Vancouver no longer its Harbouring secrets

The sun sets on Vancouver Harbour
The sun sets on Vancouver Harbour

Karl Holbrook discovers you can either be active or indulged in ‘Hollywood North’, the place to spot celebrities, Skyride to grizzly bears – or even take the hotel’s dogs for a walk

YOU can count on hotel staff for lots of things: extra towels, a taxi booking, help getting into a top restaurant.

But Ian Pullman, at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, has built up a reputation for offering his guests something a little different.

The marathon running hotel manager strips out of his suit twice a week and leads guests on a 10km sunrise run around some of the city’s best sights.

Most think he’s nuts but, having heard of his quirky tours, I dragged myself out of one of the comfiest king sized beds I’ve ever slept in to meet Irish-born Ian at the eye-twitching time of 6.30am – just hours after first setting foot on Canadian soil – as the rest of my party staved off the 
inevitable jet lag after a nine-hour flight with a couple of extra hours under the duvet.

Within minutes, as my fellow travellers slept blissfully unaware, Ian and I ditched downtown for Vancouver’s harbour, slipping past the Olympic cauldron and cruise port, and on to the city’s famed seawall jogging along the banks of the Burrard Inlet, where Orca whales have been spotted in the crystal blue waters, towards the endless off road trails of Stanley Park, one of the biggest urban parks in North America, with its towering Douglas firs, huge red cedars and vast collection of authentic totem poles.

The city came alive around us with other runners and cyclists cramming in a few miles on the park’s labyrinthine paths before work as Ian pointed out some the stories behind the sights, including how the Lions Gate Bridge, which connects the city with the affluent north shore suburbs, is named after pair of mountain peaks north of city and how the Guinness family, of beer fame, spent £5m building the bridge in order to connect acres of otherwise worthless land they had snapped up on the cheap with the rest of the city. The move proved a shrewd one with property there now among the most expensive in the area.

In an hour and covering approximately 10km, I’d seen more of Vancouver than many could in an entire holiday – and all before the rest of my somnambulant travel buddies had even sunk their teeth into their first batch of maple syrup soaked pancakes. Ian, and his quirky bi-weekly runs, as are indicative of Vancouver as it gets: friendly, open, forever 
active and effortlessly easy going.

The city perches itself at nature’s edge, it’s snowcapped mountains and blue Pacific waters offering visitors endless recreational activities.

Such is the city’s reputation for 
adventure that one of the best-known attractions is a 
gruelling climb up nearby Grouse Mountain’

The event, dubbed the Grouse Grind, opened for the season during my stay and I watched as hundreds hurled themselves 2,800ft up the mountain on the 2.9km trail. It is said to be Canada’s most intense elevation gain, greater even than scaling the CN Tower. This year around 100,000 people will take on the Grind, many of them hoping to challenge the record of 23 minutes and 48 seconds currently held by a local real estate agent.

Thousands more will visit the mountain to tackle its infamous mountain bike trails, ski slopes and snowboard jumps.

I opted for an easier ascent on the Skyride gondola, which ferries thousands of tourists up and down the mountain every day. At the top I met the mountain’s two resident grizzly bears, hiked to the world’s first commercial wind 
turbine and soaked up panoramic views of the city.

Vancouver’s outdoor vide isn’t just for adrenaline junkies either.

If you like your 
activities a little less intense, the grand Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, dubbed the ‘castle in the city’, where I stayed, has a couple of resident dogs, known as canine ambassadors – Beau and Mavis – which guests can take out for walkies. But beware, Beau has a reputation for leading his walking buddies to the local traders that reward him with the best treats.

For a taste of what else this great city has to offer beyond its recreational activities, head to Granville Island. The former industrial area is now an mix of street buskers and craft studios, theatergoers and art students. But its throbbing heart is the Public Market, overflowing with local seafood, meat, fruit and veg.

Another area not to be missed is the bohemian neighbourhood of Gastown, the birthplace of Vancouver. The neighbourhood was initially a settlement that sprung up around a 
tavern founded in 1867 by Yorkshire sailor and gold prospector John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton.

This historic district’s cobblestone streets are lined with Victorian buildings that today house everything from souvenir shops and First Nations galleries to stylish clothing boutiques.

Vancouver is also a good place to spot a celebrity or two, which is why it has been dubbed Hollywood North. In recent years it has become is a popular filming destination, doubling as everywhere from New York and Chicago to less likely places like an Indian street market in Mission Impossible.

During my four-day stay I managed to spot Robocop fighting crime in the forthcoming reboot, set to star Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman. Film buffs keen to sneak a peak behind the camera can log on to the BC Film Commission website for a list all the current filming locations. From amazing outdoor pursuits to film stars, it is easy to see why when prizes are handed out for the “best place to live in the world”, Vancouver regularly gets one.