The Best of Canada

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.

Lake Louise

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.

Vancouver

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.

Churchill

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.

Quebec

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.

Toronto

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.

Top Alpine Lakes

The onset of winter makes us want to curl up by a warm fire and stare out the window at a beautiful view. Of course, at these alpine lakes, there is plenty of outdoor activity all year-round as well. If you’re inclined to just relax with a hot beverage or get out and experience nature, these lakes make for perfect getaways.

Lake Lucerne

With a fjord landscape, mild year-round climate and the city of Lucerne on its shores, Lake Lucerne is a Swiss delight in all seasons. The almost 7,000-foot summit of Mt. Pilatus looms over the lake and plays a key role in the history and folklore of Switzerland. The 44-square-mile lake and its surroundings are a playground for the recreation-mad Swiss, with winter sports in the mountains and biking and cycling along the shore in other seasons.

Lake Tahoe

With clear water and a ring of mountains all around, Lake Tahoe is first and foremost a feast for the eyes. It has plenty to offer your other senses, too, serving as a playground for skiing and other winter sports during cold months and for parasailing and other water sports when the weather turns warm. Elevated hiking and biking trails offer spectacular views, and casinos on the Nevada side of the lake provided entertainment year-round.

Lake Louise

A spectacular emerald color thanks to glacial and rock runoff, Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, is a picture-perfect sight to behold. 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.

Lake Titicaca

In the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island near a mountain range aptly named The Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu stretches for 50 adrenaline-pumping miles. Parasailing, canyoneering, and bungee-jumping are a few of the favorite area pastimes, while the vineyards of Gibbston Valley offer respite after a hard day of adventure. Queenstown has the distinction of being both a lake town and a ski town, serving as a recreation capital.
Lake Wakatipu

In the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island near a mountain range aptly named The Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu stretches for 50 adrenaline-pumping miles. Parasailing, canyoneering, and bungee-jumping are a few of the favorite area pastimes, while the vineyards of Gibbston Valley offer respite after a hard day of adventure. Queenstown has the distinction of being both a lake town and a ski town, serving as a recreation capital.

Top Fall Foliage Trips in the U.S.

 

It’s been in the air — and in your Facebook timeline with all the posts about pumpkin spice — for weeks. But with the equinox coming Saturday, it will be official: It’s autumn. Soon, fall foliage will abound. Here are some of the best places in the country to go leafing.

 

New England & Canada

This is a classic, from Maine’s Acadia National Park to the Green Mountains of Vermont. Instead of sharing the highways with the thousands of others who had the same idea, consider a fall foliage cruise. You’ll visit ports such as Bar Harbor, Halifax, and Quebec City without having to fight traffic every step of the way and repacking every day, all the while being delivered into the heart of colorful, charming, picture-perfect towns.

 

The Ozarks

The colors come in toward the end of September and beginning of October, starting with blackgum and sweetgum trees, casting reds, yellows, purples and oranges. The peak of the season occurs about a month later, and in between, there are hickories projecting brilliant yellow leaves, sassafras in every color and more than 50 varieties of oak ranging from orange to deep red. On the drive through the rolling Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, you’re surrounded by color as far as the eye can see.

 

The Rockies

The aspens of Colorado have already begun to turn a striking golden yellow in higher elevations and will be peaking in a couple of weeks. Working their way down, the leaves will start to drop off the trees on higher slopes while they begin changing color at lower elevations, lasting until early November. Farther north in the Tetons and Yellowstone, orange, yellow and red will swarm the forests, making for a stark contrast against snowcapped slate-colored peaks. Aspens, cottonwoods, and maples combine for a dazzling array that’s hard to beat.

 

The Pacific Northwest

The length of the season depends on how much rain falls, but as long as they last, the fall colors are spectacular. Trails throughout Washington and Oregon erupt in beautiful, deep reds, oranges and yellows, including the Skyline Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, where bushes and shrubs shine in front of tall evergreens and the backdrop of the 14,410-foot Rainier. Silver Falls State Park in Oregon’s Willamette Valley sports colorful trees along a river teeming with spawning salmon and waterfalls galore.

 

The South

Though the summer lasts a little longer down south, there are plenty of places to spot brilliant leaves in perfect weather during the autumn. From the Natchez Parkway spanning Mississippi and Tennessee all the way down to Florida’s Three Rivers State Park near the Georgia border, there is brilliance on display. The Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina light up with dogwood, birch and many other trees changing color across a variety of elevations. Not to be missed is Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley National Park.

All autumn long, there are spectacular foliage trips right in your backyard.

Top Train Trips Around the World

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.

Rocky Mountaineer

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

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.

Top Short Getaways and Stopovers

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.

Azores, Portugal

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.

Fiji/Tahiti

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

Dubai


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.