by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I’ve had Vancouver on my mind for years now, like Hoagy Carmichael with Georgia or James Taylor with Carolina. It’s been lodged there in the deep recesses as the home or adopted home of so many meetings industry friends – Claire Smith, Tahira Endean, Emily Edwards, Brenda Anderson, Isobel Mahon. It had taken on mythological dimensions which, usually, only sets a place up to disappoint.
I visited last week with that sense of foreboding. What if it didn’t live up to my expectations? What if I thought it was just “OK” rather than special, set apart, unique? What if it didn’t make my list of truly extraordinary global destinations like Marrakech or New York City or Venice or Shanghai or Cape Town or Buenos Aires or Ljubljana or Bruges or Dublin?
Of course, I needn’t have worried. Vancouver exceeded my already high expectations and delivered punch, power and panache to rival Muhammad Ali himself. Amongst the many wonderful things we did there over 5 glorious days, here’s my top 10 activities.
Jack Poole Plaza | Vancouver Convention Centre
We were indeed fortunate to be in Vancouver on an evening when the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra was giving a free concert at Jack Poole Plaza, a wonderful civic space on the waterside, beside the Vancouver Convention Centre. We sat transfixed, amongst thousands of others, on a beautiful sunny evening, listening to “the sound of magnificence”. On one side, there were mountains and sea and, on the other, a towering contemporary city of glass. Sibelius’s Finlandia never sounded so appropriate.
Designated a national historic site of Canada in 2009, Gastown owes its name to “Gassy” Jack Deighton who opened the area’s first bar in 1867. Today it’s the city’s capital of creativity and cool with an eclectic mix of businesses, restaurants, bars, ateliers and galleries. It has also become a hub for technology, new media and start-ups. We had superb wood-fired pizza there at Nicli Antica Pizzeria. This is “certified” Neopolitan pizza, authentically thin and crisp.
Stanley Park – Seawall cycle
Finding bikes to rent in Vancouver is as easy as finding a good pub in Dublin – they’re everywhere. The city authorities, too, should be congratulated for the proliferation of segregated cycle lanes that criss cross the city. Get bikes somewhere near Denman Street and head for Stanley Park, named “Top Park in the Whole World” by TripAdvisor in 2014. Surrounded by ocean on all three sides, you can do an 8.8km cycle trip around its seawall perimeter taking in the Lion’s Gate bridge along the way.
Vancouver has many great restaurants but local #eventprof Tahira Endean suggested Forage as an example of what’s happening gastronomically in Vancouver. Located in the city’s west end, Forage represents Chef Chris Whittaker’s vision around building and supporting local communities and farm to table sustainable dining.
Liquids & Solids
When you need a delicious, nutritious and healthy lunch then Liquids & Solids is a great option. Using only all natural ingredients and no preservatives, Liquids & Solids has 2 retail outlets (Hastings and Broadway) along with a burgeoning wholesale business that markets their soups, stews and chilis under the SoupEtc brand.
Canada Place is a substantial mixed use development Canada incorporating part of the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Vancouver World Trade Centre, the Pan Pacific Hotel, a massive cruise terminal and Fly Over Canada, a popular visitor attraction. It’s a perfect example of how a city can create a social and cultural hub where visitors and locals alike naturally gather and interact.
Vancouver’s ocean front setting gives her easy access to a plethora of islands and inlets via a well developed ferry network. We were lucky to overnight at Gibsons with our friends Blair Murdoch and Emily Edwards. Noted as the setting for The Beachcombers, a long running Canadian TV series, Gibsons has the isolated feel of an island but is actually an inaccessible headland attached to the mainland. It’s all decidedly shabby chic or Bohemian luxury with stunning contemporary homes elbow to elbow with traditional beach shacks. Gibsons hosts RogueFest – music, workshops and interactive installations – at the end of August.
Besides the ubiquitous Starbucks and Tim Horton’s, Vancouver has its own local coffee scene amongst which Trees Organic is a definite outlier. Focusing uncompromisingly on organically produced beans, Trees has earned a reputation for great espresso drinks and delectable cheesecake which claims to be the best in the city. You’ll find the flagship store downtown on Granville Street.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Located outside the downtown area, the Capilano Suspension Bridge can be reached easily thanks to a free shuttle service from various city centre locations. Dating originally from 1889, the bridge is a simple suspension construction of 140m that spans a deep ravine over the Capilano River. Now the centrepiece of a meticulously maintained nature theme park, the facility includes a gantry-style walkway of seven footbridges suspended between old-growth Douglas Fir trees and a spectacular cantilevered cliff walk.
Bella Gelateria is to ice cream what Nicli Antica Pizzeria is to pizza, ie, it’s a world beating Italian product available almost 10,000 km from Rome! Owner James Coleridge brought his pecan and maple syrup ice cream to the Florence Gelato Festival in 2012 and stole the show, taking first prize. This dense and silky ice cream draws a permanent line to Bella Gelateria so allow at least 15 minutes for a hand-crafted artisan serving in a cup or cone. A contestant on the SoolNua #worldICECREAMindex Bella Gelateria is currently in 12th place and desperately needs your votes – vote here.
Pictures courtesy of Vancouver Tourism
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training.