So you think you know Canada? With its pristine beauty and liberal ideals, the Western world’s Miss Congeniality is, well, a bit like Australia – but colder and bilingual. But do you really, truly, know the country like a local? The real Canada is not all hockey, Trudeau worship and Degrassi Junior High but rather a blend of cosmopolitan utopias and untouched natural gems. Scratch the surface and the Great White North gets cooler, quirkier and more rapturous by the minute. You just have to get to the heart of the place.
1. Bucket-List Music Festivals
The city of Vancouver loves a party. The world-class music scene crescendos in the summer and autumn when Breakout Festival rolls into the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the action peaks with Skookum. This new outdoor celebration in Stanley Park offers epic headliners (this year includes The Killers and Florence + the Machine), multimedia art installations and long-table gourmet lunches prepped by top chefs.
2. Boutique Liquor In Nova Scotia
The artisan booze movement is huge in Canada. The best way to sample the delights is to hit the Good Cheer Trail – a vineyard, craft brewery and distillery route linking more than 50 producers from Cape Breton Island to Yarmouth.
3. Urban Cycling
Clean and green, Canada’s cities are bicycle friendly meccas with wide bike paths. In British Columbia’s capital, Victoria, the restaurant Dobosala Cantina & Ride-Thru even features a takeaway window for cyclists
4. Covert Bar Hopping
Canada’s barflies cluster underground at night. Guilt & Co., a cosy subterranean den, is the place to be in Gastown, Vancouver. In Montreal, start with Big in Japan, a speakeasy with a huge selection of whiskies, sakes, wine and umeshu. Then head to the neon-yellow pineapple that signposts Le Mal Nécessaire, a Tiki basement bar in Chinatown. In Toronto, The Drake Hotel’s Underground is the place for secret gigs.
5. Aurora Borealis, Baby
Churchill, in Canada’s central province of Manitoba, is one of the world’s top places to watch “the dance”. The Northern Lights can be viewed 300 nights a year here, due to its position directly under the aurora oval. Borealis hunters can head out on a Northern Lights and Winter Nights tour in a pimped-out sleeper van (a tundra buggy). Or you can snuggle up in one of three luxury eco-lodges.
6. Ultimate Poutine
This holy trinity of squeaky cheese curds, French fries and gravy is a Canadian treasure. The late-night comfort cuisine – fabled as a hangover preventative – hails from Quebec, where traditionalists get their fix from cult fast food chain Chez Ashton. In Montreal, the dish is a launching point for new ideas. Try it with foie gras at Au Pied de Cochon, with lobster chunks at Garde Manger, or choose from about 30 fabulous variations at La Banquise.
7. Dine On Ice
Embrace the cold and get in touch with your inner Canadian. In January, annual pop-up Raw Almond brings together some of North America’s finest chefs to serve a multi-course feast in a tent perched on a frozen river (pictured left) in Winnipeg. We’ve got chills just thinking about it.