Direct flights make Vancouver's hub of health and hedonism a revitalising break

26 July 2012

There is no obesity in Vancouver. OK, that might be a generalisation (we did spy an overweight hippy on a mobility scooter) but in this rain-lashed city you’re forever bumping into laid-back types who are jogging, hiking, windsurfing and heli-skiing their lives towards fitness nirvana.

It’s no surprise Vancouverites are so fit, given their city perennially tops those ‘highest-living-standards-in-the-world’ polls. Thanks to the city’s seamless blending with nature (nestled snugly between snow-capped mountains and the Pacific), there’s no excuse not to be healthy. Locals scoff food so fresh it was probably plucked within a four-mile radius of their fork that morning, while a typical day could involve snowboarding before lunch followed by watersports all afternoon.

Then, at weekends, they hoof up the Grouse Grind, a thigh-deadening 2.9km scramble up the near-vertical face of Grouse Mountain. At 853m, it’s tantamount to clambering up the Shard three times.

Far less painful is cycling around Stanley Park. Renting a bicycle, we pedal the 404-hectare park’s Seawall Promenade. Starting at the white sail-like structure of Canada Place, we pass log-strewn beaches, totem poles, lighthouses, rocky outcrops and possibly crazy old ladies foraging for berries. Meanwhile, yachts bob in the ocean, tiny seaplanes buzz overhead and we inhale evergreen-scented air so fresh it’s hard to believe we’re in a 600,000-strong metropolis.

Yes, Vancouverites are svelte, but holidaying here may leave you feeling broader in the beam thanks to its unbeatable cuisine (a third of Vancouver’s population is Asian) and fresh seafood at the Blue Water Cafe ( ).

If you fancy a splurge, visit CinCin ( ), a voguish Italian restaurant where dishes such as grappa-marinated  sablefish are cooked in a wood-fired oven. On a budget? Hop aboard an Aquabus (dirt-cheap water taxis manned by spotty teenagers) to Granville Island Public Market, where seagulls the size of light aircraft lunge in as you browse stalls overflowing with shellfish, artisan cheeses and ‘Go Canada!’ cookies.

Vancouver is also enjoying a micro-brewery revolution. At Steamworks Brewing Company ( ), you can sample $12.50 CA (£7.90) tasters (eight half-pints of ale) while Bitter Tasting Room ( ) offers beer cocktails, combining draught ales with the likes of Scotch and tequila. 

Nearby is South Main (SoMa), a district once rife with drugs and prostitution. Now it’s Vancouver’s hipster hang-out, populated by caffeinated locals lurching from one whimsical vintage store to the next.

There’s a big sustainable fashion trend in Vancouver (aided by the biannual Eco Fashion Week, ) and at stores such as Adhesif, designers cobble together amazing attire from thrift-shop clothes (think blouses made from second-hand scarves).

Such quirkiness extends to Vancouver’s accommodation. Yaletown’s boutique Opus Hotel might have swanky accoutrements such as in-room iPads you can take off-property  but it’s eccentric too, with its rooms assigned ‘personalities’ that affect chamber decor and CD selections. My walls were vivid red, inspired by ‘Mike, a gay doctor from New York’.

Plus, the bathrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows. Should guests wander to the loo naked, they’d need to pull the blinds lest they fancy being rubber-necked by office workers opposite.

Nearby is the Elbow Room ( ). A greasy spoon run by two elderly gay men, its USP is rudeness. When Patrick (the couple’s bitchy half) snaps: ‘What do you ladies want?’ at a  table of square-jawed, no-nonsense jocks, their shocked reaction is hilarious.

Vancouver nightlife is half-Manhattan, half-Maidstone. For every gin-slinging cocktail joint such as Killjoy ( ), there are a dozen streets seemingly tucked-up by 10.30pm. We chance upon the Railway Club ( ) after entering an unmarked door next to a 7-Eleven. When we leave, we stumble slap-bang into a beret-wearing beatnik with a cat perched on his shoulder, pirate-style. Fat people might be thin on the ground in Vancouver but big  characters are everywhere.