Ultimate Canada: A journey from east to west

A train ride across Canada, with its vast open plains and pristine national parks, is a great way to cover a lot of ground in one trip. Canadian Sky expert, Holly, shares her experiences.Friday, 1 November 2019

Train crosses Canada's pristine landscape.
Train crosses Canada's pristine landscape.
photo by Canadian Sky

Canada is big. Big skies, big parks, big mountains. But from idyllic forests and giant ice fields to cosmopolitan cities, it’s possible to pack a significant portion of the country into one trip. Cue Canada’s cross-country trains, steaming east to west, from the glossy pockets of Toronto to the hubbub of Vancouver, passing jaw-dropping scenery in between. For the ultimate two-week trip, kick things off in Canada’s cultural enclave, Toronto. Potter around for an afternoon before heading to the thunderous and unforgettable Niagara Falls. From there, hop aboard VIA Rail’s The Canadian, a handsome train connecting Toronto and Vancouver with refined dining, classic interiors and unflappable service. You’ll sail through the rugged Canadian Shield, stopping in Winnipeg, and wake to the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains. A full day in Jasper will reveal glassy lakes, meadows and ice-blue glaciers and, as you depart, the scenery becomes even more impressive. The thrilling Icefields Parkways give way to Lake Louise and Banff National Park. Finally, climb aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, on route to the Pacific Coast, riding through cowboy country before disembarking in buzzing Vancouver.

We ask Canadian Sky expert, Holly, about her experiences crossing Canada by rail.

Bear cubs in Banff National Park.
Bear cubs in Banff National Park.

What was your favourite memory from the trip?
he best part of the 14-day trip was spending two days travelling through the Rockies. The food, the company, the views around every corner — it was outstanding. Sitting on the outside vestibule (viewing platform) for fresh air and photo-taking was a spectacular experience.

What is Canada’s standout city for you?
I really loved Vancouver, it has a bit of everything. This city buzzes with life, yet nature is right on its doorstep and it’s surrounded by water. Walk along the sea wall from Canada Place to Stanley Park and you can gaze over the bay to the mountains, spotting bobbing floatplanes landing on the water and boats gliding across the waves. Also, make sure to stop for lunch at the Lift Bar Grill and if the sun’s shining, nab a table outside — it has a really varied menu and is a popular spot for cocktails. For dinner, head to Miku, a Japanese restaurant next to the Fairmont Waterfront, for sushi and seafood, and views over the harbour.

Can you recommend an off-radar destination to visit?
Niagara on the Lake, a quaint, historic town filled with wine-tasting rooms, cute cafes and independent boutiques. Try Wine Country Vintners, a tasting room where you can sip three ice wines for C$10 (£6.15) or three table wines for C$8 (£4.90). There’s also the sweet Just Christmas shop, which sells festive decorations all year round. If you’re looking for a space with a cheap and cheerful menu and a sedate atmosphere, The Gate House restaurant, hidden down a side road, is well worth popping into. But for a refined vibe with modestly priced drinks, head to the Prince of Wales Hotel’s Noble Restaurant; the traditional afternoon tea is excellent.

Tell me about something unexpected that happened to you.
Most people hope to see bears in Canada, but sightings are never guaranteed. Luck was on our side, however, and we spotted one in Banff National Park in May. He was obviously hungry after a long hibernation and was so close to the road; normally you wouldn’t find one there. It was amazing to stare at a such a huge, beautiful creature out in the wild.

Did you meet anyone on your travels who made a particularly big impression on you?
Onboard both VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer, the Train Customer Service Hosts are wonderful. They have big personalities, excellent knowledge and a great sense of humour, which really adds to the experience. Ted, Deanne and Craig were our hosts aboard the Rocky Mountaineer and one fact I’ll always remember is how to survive if you encounter a bear on a visit to Canada: never run, but act crazy for black bears and play dead for grizzlies.

Visit canadiansky.co.uk for more

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