakfast, the train slowly hugs the coastline, passing along some of Canada’s most pricey real estate, spectacular waterfalls and snow-capped peaks. The train also features a wonderful open-air car from 1914, one of only three in existence and perfect for photo buffs. Day-trippers enjoy high tea on the afternoon return trip.


Those who stay overnight at Whistler can swing through the treetops with Ziptrek Eco Tours, enjoy a whitewater rafting experience, test their skills on a mountain bike, play a round of golf or just relax at one of the many spas.


Many passengers opt for a pre-cruise or post-cruise escape with Whistler Mountaineer or extend their train experience onboard a luxury train tour on the Rocky Mountaineer, which explores the Fraser Discovery Route, the Yellowhead Route and the Kicking Horse Route.


If you want to visit nearby Victoria’s famous Butchart Gardens or go whale watching, board a Prince of Whales boat for a whales-and-garden tour. Passengers depart Vancouver Harbor and cross the Straight of Georgia to Vancouver Island, watching for whales and wildlife with the guidance of an onboard naturalist. They can spend the afternoon strolling through the spectacular Butchart Gardens and return to Vancouver on B.C. Ferries.


For more on Vancouver, visit .--Dannielle Hayes

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