x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

My Kind of Place: Why Vancouver exudes Canadian laid-back charm

Canada's most beautiful and relaxed city, located on the west coast, is still basking in a rosy glow after hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A view of Vancouver's mountain-backed skyline, seen from across English Bay. Bayne Stanley/First Light/Corbis
A view of Vancouver's mountain-backed skyline, seen from across English Bay. Bayne Stanley/First Light/Corbis

Why Vancouver?

Three words: forests, mountains, ocean. But only if you can get past the next three words: rain, rain and rain. Canada's most beautiful and relaxed city, located on the west coast, is still basking in a rosy glow after hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, which gave it a new momentum despite the global downturn. New hotels and public artworks abound, and an expanded rapid transit link to the smartly designed Vancouver International Airport has made the trip into the city that much easier. You can't really say you've been to Canada unless you've been to Vancouver. There's just no other city like it. But I'm a little biased: it's my hometown.

A comfortable bed

The Fairmont chain has Vancouver covered, with four hotels, including the landmark Hotel Vancouver on West Georgia Street and the newer waterfront Pacific Rim hotel in Canada Place (www.fairmont.com; 001 506 863 6310; double rooms cost from around C$279 [Dh1,000] a night).

For something that is less expensive yet still stylish and centrally located, try the well-reviewed Loden boutique hotel in Coal Harbour (www.theloden.com; 001 604 669 5060; double rooms cost from C$199 [Dh736] a night).

Find your feet

Vancouver is a city of neighbourhoods, separated by various waterways and, in many cases, one-way streets, which makes getting around a bit of a challenge. If you're a power-walker, you can get around downtown by foot in a day, taking in the Olympic cauldron in Coal Harbour, the beachside English Bay, the Robson Street shopping strip (also home to the Vancouver Art Gallery), the trendy Yaletown, the historical Gastown and Canada's largest Chinatown.

Public transport between these areas is fairly easy to sort out, but less so for some over-the-bridge neighbourhoods that warrant a visit, if you have time, for their mix of restaurants and boutiques: the urban hippie Kitsilano, the market of Granville Island, the posh upper Granville Street and the artsy Main Street.

Meet the locals

If not in a yoga studio or one of the city's many Starbucks, Vancouverites' favoured hangout is the great outdoors, whether they're rollerblading or jogging on the Stanley Park seawall or mountain biking, hiking or skiing on the nearby mountains. (You'll see why their uniform of choice is Gore-Tex, fleece and Lululemon yoga gear.) For a cheap, 15-minute trip across the water between downtown and North Vancouver, join commuters on the SeaBus, part of the public transport system.

Book a table

The funniest tourist question is "do you know of a good sushi restaurant?" There are sushi restaurants everywhere, sometimes several of them in one block, where the standard for California rolls is real fresh crab. If you must have the best, the name you'll hear the most is Tojo's (1133 West Broadway, 001 604 872 8050). Izakaya, Japanese tapas, is also popular, and the local leader for that is Guu (several locations; www.guu-izakaya.com). Another local institution is Vij's (1480 West 11th Avenue; 001 604 736 6664), which doesn't take reservations but serves new Indian cuisine that's worth the line-up.

For everyday dining, the Cactus Club Cafe, headed up by celebrity chef Rob Feenie, has several locations, but the new one on English Bay has a magnificent water view.

For cheap eats, you've got to try a pizza slice at the Flying Wedge or a Legendary Burger at the White Spot. Both are favourites with several locations, but also have branches at the airport. Also, Tacofino has earned raves for its Mexican, including its Baja fish tacos (and I'm not just saying this because my cousin's behind it; go to tacofino.com for taco truck locations or visit their new hipster digs at 2327 East Hastings Street; 001 604 253 TACO).

Shopper's paradise

Robson Street is your best bet for big-name stores, including the Vancouver-founded chains Lululemon (for yoga gear) and Artizia (for clothing), but for local designers' boutiques and bistros, head to Gastown or Main Street. My personal fashion favourites are Mandula in Gastown (206 Carrall Street) for deconstructed clothes designed by local designer Hajnalka Mandula, and gravitypope at 2205 West Fourth Avenue, for a wide range of shoes.

What to avoid

If you want to make a trip to the mountains, it's hard to avoid the Lions Gate Bridge that runs through the heart of Stanley Park, but be warned: not a day goes by where someone doesn't blame their tardiness on an accident or traffic jam on the three-lane bridge.

Don't miss

English Bay has always been one of my favourite spots for its sweeping view of the North Shore, but the new "A-mazing Laughter" statues by Chinese artist Yue Minjun, at the corner of Davie and Denman streets, have made it even more of a destination. The infectious broad smiles of the 12 giant, bronze men won over so many photo-snapping fans when they were on loan during the Olympics that the artist decided they should stay, with the help of a C$1.5 million donation by Lululemon's owner Chip Wilson.

Another local personality, the author Douglas Coupland, is behind another new set of bronze statues in front of BC Place stadium that are worth a look: he designed them to memorialise Terry Fox, the local boy-turned-Canadian hero who set out to run across Canada with an artificial leg and raised millions for cancer research before his death cut his journey short.

Go there

A return flight on Emirates (www.emirates.com) to Seattle, with a connection to Vancouver, takes about 15 hours and costs from Dh7,910 including taxes.