- Written by Ellen Percival, Photo: Calgary's Child Magazine/Ellen Percival
We’ve been waiting all year for it – summer – time for barbeques, bathing suits, lazy days and long nights with your family. Summer isn’t just for kids. If yours are off to camp this summer, or you have grandparents that want some family time with your little ones, this might be the perfect time to recharge your romantic relationship.
Though Alberta has many wonderful places to visit, British Columbia is a great choice and is only an hour away by plane. A change of scenery is good for the soul, so here are three different options for a romantic getaway:
Closest to Calgary is the beautiful city of Vancouver, where you can enjoy world class shopping, gourmet dining, live entertainment and theatre, sporting events, outdoor adventures and spectacular sights and attractions – it's all waiting for you here.
For our Vancouver weekend, we stayed at the beautiful Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. One of four properties under the Fairmont banner in Vancouver, the hotel has a stunning harbour, Stanley Park and North Shore mountain views and a central downtown Vancouver location. This hotel is decidedly upscale and offers their visitors relaxed luxury – they deliver this and more. The room we stayed in was 19 stories up with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the harbour. The room offered a birds-eye look at the city, with an almost panoramic view. Planes, cruise ships and freighters are on the move by day and the reflections of downtown and the north shore light up the water at night. We found the easiest and best way to explore downtown Vancouver was touring with the Hop on, Hop off Big Bus Tour. With a one- or two-day pass, you get access to unlimited hop-on hop-off bus service within a route around Vancouver’s not-to-miss neighborhoods and attractions.
The tour takes you through Stanley Park, Yaletown, Chinatown, Gastown and a variety of other locations. With 20 stops along the route, the bus gives you the freedom to discover Vancouver on your schedule. If you want to do some shopping while on the tour, Vancouver has you covered. Most people have heard of wonderful shopping on Robson and at Granville Island Market, but there are other areas that the insiders go to, including the Asian Street Market.
If you’ve already seen and done everything you want to in Vancouver, consider renting a car and hitting the open road to visit some of Vancouver’s surrounding areas. When in the Vancouver area, we never miss an opportunity to visit Steveston Village. Steveston, located in the southwest corner of Richmond, is an historic fishing town filled with unique boutiques, gift shops and restaurants. You can’t miss eating fish and chips on the dock at Pajo’s on the Wharf, a definite west coast must-do experience! Try driving the new highway to Squamish, a beautiful drive with stunning ocean views.
Vancouver is a unique urban getaway, giving couples the chance to recharge, reconnect and enjoy exploring this stunning coastal city.
Escape to Beautiful Victoria
Just across the water from Vancouver is British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria. For an especially glamorous getaway, consider staying at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. It’s an experience unto itself with stunning décor, afternoon teas in the Tea Lobby and close proximity to the inner harbour. As to be expected, the Empress Hotel has beautiful grounds, the rooms are lovely and the attentive hotel staff is on call to assist you day and night. Located in the hotel is the richly appointed Bengal Lounge, drawing inspiration from Queen Victoria's role as the Empress of India. This colonial-style lounge overlooks the hotel’s beautiful gardens, offering a delicious curry lunch and dinner buffet as well as an impressive international à la carte menu. We couldn’t miss trying the buffet, and we’re glad we did!
One of the nicest things about Victoria is the ability to walk anywhere that you might want to visit. A quick shuttle from the airport will get you to the hotel, and from that point on, all you need is a comfy pair of shoes to get around the inner harbour. In the evening, the boardwalk around the harbour fills with artisans and entertainers; it’s perfect for an evening stroll. You can also explore by sea; leaving every 15 minutes through the summer months, the Victoria Harbour Ferry will take you for a 14 kilometre mini-cruise around the harbour visiting 17 stops along the way. You’re welcome to hop off at any of the stops, or enjoy the entire tour. We recommend bringing a light raincoat or windbreaker, as it can get chilly on the water.
Some of our other not-to-miss experiences include visits to the quaint Village of Oak Bay (don’t miss the Penny Farthing Pub!), shopping at Murchies Tea & Coffee for unique and exotic blends, and eating at Barb’s floating restaurant located at Fisherman’s wharf for the best fish and chips around. Make sure to visit Fan Tan Alley in the heart of Canada's oldest Chinatown. At only five feet wide and three stories tall, this unique alley has remained almost unchanged since Chinatown's earliest times. High brick walls with a variety of colorful signs invite visitors to browse around in welcoming little shops; you can even buy eggrolls from the nearby restaurant’s back door.
The Empress’s kitchen staff packed us a delicious gourmet picnic lunch and we checked out one of the favorite local picnic places, Beacon Hill Park (see sidebar). If walking won’t get you where you want to go, why not rent a Vespa and take your picnic farther afield?
Victoria is picturesque and romantic, and a self-guided tour or scenic drive in any direction is a wonderful way to experience the coastline and the countryside. The capital of British Columbia is a charming getaway for couples looking for a mix of old-world charm and elegance with a side of west coast flavor.
Beacon Hill Park Beacon Hill Park is Victoria’s beloved park in the heart of the city and celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2007. The interior of the park has a Victorian landscape of manicured flowerbeds, graceful trees and lakes and bridged streams. Located in Beacon Hill Park is the world's third tallest, free-standing totem pole carved from a single log, a cricket pitch and a children’s petting zoo. *Note: Below Beacon Hill Park lies Dallas Road and Clover Point. This is a favorite area for locals. Kids can scramble along the rock beach and drift wood while the locals walk, run, kitesurf, windsurf, hang glide and fly kites above.
Get Away From it all Up Island!
If Vancouver and Victoria are a little too busy to be the relaxing getaway you crave, head up island. The Globe & Mail called the Vancouver Island tourism towns in the Parksville/Qualicum area “Canada’s Riviera.” Local islanders often call this charming collection of 12 communities "Oceanside." You’ll call it a fabulous grown-up getaway.
Located on Vancouver Island only 37 kilometres outside of Nanaimo, near the town of Parksville, Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre is a spectacular place to rejuvenate your relationship. The ocean-front location offers direct access to three kilometres of sandy seaside at Rathtrevor Beach and the warmest ocean swimming in Canada.
Tigh-Na-Mara features comfortable log cabins nestled in 22 acres of arbutus and fir forest, well-appointed spa bungalows that overlook the water, three restaurants and the award-winning Grotto Spa. The Grotto Spa offers guests (and couples) experiences that go beyond the expected. Treatments include body wraps, massages, scrubs, pedicures, manicures and facials, many with a focus on West Coast natural ingredients. Designed to emulate a natural stone grotto, the 2,500 square foot warm water Grotto Mineral Pool is infused with natural minerals and trace elements, which detoxify the body and rejuvenate the spirit and is the perfect finish to your spa treatment.
The spa itself is amazing, but the surroundings shouldn’t be missed. It was just a few stone steps from our bungalow down to the beach. When the tide is out, you can walk for miles – perfect for an early morning walk before breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, Tigh-Na-Mara’s Cedar Room restaurant features a brunch with a delicious mix of morning favorites, unique chef’s creations and a bountiful seafood bar. Located at the near-by Pacific Shores and Resort, The Landing West Coast Grill offers an unequalled dining experience. Inside, you’ll dine beside an amazing 27,000 litre salt water aquarium teeming with coastal water species and enjoy beautiful views of the grounds with the ocean beyond. The menu, featuring West Coast Cuisine with a Mediterranean flair, includes special two, three and four course meals that are offered daily. Some of the many choices include Satori Oysters on the Half Shell, Seafood Chowder, Wood Fire Rotisserie Chicken and Grand Marnier Crème Caramel. The multiple course meals are a great value, starting at only $24.
When in the Parksville area, we love to visit Englishman River Falls. Just a quick drive away from Tigh-Na-Mara and located on 97 hectares of old-growth and second-growth forest, the park has several hiking trails that meander through the trees and along the river. There are spectacular views of the falls from two bridges that cross the river – not for the faint of heart!
When you are done touring the grounds, it is well worth it to explore the surrounding communities. Nearby are Coombs, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, which are quaint destinations with lots of shopping and interesting places to visit.
Coombs is probably best known for the Coombs Country Market, known by locals as Goats on the Roof (for obvious reasons – you’ll see the residents munching the grass roof as you approach the building!). The Market is a potpourri of the coolest knick-knacks, wonderful baking, exotic foods and savoury goodies, and beautiful artisan crafts. The Coombs Fair (just outside Goats on the Roof) is dotted with heritage buildings, small gift and craft shops, antique stores, and the best used book store we’ve ever visited.
Parksville is well known for its miles of beaches. When the tide goes out, the ocean leaves behind hundreds of metres of firm golden sand, internationally acclaimed as the best building material for sandcastles. (Bring a shovel and pail – even grown-ups love a good sand castle!) Parksville is also home to the best mini-golf in the world (at least in my family’s eyes) at Paradise Fun Park. Qualicum Beach, 10 minutes from Parksville, features dozens of charming shops and restaurants.
Tigh-Na-Mara is a perfect escape for couples looking to reconnect with each other and with nature. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in this area, both shopping and nature at its finest – it just doesn’t get any better!
Five Romantic Things to Do in Vancouver, Provided by Tourism Vancouver
1. Have dinner at Grouse Mountain's (www.grousemountain.com) Observatory Restaurant, overlooking the twinkling lights of downtown Vancouver.
2. Laughter is the foundation of any relationship, so head for a night of improv comedy presented by the Vancouver TheatreSports League (www.vtsl.com).
3. Pull up a log and catch the best sunset in town at Stanley Park's Third Beach.
4. Paddle in Burnaby's Deer Lake Park together on a sunny summer afternoon.
5. Book a private horse-drawn carriage tour around Stanley Park, but make sure you stop and smell the roses at the rose garden (www.stanleyparktours.com).
Take It Outside – Picnics on the Go, Provided by Tourism Victoria
Visitors to Victoria, BC can partake in the popular local habit of impromptu outdoor picnics. With the mildest climate in Canada, a plethora of good restaurants, and plenty of waterfront spots and parks, eating outdoors is an essential part of any visit to the capital city.
For Asian food options, swing by Foo for spicy curries, Pad Thai or pot stickers served in classic white takeout boxes. For a more European flair, head up Fort Street for picnic supplies, stopping at the kitschy and well-loved Dutch Bakery for bread and treats, then onto Choux Choux Charcuterie for a selection of imported cheeses and house-cured meats.
When en route to Willow’s Beach, a popular spot for families, stop into Willow’s Galley Fish & Chips for traditional newspaper wrapped fare along with delicious soft-serve ice creams. Beacon Hill Park is Victoria’s beloved park in the heart of the city with plenty of greenspace, duck ponds and playgrounds.
A short walk from Beacon Hill is Pizzeria Prima Strada, serving authentic wood-fire pizzas made with locally sourced ingredients. Grab a blanket, a couple of pies and find the perfect perch on Beacon Hill to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
A Place to Renew Your Vows
Whether young, old, dating, engaged, married or star-crossed, the lovey dovey have their sights set on intimate Parksville and Qualicum Beach, a destination seemingly made-to-order for romance.
In the USA alone, almost 30 million Americans tied the knot between 1980 and 1990, marking an all-time matrimonial high. As these baby boomers approach their milestone 25th and 30th wedding anniversaries this year, vow renewals are on the upswing, and lovers are flocking back to the places where they first fell in love or got married.
Couples can sip a glass of wine by their own little fireplace, wander hand in hand on the sandy beaches, enjoy an artisan picnic with bounties from the area’s farms, markets and wineries, oooh and aaah over a couples massage, bond during a heart-pumping zipline adventure or spoon feed each other west coast cuisine in a first class restaurant. That’s amore!
When Ellen isn’t answering her hundreds of emails a day, she loves to cook, garden and spend time with her family – not necessarily in that order!