As editors of Canadian Geographic Travel, we don’t just assign stories about travel; we are travellers. In 2018, we were proud to reintroduce ourselves to Canadians with a fresh look in print and, for the first time in our 12-year history, a dedicated website (welcome!).
In celebration of our milestone year and in hopes of inspiring your next adventure in Canada or abroad, we’ve compiled our personal favourite travel experiences from the past 12 months, plus a voyage we’re excited for in 2019.
Lyon and Brittany, France
“But you just got back from France!” my wife said when I told her in late October that I was headed there for a three-day work trip in early November. “Must be nice to be able to say, ‘Oh, I’m just off to FRANCE again — you know how it is.’”
I would never actually say that, of course. But I’ll confess that for a short time in the latter half of 2018, I felt like one of the jet set. In August, my wife and I had been in and around Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, to attend the wedding of friends.
Now here I was off to Brittany, home to charming small towns set on spectacular Atlantic coastlines, to hang out — sorry, work — and delve into la culture bretonne. Both experiences were travel highlights for me this year, and here’s why.
Lyon is a delight because of the food, but I also found it to be easily walkable, a joy to look at (the city is renowned for its murals and frescoes) and far more laidback than Paris. If you’re looking to explore beyond Lyon, I’d recommend Charolles, a town about a 90-minute drive northwest. We whiled away a few days wandering along the canals that cut through its narrow streets, but really seemed to spend most of our time eating variations of the famous local Charolais beef and drinking wine. As you do.
Brittany, meanwhile, was a revelation, with stops in the picture-perfect medieval town of Dinan, the very chilled-out seaside resort city of Dinard and the quietly gorgeous former fishing village of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer. The real highlights, though, were watching the 40th annual Route du Rhum sailing race from atop a 14th-century castle and spending a raucous evening in the company of a Jacques Cartier impersonator while eating crêpes and drinking Guadeloupean rum on a tall ship in Saint-Malo.
—Harry Wilson, editor, Canadian Geographic Travel
Stanley Mission, Sask.
Barry Roberts was skeptical about taking our small group of journalists further up the Churchill River. Even as we sat deliberating in two aluminum fishing boats, the colours of autumn in the boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan were beginning to vanish behind another scrim of snow. Roberts, a veteran fishing guide from Stanley Mission First Nation, had already taken us five kilometres downriver, past the iconic Holy Trinity Anglican Church — the oldest building in the province, built by Cree hands between 1854 and 1860 — to a rocky outcrop bearing several centuries-old pictographs.
Traditionally, when a young man of the community came of age, Roberts explained, he would go out and fast for four days and nights, then come to this rock to paint his vision. There’s the mythical thunderbird, generating lightning and thunder with each powerful wingbeat, and human figures inside a semi-circle with hands upraised — probably a sweat lodge ceremony. A third, which seems to show a man hunting a caribou with the aid of a gun and a dog, is the subject of some dispute. Some people think it was painted more recently; others say it was a vision of the future.
Our exposed faces had already been thoroughly scoured by the granular snow. Were we absolutely sure we wanted to continue up the river to see the Twin Falls? Roberts asked. On a good day the journey would take 30 minutes; today, travelling against the current and into the wind, it would be at least 45.
We exchanged glances, a silent game of chicken. On the one hand, we were all very, very cold.
On the other, a maze of water lay ahead, weaving between islands that might harbour moose or bears. And the Twin Falls did sound lovely. And there would be hot chocolate and chicken cordon bleu awaiting us back at Thompson’s Camps Otter Lake Resort in Missinipe, our base for this unique wilderness adventure.
Someone gave Roberts a sign of our collective assent and, huddled into our coats, we were off. Reader, I won’t lie: it was painful. But what I remember most clearly about that long boat ride is not the ache in my joints, but the grey jay — the first I’ve ever seen — that alighted on the rocks beside the Twin Falls and cocked its head at us as if in greeting.
—Alexandra Pope, digital editor
As editor-in-chief of Canada’s geography magazine, there’s no shortage of great places I’ve visited — British Columbia’s remote Bugaboo Mountains, Churchill, Man., Labrador’s Torngat Mountains National Park, to name but a few particularly notable national hot spots. But in 2018 I ended up somewhere I’d never thought possible in my current role: Greece.
The trip was part of research into a forthcoming feature story on mapping in video games. I got firsthand, on-the-ground insights into how the Canadian-based designers of the new console game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey recreated ancient Greece in amazingly realistic detail. While that in and of itself was an incredible experience, especially as a video game enthusiast, the opportunity to see and learn more about the history and mythology of Greece was enthralling. From watching a classic ancient Greek play at the iconic Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus (considered the world’s first) in the shadow of the Acropolis of Athens, to visiting the “navel of the Earth” and home of Greek oracle Pythia in Delphi to exploring the ruins of Knossos and its legend of the Minotaur on the island of Crete, the trip truly brought history to life.
—Aaron Kylie, editor, Canadian Geographic
Vancouver & Squamish, B.C.
Walking for 22 kilometres while carrying a 14-kilogram pack to reach an elevation gain of 600 metres is not typically my idea of a relaxing, easy-going vacation. But this is exactly what my partner and I had signed up for when we travelled to Vancouver in August to visit my good (very athletic) friends. Not only did I survive our two-day trek to Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park near Squamish, B.C. (albeit with a blistering sunburn and sore feet), I also had an incredible time. Winding through towering trees and staring awestruck at blue glaciers and snow-capped mountains was as rewarding as the swim across icy Elfin Lake — a rite of passage for those who make it to the peak.
The rest of our vacation was a cake-walk after that feat. We tracked down Mr. Bannock, Vancouver’s first Indigenous food truck, for a bite on Granville Island; admired the city’s full-scale street art during the Vancouver Mural Festival; enjoyed board games and absurdly nerdy décor at Storm Crow Alehouse; and shared a “mystery bowl” of rum set aflame at The Shameful Tiki Room.
—Kiley Bell, copy editor & fact checker
Standing in the front row of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, with nearly 10,000 people singing and screaming behind me, OneRepublic smashing it up on stage, and the sun setting on the final day of IPW, the largest tourism marketing conference in the United States: that was the moment I fell in love with Colorado. It was not while searching out public art in Denver, or conducting my own personal taste test of the city’s abundance of frozen treats (Little Man Ice Cream in LoHi is heavenly). It was not while riding the champagne powder at Steamboat, or taking in the jarring contrasts of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It was not the ganja tourism or beer crawls, or running into my friends from Montana on the main street in Telluride. It was my experience at Red Rocks. It is the venue to beat all venues. It’s there that you feel you can touch the stars.
—Andrew Lovesey, travel brand manager
Trout Point Lodge, N.S.
In early October, I spent a week at Trout Point Lodge inside the UNESCO-designated Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve. Amber leaves sprinkled a boardwalk alongside the Tusket River — narrow and rocky where it flows behind the lodge— and dusted the trails that snake through the property. I listened to the bubbling of the river while I soaked in a wood-fired hot tub. Dinners were extravagant and beautifully plated, featuring local specialties like short ribs from a nearby farm and trout fresh-caught by the chef himself, and accompanied by Acadian folk songs performed live. At night, I watched the stars from a viewing platform in the chilly darkness, and then returned to my room to bury myself in a mountain of blankets.
—Michela Rosano, associate editor
Just a few decades ago, Tofino, B.C., was an unknown Vancouver Island outport, home to a mixed bag of loggers, hippies, Vietnam War draft-dodgers and a few surfers who didn’t mind ruining the rims on their Volkswagen vans to reach this tiny town at the end of a very long and very dangerous logging road. Tofino is still tiny, but Highway 4 and a small local airport now carry more than a million visitors each year. They come to hike the coasts of nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, to tramp out into crashing winter storms for what locals call a “West Coast facial,” to go sea kayaking, whale and bear watching, or to surf some of the world’s biggest and best waves.
Go in March, like I did, and you may encounter a mix of fierce storms and gentle warm days (expect it to be wet at some point — you’re in a rainforest, after all), but what you won’t see are high-season crowds and cars jamming up the no-traffic-light town. The gold standard for eco-conscious luxury and the root of Tofino’s now-legendary status is the Wickaninnish Inn, a bottom-to-top-beautiful resort built on a wave-washed rocky outcrop at one end of Chesterman Beach. The rooms are all windows, hand-carved cedar accents and huge soaker tubs, The Pointe Restaurant and wine cellar are world-class and, when you do venture out, all the rain and storm gear you could need is waiting for you in the lobby.
—Nick Walker, managing editor
Where we’re headed next …
If I could circle any dates for travel on my 2019 calendar, it would be May 17-24. That’s when Cascadia will be off exploring Haida Gwaii, B.C., on its inaugural voyage as a Maple Leaf Adventures’ newest vessel.
Haida Gwaii is a place I’ve always wanted to see, and c’mon — who wouldn’t want to experience the archipelago while aboard a 42-metre expedition-style catamaran that’s just gone through a $1-million refurb and carries a maximum of just 24 passengers? Jokes about my penchant for all things “boutique” — I do so still go camping! — and being a misanthrope aside, the real draws on this eight-day journey are the incredibly rich Indigenous Haida culture and wildlife, the latter of which it seems like you have the chance to encounter in every sheltered cove, bay and inlet of the islands. As far as great Canadian escapes go, I reckon this one is going to rank up there with the best of them.
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