Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: British Columbia

Matt doing his best Atlas impersonation on Gabriola Island. Image courtesy of Matt Phillips Matt doing his best Atlas impersonation on Gabriola Island. Image courtesy of Matt Phillips

Matt Phillips, Destination Editor at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a trip to his native British Columbia.

Tell us more… Having grown up in Vancouver, I try to head back often to see family and friends. This latest trip was a little over three weeks, which allowed me plenty of time in and around Vancouver, as well as rewarding trips to Vancouver Island, Gabriola Island and the Okanagan.

In a nutshell… For me, west coast life revolves around the outdoors: ocean, lakes, mountains and forests. And yet, I’m never too far from my next sushi fix.

Defining moment? Paddling a kayak across a silky smooth English Bay as the sun cast its last golden rays onto the north shore mountains, Stanley Park and the Vancouver skyline. Soon it was dark and I was right where I wanted to be – floating in front of a crowd of tens of thousands on the beach, with nothing between me and the barge that was to launch the annual Celebration of Light fireworks. Each year three countries compete over as many nights to outdo the others – the key isn’t just how big the fireworks are, but how well they synchronise to the music being played out across the bay. From a kayak, with the bombs bursting in air above you, it is always magic.

Fireworks There's magic in the air at Vancouver's Celebration of Light. Image courtesy of Matt Phillips

Fave activity? It would have to be exercise – Vancouverites are known for it. We have the perfect playground after all! There are scenic running trails along the shore everywhere, and then the big daddy of them all – the Grouse Grind. I ranked it first in Lonely Planet’s ‘Top 10 wonderful workouts around the globe’, and no trip home is complete without a climb up it. Laps in the gorgeous, but exhaustively long (137m) Kits Pool are also a must. Throw in a few forays in the kayak, including one up Indian Arm (a stunning fjord accessed from Deep Cove in North Vancouver) and I was free to indulge in as many Nanaimo Bars as I liked (another favourite pastime).

Good grub? Salmon cooked on cedar slabs on the BBQ was a regular occurrence, as were trips to my favourite purveyors of sushi. Other local treats included breakfast at Sophie’s Cosmic Café and lunch at Benny’s Bagels on Broadway. I had an informative tasting session at a new artisan craft distillery in Courtenay on Vancouver Island – Wayward Distillation House use British Columbia honey as a base to produce both gin and vodka. The result was rather spellbinding. My prized bottle of Unruly Gin was too tempting and it was cracked at my Dad’s before departure, so it’s now (hopefully!) waiting for me upon my return to Gabriola Island. Did I mention Nanaimo Bars?

Bizzare encounter? I was driving through downtown Vancouver on a rather hot and sunny day, only to turn a corner and end up in the middle of winter… snow was falling and the crowds lining the street were in parkas. It was a wonderland, if only for a block (the joys of on location film sets).

Quintessential Experience? Strolling around the Sea Wall of Stanley Park. Nothing says Vancouver like it.