Repeatedly named as one of the most livable countries on the planet, Canada has much to attract visitors year after year. Whether your idea of the perfect holiday involves mountains and glaciers, cosmopolitan cities, wildlife experiences, quaint towns, secluded lakes and forests, iconic natural beauty, stunning views or historic landmarks, Canada has something for everyone.
If you’re looking for the next destination to visit, read on for some of the many reasons why Canada should be at the top of your travel bucket list.
The Northern Lights
One of the most amazing phenomena in the world to see first-hand is the dazzling Northern Lights. The spectacular Aurora Borealis, above the magnetic pole of the northern hemisphere, is actually created by collisions between electrically-charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and mix with gaseous particles.
The light displays appear in a variety of colors, with the most common being pale green and pink. The variations in hue are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding — for example, the common yellowish-green color is produced by oxygen molecules that are around 60 miles above Earth. In Canada’s Yukon region, as well as the Northwest Territories, travellers are bound to see the fascinating spectacle on visits between the months of December and April. In fact, in the Northwest Territories, the dancing lightshow is reported to occur on around 240 nights each year.
The Rocky Mountaineer
One of the best options for rail travel in the world would have to be the well-regarded Rocky Mountaineer. This train runs numerous journeys through beautiful Canadian scenery such as pine forests, glacier-fed lakes, towering snow-topped mountains, rushing waterfalls and narrow bridges running over gorges. To help passengers really take in the glory of the landscape, the Rocky Mountaineer trains feature glass windows on both sides and above in each carriage.
The wide open views are further enhanced by the regular commentary on board the train, plus the top-quality meals that are served. Along the way, passengers have the chance to spot grizzly bears and moose, as well as highlights like the UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites of Banff and Jasper, beautiful Lake Louise and Whistler, the home of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
The best time to see the majestic polar bears in Canada is between November or March. Encounters with these curious creatures are extremely rare, but in the region of Hudson Bay, near Churchill in Manitoba, it’s possible to catch sight of the great white beasts.
The world’s highest concentration of increasingly-rare polar bear dens is actually found in Hudson Bay, making Canada one of the prime countries to witness the beautiful creatures. Tours depart from Churchill and are conducted from tundra buggy vehicles that are designed to provide tourists with safe viewing access to the massive animals. The best time of year to book tickets from discount travel sites like Flights.com, is at the end of the year, when you have the chance to see cubs with their mothers.
One of the prettiest cities in Canada that tourists should explore is the predominantly French-style Quebec City, in Quebec. Here, French is the main language (although many people do speak English as well), and you’ll feel transported to Europe in a flash. Some of the city’s streets, in particular ones such as the Rue du Petit Champlain, seem very Parisian, or sometimes like a rural French village. The streets are full of pretty-as-a-picture flower boxes, cast-iron lanterns, and painted signs hanging from quaint building eaves. Don’t miss a visit to the spectacular Chateau Frontenac while in Quebec City. This iconic building is also a hotel, so provides a wonderfully historic location for an overnight stay.
Prince Edward Island
Another must-see destination in Canada is Prince Edward Island. This Eastern region of the country is most famous for providing the setting for the “Anne of Green Gables” books, but the area is also a top spot to enjoy art, jazz, and other music festivals, plus mountains of fresh seafood like oysters and lobster. In addition, no trip to P.E.I., as it is known locally, is complete without checking out the 27 vintage lighthouses that are scattered around the island’s coastline.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Flights.com who can help you find last minute flight options, or cheap flights to and from the world’s top destinations.
Photo Credit: Polar bears by Travel Manitoba, Northern Lights over mountain and lake by SurangaSL, Polar bear with her cubs by outdoorsman, Covehead Lighthouse in Stanhope, Prince Edward Island by Natalia Bratslavsky
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January is traditionally the month when we make resolutions that involve health and fitness – you know the ones. “This year I’ll lose that extra 5 kg that crept on over the last few years” or “This year I’ll train for a marathon to shake off the couch-potato that I’ve become”. The trouble is that such dramatic resolutions rarely last more than a few weeks while it’s the small actions that we take each and every day that have a lasting impact on health and fitness.
Hiking for health in 2015
While I’m always trying to shake off those extra pounds I find it more effective to incorporate walking and hiking into my everyday life, rather than make resolutions to go to the gym that I don’t have time to keep. I walk 30+ minutes to and from work, enjoy walks in the country when I’m away for the weekend with the family and incorporate walking and hiking into my holidays too. A major trek like the Tour de Mont Blanc can sometimes be just the challenge you need sometimes but equally a walk along Canal Saint Martin and the Promenade Plantee helped me see a side of Paris that was a little off the tourist trail.
I’m giving away a £200 Blacks voucher
To help you to include walking and hiking into your daily life and your travels, I’ve teamed up with Blacks, the outdoor clothing store, with a giveaway of a £200 voucher that can be spent on the outdoor clothing or equipment from the Blacks website. Check out the interview the Blacks did with me on their blog here. You’ll find information about how to enter the Blacks £200 voucher giveaway at the end of this article.
The clothing you need for hiking
To give you some ideas, here’s my pick from the Blacks range of some things that I’d love to have in my wardrobe for walking and hiking. Cosy down jackets are great for everyday walking, whether it’s a walk in the country or a walk to work, while fleeces and t-shirts made of the latest technical fabrics will keep you at just the right temperature while wicking away moisture. For hiking, I recommend trousers made of quick-dry fabric, especially those where the leg zips off to make shorts or capris.
The links for the items featured here are for your convenience but since many items are in the sale these may soon be replaced by other new season items: Patagonia woman’s down hooded jacket in red £155 (sale) | The North Face Masonic Polartex Fleece Hoody in orange£35 (sale) | Adidas superNova Tee in purple £19 | Berghaus lowscale zip-off walking trousers in grey £40 (sale) |Royal Robbins discovery Capri trousers in black £25 (sale) | Ronhill Aspiration contour capris £34
The boots you need for hiking
For footwear there’s no substitute for a comfortable pair of walking boots with proper support for those long-distance trails such as the Tour de Mont Blanc, but if you are doing some warm weather hiking as I did in Mallorca last September you may prefer one of the hybrid walking shoes that are cut lower on the ankle and are cooler to wear. For active trail running or more sporty use you might consider some of the trail shoes that have well supported soles with lightweight upper. On all types of walking boot or shoe, look out for those that have breatheable but waterproof uppers such as those made of Gore-tex. Read my tips on how to choose the perfect pair of walking boots.
Walking boots and shoes are not something I would recommend buying online unless you have first tried them in-store, since you may need to try on many different brands and styles to find the most comfortable for your feet but you will find these styles or similar in the Blacks stores: Merrell Daria mid GORE-TEX Boot £110 | Salomon Ellipse Gre-tex hiking shoe £100 | Merrell All-out Rush Trail Running Shoe
Of course the choice on how to spend your £200 Black’s voucher is yours, but I hope that you’ll be inspired to do some walking and hiking in 2015 on your travels. All the styles featured are available on the Blacks website at the time of publication although many are in the sale and other new season items will be available soon. Now to give you a bit of inspiration to get hiking in 2015, here are some ideas from the treks that I’ve done in the past few years;
The Tour de Mont Blanc
This circular trail around the Mont Blanc Massif takes you through France, Switzerland and Italy over 170km and is normally completed over 12 days. Be prepared for arduous ascents and descents of up to 2600M, long 8 hour days walking and staying in mountain refuges that can be quite basic. You will be rewarded, however with stunning Alpine views and an amazing sense of achievement. This is an arduous trek but one which can be broken up into more manageable chucks – I walked it with a friend in stages over 4 years, or you can look for a company like Macs Adventure that offer a cut down version. Read about my walk on the Tour de Mont Blanc here.
The Dry Stone route in Mallorca
Although better known as a beach holiday destination, the island of Mallorca has some outstanding walking and I was there in September walking the Dry Stone Route along the western coast of the island. From the artist’s village at Deia we walked within sight of the sea and at the coastal resort of Soller started our climb into the Tramuntana mountains, following the old pilgrim’s trail to the monastery of Lluc and on to Pollenca on the northern coast. Combined with some time in Palma this is an ideal trail for those who are looking for moderate walking with some cultural interest. Read about my walk on the dry stone route in Mallorca here.
Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path in Wales
Last spring I walked a section of the Pembrokeshire Coastal path in Wales with Macs Adventure ending up at St David’s, the UK’s smallest city. This part of the Welsh coast is rugged and wild with stunning clifftop views and hidden coves that you can only reach from the coastal path. If you can plan your visit from May to July I’d recommend the walks on Skomer Island during the Puffin nesting season when you can get very close to these colourful sea-birds as they hatch their chicks in burrows. Read about my walk on the Pembrokeshire coastal path here.
Walking and climbing in the Dolomites
Last September, I visited South Tyrol in Italy and was thrilled to climb my first Via Ferrata. These climbing routes (literally iron routes) have fixed cables that you are clipped to making it easy for anyone with the right equipment to climb them, although if you are a beginner I’d recommend hiring a guide. This part of the Dolomites is ideal for walking and hiking with many day hikes and long-distance trails and you’ll be pleased to know that this northern corner of Italy is also known for its gastronomy with no less than 19 Michelin star restaurants and numerous vineyards where you can taste the local wines! Read about climbing my First Via Ferrata here.
Blacks recently featured a Q & A with me on their blog about how I started blogging and some of my favourite travel and hiking destinations. Read the interview here.
How to Enter the Giveaway
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Terms and Conditions
- This giveaway is a prize draw/sweepstake
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The first part of our hike on the Dry Stone Route in Mallorca had taken us from the pretty artist’s village of Deia to the busy resort of Port de Soller and up into the Tramuntana mountain range. Read about Part 1 of the walk here. Reaching the Cuber reservoir we took the bus to the monastery at Lluc, since the Refugi de Tossals Verds where we’d hoped to stay was closed for rennovation. After a night in the simple monastery guest accommodation overlooking the front of the church, we decided to attend Sunday mass at 11 o’clock to hear the famous Blauet choir sing, since we would be spending two nights at the monastery and didn’t have to walk on anywhere that day.
Mass with El Blauets
The children of the choir school filed out to a packed church, wearing the bright blue robes that give the choir its name. As mass began a painted screen slid back to reveal the small statue of the Madonna known as La Moreneta or little one above the altar, wearing her crown. When mass was finished the screen closed and the statue turned around to face the opposite direction where she could be seen in the prayer chapel which is reached by the stairs running up beside the altar.
It was a lovely service with beautiful singing, only marred by those tourists who could not resist taking constant flash photography and a woman who even walked up and down the central aisle to video everything on her phone. One of the young girls from the choir appeared to be making her confirmation and had not one but two photographers taking photos constantly from every angle, even walking right up behind the altar to take close-ups of the choir. Being a Catholic I was quite horrified by the disrespectful attitude of some visitors who seemed to view the mass like a visit to the zoo and could not believe how patient and good humoured the priest was about it all!
After mass we set off along the GR221 to follow it in the opposite direction, the path that we would have come down had we stayed at the Refugi Tossal Verdes rather than skipping part of the route by bus. Not far from the monastery gates we picked up the familiar cobbled stone path from which the Dry Stone Route gets its name. There was a water collection point nearby fed by a spring from the mountains, where people were bringing huge plastic containers to fill up for their week’s drinking water.
Sitges and Ice pits in the woods
Passing through the holm oaks we passed a number of Sitges or circular, stone charcoal burning hearths. Until the 1920s the charcoal burners would live all summer in the woods in simple stone huts with branches and leaves for a roof and we passed quite a few on the walk. Another feature of the landscape were the deep snow pits lined with stones, which in the days before refrigeration, were filled with blocks of ice from the mountains packed down and covered with leaves to keep them from melting.
Views from the Puig d’en Galileu
We emerged from the woodland onto the side of the Puig d’en Galileu on a cobbled stone path with dry stone retaining walls which ziz zagged at a relatively gentle gradient up to the top of the mountain where there was a plateau just below a rocky crest. From here there were wonderful views across the valley, down towards the monastery at Lluc and across towards the coast and the cleft of the Torrent de Parais, a popular walking route along the gorge.
We stopped at the crest and sat on a boulder for a picnic lunch but soon the views were hidden by the cloud cover swirling in and covering the rocky peaks where the path would take us up over the pass. We decided that rather than climb further into the cloud, with the risk of losing our way, we would retrace our steps down into the valley again and returned by the way we had come.
The Museum at Lluc Monastery
We arrived back at Lluc monastery around 4pm, just in time to take a look around the interesting museum with old archaeological artefacts, some beautiful Mallorcan costumes and traditional furniture like the carved and canopied bedstead. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of paintings depicting scenes from Mallorcan life by the impressionistic artist Josep Coll Bardolet, a Spanish painter whose adoptive home was Valdemossa.
After breakfast the next day we took the opportunity to walk the path with the stations of the rosary within the monastery grounds, which took us up to a rocky pinacle with a huge iron cross overlooking the monastery. The pilgrim’s road took us out of the gates of Lluc monastery, through the fields and up to the Refuge of Son Amer, which like many of the Refugi along the Dry Stone Route, had been recently restored to encourage rural and walking tourism.
The path wound up through pine forest on the slopes of the Puig Ferner and despite the overcast weather this was the best part of the day as we walked amid the pines and past lime kilns and old stone enclosures. The bright green moss made cushions of the rocks and the path was soft with a covering of pine needles which gave off their scent when trodden underfoot. The air was quiet apart from the trill of birdsong and the distant whirr of traffic from the road down below.
Through the woods to Pollença
The way followed the Cami Vel de Lluc, the old pilgrim’s way which turned for a while into small tarmac road between fields with occasional houses. As we descended towards Pollença, the rain became steady and we entered a thick pine forest which sheltered us from the worst of it. The heavy woodland cover would have been refreshingly cool on a hot summer’s day but felt damp and eerie in the rain. It seemed as if we had entered a scene from the Hobbit, where the trees might come alive and turn on us at any moment.
The final stretch was along a river and then a busy road heading into Pollença, where we missed the smaller paths a few times and ended up walking beside the traffic which was both dangerous and unpleasant. Finally arriving in the central Placa of Pollença, we took shelter in a cafe with the tourists from the nearby beach resort, their sunshine holiday being rather spoiled by the rain.
Staying at Port de Pollença
In the cafe we received stone-faced glances from the staff and concluded that our boots and dripping rucksacks were not welcome, so after a coffee we took the bus into Port de Pollença where a much warmer welcome awaited us at the seafront hotel of Sis Pins. This was clearly a haven for the mid-life Brit abroad with plenty of older couples, a cheerful English receptionist and kettles in every room.
We spent the evening exploring the busy resort of Port de Pollença finding a pleasant Italian restaurant for dinner in the main square. Thankfully the sunshine had returned by the next morning and we took the bus back to Palma, leaving our rucksacks in the lockers at the Placa Espanya above the underground coach station.
Sightseeing in Palma
Since our flight was not until the evening, we wandered around the old quarter, looked in the shoe shops and came across an art museum, the Museo Fundacion Juan March. Housed in an elegant 18th century mansion along one of the main shopping street this was a real find, since it was not only free but housed a world class exhibition of modern painting and sculpture that included Picasso, Dali and Miro.
Next stop was La Seu, the cathedral of Santa Maria in Palma, which dominates the view from the sea and is the number one tourist hotspot. Of course we couldn’t miss it but before going in we walked all around the terrace overlooking the lake and seafront, noticing the horse-drawn carriages ready to take you around the town.
The cathedral is a huge and inspiring structure, which although medieval in origin has gorgeous Modernista influences that were added by Antonio Gaudi in the 19th century. I especially loved the more recent side chapel by contemporary Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló where the ceramic surface was covered with fish and other wriggling, writhing creatures.
After visiting that cathedral we wandered around the old streets near the cathedral, eating ice cream, photographing the two well-known Modernista houses of Can Rei and L’Aquilla and finally stopping for a drink in a leafy square.
Before long our short sightseeing tour of Palma was up and it was time to return to the Placa Espanya to pick up our bags and return to the airport. Our walking break had taken us from quiet mountain villages to busy coastal resorts, from the views of the Tramuntana mountains to the buzzing town squares packed with bars and restaurants and finally to the sophisticated island capital of Palma. Next time I’d love to go back with for a driving holiday to explore even more of the hidden charms of Mallorca away from the coast. For me those mountain paths and quiet villages feel like the real Mallorca.
If you’d like to walk the Dry Stone Route
If you plan to walk the GR221 Dry Stone Route I recommend the guide book that we used Trekking through Mallorca – GR221 The Dry Stone Route by Paddy Dillon published by Cicerone.
To get to Palma airport from the centre of Palma we took the airport bus No 1 which runs every 15 minutes from Placa d’Espana where the train and bus station are located. Cost around €3 one way.
Information on routes, timetables and costs of the excellent regular bus service throughout Mallorca, visit the www.tib.org Mallorca Transport website. We used the bus to get from Palma to Deia, from Cuber to Lluc and from Pollenca to Palma.
You can buy the rather uncomplimentary account of Mallorca “A Winter in Mallorca” written by George Sand about the winter she spent there with her lover, the composer Frederick Chopin.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey