Later this week, we’ll celebrate our own independence and the establishment of our country as the United States of America. There will be fireworks and cookouts and, for the fortunate among us, a four-day weekend. July 1 is when our neighbors to the north celebrate Canada Day, marking the unification of different British colonies into the Dominion of Canada. We thought we’d mark the occasion by praising some of our favorite spots in the Great White North.
A spectacular emerald color thanks to glacial and rock runoff, Lake Louise in Alberta is a picture-perfect sight to behold. You could spend hours just gazing from the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. At almost 6,000 feet of elevation with mountains and trails all around, it’s an outdoorsman’s paradise year-round. In winter, there’s world-class skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, dog-sledding and sleigh rides. In summer, there’s canoeing, hiking and horseback riding, plus the ski gondolas remain in operation to whisk visitors over alpine meadows and babbling brooks.
The host city for the 2010 Winter Olympics serves as a launching point for cruises to Alaska and for the Rocky Mountaineer, one of the great train rides in the world. Nearby Whistler is a world-class ski destination. With all that going for it, Vancouver wouldn’t need much more to be considered a great city. But Vancouver has a lot more going on. The 1,000-acre Stanley Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world and has views for miles. Granville Island’s food scene has the best from all the cultures that have come to call this international city home.
This Manitoba town is the Polar Bear Capital of the World and is also a great spot to see beluga whales and is a birder’s dream. If you’re lucky, you can even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Polar bear tours like the ones offered by Natural Habitat Adventures put you in the center of the action, visiting a den and watching the bears go about their daily routine from the comfort of the Polar Rover. There’s also ample opportunity to meet with First Nations cultures on the western shore of Hudson Bay and see an older way of life firsthand.
About as close to Europe as you can get without crossing the Atlantic, the French Canadian province features two great cities in Montreal and Quebec City, separated by 160 miles of the St. Lawrence River. The old cities call to mind the charms of Paris, and in between is Trois-Rivieres, one of the first European settlements in North America. There are few sites as striking as Quebec City during the “blue hour” when evening sets in or dawn is on its way and the indirect sunlight makes the sky a dreamy shade of dark blue.
Canada’s biggest city is a melting pot of cultures and sits just across Lake Ontario from Niagara Falls and Buffalo. At more than 1,800 feet, the CN Tower is the tallest free standing structure in the Western Hemisphere and offers panoramic views of the city and surrounding landscape. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can take a stroll on the EdgeWalk atop the 36 Restaurant. For a dose of culture, head over to the Royal Ontario Museum with its mix of Romanesque and modern styles. Sports fans can get their fix at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Train travel hearkens back to a romantic bygone era. While there are certainly faster ways to get from one place to another, riding the rails really delivers on showcasing the natural beauty of a destination. In lieu of flying from major city to major city, trains can show travelers how urban and rural areas fit together to form a country. Part of your perfect vacation could be devoting some time to just staring out the window and daydreaming. Here are few of our favorite trains and itineraries for it.
Running through British Columbia and Alberta, Rocky Mountaineer takes passengers on a journey through Western Canada. The cities of Vancouver and Calgary mingle with gorgeous mountain scenery, including national parks such as Jasper and Lake Louise. The view from the Virtuoso-preferred Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is iconic. If you want to do some exploring on your own, Rocky Mountaineer has the option of combining rail and car rental. The season runs from mid-April to mid-October. Pro tip: The last month features fall foliage at the lower elevations and snow higher up.
The Blue Train
The 994 miles through South Africa between Cape Town and Pretoria cover some beautiful territory. The Blue Train crosses it in style, with private suites for the overnight journey. The dining is fine, the lounges are elegant, the sights of mountains are vineyards rolling by are spectacular. Going southbound, you’ll stop in the mining town of Kimberly. Northbound travelers see the Victorian buildings of Matjiesfontein. With the departure times of 8:30 a.m. and arrivals at 3 p.m. the next day, The Blue Train is a great addition to safaris.
Belmond has seven trains crisscrossing Europe, Peru, and Southeast Asia. They pull into stations at such diverse outposts as London, Machu Picchu, Kuala Lumpur and the Scottish Highlands. (Not all on the same ride, of course.) Some journeys feature comfortable overnight quarters, while others are tailored to allow overnight stays at some of Belmond’s 35 worldwide hotels. The Royal Scotsman and Andean Explorer even have spas onboard to help you unwind even more.
The Swiss Alps
The roof of Europe has awe-inspiring views, and a train window is a terrific vantage point. The Gornergrat train whisks passengers from Zermatt to 10,000 feet of elevation in just over half an hour, opening up a dramatic view of the Matterhorn. The cogwheel train has been running since 1898 and operates every day of the year. Climbing through orchards and vineyards on its way up to mountain passes, the Bernina Express makes its way across more than 50 bridges and through almost 200 tunnels. No wonder parts of the route have UNESCO World Heritage status. Featuring the St. Moritz, Zermatt, the Rhine Gorge and the Oberalp Pass, a ride on the Glacier Express is a full day of feasting for the eyes and palate, with meals prepared fresh onboard.
The Ghan and Indian Pacific
The Ghan runs north-south nearly 2,000 up Australia’s spine, while the Indian Pacific traverses 2,700 miles between Sydney and Perth on the east-west axis through the southern part of the continent. Each journey is a three-night affair, with off-train excursions included in packages. Get to know the Outback on the Ghan train, and consider upgrading to a fixed-wing flight over Uluru/Ayers Rock. From Adelaide on the southern end, you can easily reach the Barossa Valley wine region or the unique wildlife of Kangaroo Island. The Indian Pacific offers Barossa Valley and the Blue Mountains excursions. Gourmet meals and premium wines await in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant car.
Perhaps you’re traveling for business and trying to squeeze in a pleasure trip. Maybe you won’t be back to that part of the world in a while. Possibly you can only get away for a few days. Or you just want a few more days to relax before you head back to work. Whatever the reason, you can explore these destinations in less than a week, either on their own or as part of a longer trip.
Channel Islands, California
Off the coast from Los Angeles, this archipelago is home to a national park and the resort island of Santa Catalina. More than a million visitors arrive on Catalina annually, doing boat tours, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving and enjoying the beach or a nice wine mixer. Five of the chain’s eight islands form Channel Islands National Park. Lindblad Expeditions offers five-day/four-night itineraries out of L.A. on its Base Camp Channel Islands program, which combines wildness and wellness. Mornings begin with yoga or another exercise, and afternoons feature hiking or biking with sightings of rare flora and fauna all along the way.
Fogo Island, Canada
In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, northeast of New England, Fogo Island makes for a short getaway from the East Coast. Virtuoso-preferred Fogo Island Inn has summer promotions to help you take advantage of the longer, warmer days. For minimum stays of only three nights, the inn is offering workshops with multidisciplinary artist Bruce Pashak with its An Artful Summer or excursions with a naturalist guide in its Flora & Fauna Encounters package. Either shows you the wilds of “an island, off an island, at one of the four corners of the Earth” without spending all your vacation days.
About 1,000 miles west of Lisbon in the middle of the Atlantic, these islands weren’t known to the Portuguese until the 14th century. Mark Twain detailed his 19th-century visit in The Innocents Abroad. Now, they’re a place to stop over for a few days on either end of a trip to Europe, or a long weekend from the East Coast. Each of the nine main islands has a different claim to fame, but there’s an abundant supply of activities out of doors and on the water. Ponta Delgada is the capital, largest municipality and home of the main commercial airport for the Azores. It’s also home to a lively culinary scene.
It’s a long way to New Zealand and Australia. Maybe those are on your bucket list and you’re not going to make it back to that area of the world again. Or maybe you’ve sat through that interminable flight over the Pacific one too many times and need to break up the travel. Either way, these islands in the South Pacific make for romantic stopovers to help you relax before an action-packed itinerary Down Under. On the way home, a couple of days on the beach or lagoon can help you ease into getting over that jet lag or stave off the return to real life. In a pinch, Hawaii isn’t bad, either
Fly Emirates for your safari, and you can plan a stopover in the ultra-posh, oil-rich city. Where else can you go to the Louvre and the beach and ski indoors? Emirates provides a meet & greet service, a welcome pack, hotel accommodations and airport transfers. Check out a polo match, a great Friday brunch or hit the waterpark at Atlantis The Palm. Spend a day or two, then head out to one of 150 destinations from there.