Introducing Canada's West; Made Up of Two Gloriously Diverse Provinces - Alberta and British Columbia - Canada's West Has Everything You Might Ever Want from a Holiday Destination

Article excerpt

Variety, so the saying runs, is the spice of life. In few parts of the world is the basic truth of this statement more apparent than in Canada's West. Here is a region blessed with staggering diversity, home to snow-capped mountains, grassy prairies, great cities, world-class ski zones, soft beaches and rugged coastline - as well as a grand menagerie of wildlife.

Taking up the southwest corner of the country, the two provinces that constitute Canada's West - wave-lashed British Columbia, which holds its shoulder against the relentless tide of the Pacific Ocean, and Alberta, with its blue skies and mountain peaks - are areas that provoke questions. Not the least of which is where, with so much to see, should I start exploring? It is a good question, too. And one with many answers. One of which might be Vancouver. The biggest city in both British Columbia and Canada's West (and the third biggest in Canada as a whole) has long pulled in both visitors and plaudits - it has regularly been voted the 'most livable' city on the planet for its high quality of life. And it is easy to see why - in the boutiques, galleries and eateries of the revitalised Gastown district; in the seafront strips of Sunset Beach and English Bay; in the open space of Stanley Park; in the lively shopping district of Granville Island; in the suburb of North Shore, where the city ebbs into raw rock and you can ski at Grouse Mountain.

But there is more to British Columbia. A ferry ride west brings you to Vancouver Island, the largest off the west coast of North America. Here you can stroll the 19th-century streets of the provincial capital, Victoria (where Butchart Gardens offers a floral haven), watch for whales in the ocean swells, or drive to the pristine isolation of Port Hardy at the north tip.

Back on the mainland, there are further attractions. Whistler needs little introduction as one of the chicest names in winter sports - as well as a haven for outdoor adventure in the summer months. In fact, British Columbia is heaven for those who like the ground beneath their feet to be slanted and stony. The Columbia Mountains are perfect for those who want to hike, cycle, or simply enjoy the quiet of elevated territory. They also act as a precursor for the truly high-altitude terrain that follows, ebbing east into that craggy realm where 12,972ft Mount Robson stands as the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.

Not that peace is hard to find in British Columbia. Forge north province and you find thick forests of dark-green beauty - not least those around the 'Northern Capital' of Prince George. Or return to the water, and explore the Inside Passage - the maze of inlets and isles that adds up to 25,000 miles of Canadian coastline.

Alternatively, the lure of the interior - whether the lush expanse of the Okanagan Valley (known as 'Canada's Fruitbasket'), with its award-winning wineries, or the lofty heights of the Rocky Mountains - is difficult to ignore. And British Columbia's Canada's West colleague Alberta is simply reached - perhaps along the celebrated ribbon of tarmac that is the Trans-Canada Highway as it veers east. Or, for the holidaymaker who likes to travel in comfort, by train - both Via Rail and the iconic Rocky Mountaineer glide along the rails between British Columbia and Alberta.

What awaits is a province that continues the theme of splendid variety - not least in its two main cities.

Edmonton, the capital is abuzz with fabulous shopping and dining. Yet it is also lush and green - the North Saskatchewan River Valley, a 7,400ha park system that extends beyond the city limits, is paradise for walkers and cyclists. You will also find plenty of culture. Edmonton is a hotspot of music and art, where festivals fill up the calendar, including the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, held in August.

South of Edmonton, Calgary is no less enticing. This is the point where the flat prairie peters out and the mountains begin, the Rockies rearing away to the south. …