Spas that raise the bar
Feel the serenity in a Canadian spa with a twist. The Wickaninnish Inn, at Vancouver Island’s Tofino (famous for winter storm-watching), boasts a destination spa. The forest-fringed Ancient Cedars Spa offers views out over the Pacific Ocean as it crashes onto rocks below. Those elements are incorporated into treatments: try an exfoliation that uses Vancouver Island seaweed or a facial with organic sea salt.
Echo Valley Ranch & Spa in Clinton, 230km north-east of Whistler, offers both European and Thai spa therapies in the heart of cowboy country. Saddle up for a horseback ride on the property, knowing there’s a solution to any sore muscles waiting back at the ranch.
In Alberta, the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs hotel (a drawcard in its own right) is home to the Willow Stream Spa that features a stunning mineral pool and waterfalls. Treatments incorporate ingredients such as organic lavender, rosehip tea, mint and pine.
Ste Anne’s, 130km north-east of Toronto, is a destination spa set on 160 hectares where guests can visit for the day or stay overnight. As well as enjoying spa treatments and group yoga and meditation classes, guests can help the caretaker muck out the stables and groom the horses.
Head to the edge
For just a few weeks each year, it’s possible to camp with polar bears under the midnight sun in the wild Arctic territory of Nunavut. Adventure company Black Feather sets up tents on the floe edge where shore-locked ice meets the open ocean. There, at the edge of the world, adventurers can see polar bears, beluga whales, wolves, seals and narwhals. It’s a seven-hour flight from Montreal or Ottawa to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island, followed by a 60km journey across the frozen sea in a traditional Inuit wooden sled pulled by snowmobile. To see more of Nunavut, board an expedition vessel to cruise the legendary Northwest Passage.
Paddlers are drawn to the Yukon’s incredible wilderness rivers. See evidence of the territory’s gold-rush past while paddling the Yukon River – landmarks include gold dredges, old cabins and steamer relics. The 320km stretch from Whitehorse to Carmacks is suitable for beginners; those who want to push on another 415km end up in Dawson City.
Serious paddlers will have their eye on the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. Highlights include Virginia Falls – nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls – a series of deep river canyons, white-water action and natural hot springs.
Experience extreme nature
Sometimes, all it takes to restore the soul is an awe-inspiring experience of nature. New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy fits the bill, with some 100 billion tonnes of seawater gushing in and out of the bay twice daily, creating the world’s highest tides. The best place to witness this tidal phenomenon is the Hopewell Rocks at Hopewell Cape. Walk out over the ocean floor and admire the flowerpot-shaped rocks sculpted over thousands of years.
Want to see icebergs up close? Visit the nearby Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador between late May and early June to see why it’s called the Iceberg Capital of the World. The magnificent 10,000-year-old floating chunks of ice travel down from the Arctic along a stretch of water known as Iceberg Alley along the province’s northern and eastern coasts.
Others may prefer to climb a mountain. Take your pick of trails through the Canadian Rockies – they range from easy hikes of a few kilometres that anyone can complete through to serious back-country trekking for more experienced hikers. Those who like their hikes to include a delicious treat along the way should head to Lake Louise to hike 3.5km up to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
Wilderness with luxury
Hunker down in a hide tucked within British Columbia’s moss-draped Great Bear Rainforest to watch bears fish for salmon while their cubs frolic in the shallows. There are several bear-watching expeditions a day from Great Bear Lodge, a remote floating lodge that’s reached via float plane from Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island.
The Pacific Yellowfin takes the concept of a floating wilderness lodge to a whole new level. Up to 12 people can charter the 1943 vessel to enjoy a culinary cruise around British Columbia’s Gulf Islands (between Vancouver and Victoria), nose around the fjords of Desolation Sound or venture into the Great Bear Rainforest. The boat carries a giant inflatable water slide, water trampoline, bikes, motorbikes, ocean kayaks and fishing gear.
At Clayoquot Wilderness Resort near Tofino on Vancouver Island, guests stay in one of 20 white prospector-style tents furnished with rugs, antique furniture, oil lamps and candles. Days are spent kayaking, horse-riding or hiking with a First Nations guide. There’s also an excursion to Hot Springs Cove’s geothermal pools.
Deep in the Charlevoix countryside north-east of Quebec City, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu looms spectacularly over the St Lawrence River. Head out snowmobiling or dog-sledding in winter; in summer there’s whale-watching action.
Try something a little out of the ordinary. On Galiano Island between Vancouver and Victoria, the Galiano Inn’s Madrona del Mar spa can slather you in a mix of British Columbian glacial clay mixed with organic hemp powder. The spa’s blueberry body wrap blends blueberries with fresh milk while its range of pedicures includes one with chocolate.
Vinotherapy uses wine-making residuals – such as the grape pips and pulp – in beauty treatments. Look to Canada’s wine-making regions to find spas specialising in these treatments. The 100 Fountain Spa at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario offers an 80-minute “purple feet” pedicure that includes a foot mask and exfoliation with local wine-based products (the menu also includes a green-tea pedicure). In British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region, Beyond Wrapture offers a massage with a lotion that combines red or white wine with grapeseed oil and shea butter. The day spa is found within Kelowna’s Coast Capri Hotel and also at Summerland Waterfront Resort, 15 minutes’ drive from Penticton.
Feel the need to salute the sun? Whistler is famous for adrenalin-pumping outdoor activities but yoga enthusiasts can also find a variety of classes on offer daily at Yogacara Studios. Feel free to drop in; there’s no need to BYO mat.
Go for a splash
Hit the waves. Tofino, on Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast, is one of the world’s top surf towns. Long Beach and Chesterman Beach, where waves break on gradual sandy shores, attract surfers of all levels. Those seeking more challenging waves head to Jordan River where the waves are consistently good in autumn and winter. Dedicated surfers can take a boat or floatplane to remote Nootka Island to surf its reef, beach and point breaks. On the Atlantic coast, Nova Scotia’s wintertime hurricane-season swell attracts hard-core surfers. In summer, camp steps away from the ocean at Prince Edward Island’s Cavendish campground.
For a freshwater adventure, pick from thousands of lakes and rivers across Canada where you can paddle a canoe. Timberwolf Tours operates five-day guided trips on Alberta’s glacier-fed Athabasca River. While paddling, keep watch for bears, moose, elk and beavers.
If your idea of holiday relaxation is soaking in warm water, the Rockies are home to three excellent hot springs. Banff Upper Hot Springs sit at 1585 metres above sea level – they are Canada’s highest hot springs. It’s possible to enjoy two hot springs in a day: Radium Hot Springs is 135km south-west of Banff. The hottest springs in the Rockies are Miette Hot Springs, almost 300km west of Edmonton in Jasper National Park. The water emerges from the mountain at 54 degrees Celsius – it’s cooled to 40 degrees Celsius as it enters the pool.
Walk on the wild side
The gothic-looking granite spires of the Bugaboos – tucked within the Purcell mountain range in British Columbia’s extreme east – have long attracted climbers who like a near-impossible challenge. Hikers of all abilities can also put themselves within view of these awe-inspiring peaks thanks to a heli-hiking tour. While it might sound like an extreme sport, heli-hiking actually takes the hard work out of rambling over the wildflower-studded mountains. Guests are whisked straight from a luxury lodge onto high-altitude meadows, peaks and rocky verges. It’s exhilarating stuff but the annual window for these high-flying summer adventures is just seven weeks.
The West Coast Trail is a 75km hike along Vancouver Island’s south-western shoreline. The trail was originally built to help rescue survivors of shipwrecks. The challenging trail takes hikers through bogs and old-growth forests, up and down ladders, past waterfalls and tidal pools, and over streams and beaches. The area is home to black bears, cougars, wolves and sea lions.
Those tackling Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail might see the resident moose that roam Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The Skyline Sunset Hike winds through bog and boreal forest before leading to a headland with dramatic views over the ocean where minke and pilot whales play.
Let Canada work its wonders
Interested in learning more about indigenous treatments? One of the most accessible experiences is available at Canada’s first Aboriginal arts hotel. Vancouver’s Skwachays Lodge includes a street-level fair-trade gallery as well as 18 rooms (each with a one-off look from an Aboriginal artist) on the top floors of the Edwardian-era building. Guests who want to learn more about indigenous traditions can book a purification ceremony in the sweat lodge on the rooftop garden. The sweat lodge keeper places heated rocks in the lodge to cleanse and purify the participant’s heart, soul and spirit. Guests can also book a smudging ceremony, in which cedar, sage and sweet grass are burned to purify the body and spirit.
Canada’s 3500-member Huron-Wendat community is the driving force behind Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations – a boutique hotel modelled on a traditional longhouse that’s located on Quebec City’s northern outskirts. The in-house spa offers a range of massage therapies and body treatments. Guests can also relax around a fire-pit, under a waterfall or in a relaxation tent strung with dreamcatchers.
Aboriginal traditions are also incorporated into the indigenous hot stone massage that’s offered at Riverstone Spa within Inn at the Forks – a boutique hotel in Winnipeg.
Put this on your bucket list
There’s just one chance a year to see the annual caribou migration in Nunavut. In early May, Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge on the frozen shores of Ennadai Lake runs a photographic safari to see the 35,000-strong herd as it migrates 500km north to calving grounds. Keep an eye out for the wolves, wolverines and bears that also track the herd. In between viewing the herd, try ice-fishing, cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing.
October and November are the best times to see the polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba. This is when the bears migrate from their summer feeding grounds back towards Hudson Bay where ice is starting to form. Traverse the arctic landscape with Frontiers North Adventures in a Tundra Buggy – curious male polar bears often come up to these vehicles for a closer look – or head out on a multi-day adventure via a mobile hotel that features open-deck areas, dining rooms and sleeping quarters.
The cosmic fireworks known as the Northern Lights can be seen at various times of the year. September is the warmest month for aurora viewing (with the added benefit of brilliant autumn foliage). The lights, however, are at their best and brightest from November through to January. Aurora-watchers can head to a warm prospector-style tent near Whitehorse to marvel at the colourful night sky. Northern Tales’ excursion returns visitors to their Whitehorse hotel in the wee hours.
On your bikes
Cyclists are spoilt for choice in a country as vast as Canada. Trails range from easy day rides through to multi-day adventures with hard climbs and wind-in-your-hair descents. Mountain-bikers flock to Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Its 70-plus trails range from gentle downhill cruises through to gnarly single-track with more twists and turns than a whodunit. In 2015, the park held free daily orientation sessions for new riders throughout the season (May-October). Wood Buffalo National Park, which sprawls over the Alberta/Northwest Territories border, includes moderate mountain-biking trails such as the 7.5km North Loop with views over sinkholes and Salt Pan Lake.
Southern British Columbia is home to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail – a route that takes advantage of an abandoned train line. The trail is about 600km but many cyclists just cover the most dramatic section – a high bridge that crosses Myra Canyon, north-east of Penticton.
Quebec’s 256km Blueberry Trail takes cyclists through the province’s pretty Lac Saint-Jean region. The trail travels past Pointe-Taillon National Park’s sandy lakeside beaches and, after a ferry crossing, cyclists can see fields of canola and blueberries, and picturesque barns.
Those who like a challenge can tackle Newfoundland and Labrador’s epic Viking Trail. This route takes cyclists to the otherworldly fjords of the World Heritage-listed Gros Morne National Park on Newfoundland’s west coast before continuing north to L’Anse aux Meadows – another World Heritage-listed site marking where Vikings landed.