Mike Pickup was a little apprehensive when his wife suggested a luxury walking holiday in Canada, the world’s second largest country
This seemed like something of a challenge for our first attempt. However, we were going to tackle it in easy chunks.
On arrival at Montreal we had to negotiate some queue-jumping in order to make our connection to Quebec City. The flight, in the noisiest 40-seater we have ever been in, was appropriately crewed by the loudest air hostess we have ever heard. Despite the noise of the aircraft she managed to address all the passengers without using the PA system. Awesome, as they say in that part of the world!
Our lower level flight did however provide our first glimpse of the stunning scenery with which we were about to get close up and personal.
The next day a thirty minute drive from our hotel took us to the Jacques-Cartier National Park, 670 sq km of year-round playground with activities ranging from summer kayaking and fishing to forest trails and winter snow-shoe trekking. We took a steep trail that ended up in a series of flights of steps as we climbed to one of the highest parts of the park. The effort stopped all conversation but our lung-stretching efforts were rewarded with breath-taking views. Returning to the visitor centre our guide produced a delicious picnic lunch, which we enjoyed in spectacular surroundings.
Back in Quebec City, oozing with Gallic character and predominantly French speaking, we had time to explore the old town. It’s the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. Built on two levels connected by a funicular railway, the lower level borders the St Lawrence Seaway, a popular port of call for cruise ships. The upper level boasts the Hotel Chateau Frontenac, designed like an enormous French Chateau and claiming to be the most photographed hotel in the world. The adjoining boardwalk lead us to the Plains of Abraham where, in 1759, British and French troops battled it out under Generals Wolfe and Montcalm. This city is just made for walking with fresh sights around every corner.
The next day a short flight took us to Toronto, the fourth most populated city in North America and a huge contrast from historic Quebec. Originally named York, it changed its name to Toronto in 1834. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, towering new skyscrapers and numerous building sites are evidence of the rapid growth of the city.
Toronto is the commercial hub of Canada, home to the Stock Exchange as well as the big five banks. This contributes to not only a high standard of living but also much highrise accommodation.
The tallest of Toronto’s structures is the CN Tower. At around 351m its viewing platform provided the perfect spot for an overall view of the city. If you’re brave enough you can also venture onto the vertigo-inducing glass floor, popular with those taking ‘selfies’. We also enjoyed lunch in the revolving restaurant where the spectacular views were matched by great food.
However, it’s not all concrete and glass skyscrapers. The St Lawrence market, founded in 1803, is a large indoor market with stalls selling a wide range of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and bakery products. A few steps from the market found us facing another famous landmark, the ‘flat iron’ building, officially the Gooderham Building, which was completed in 1892.
Toronto is also a major centre of cultural, performing arts and learning – its University was founded in 1827 and is part of the city rather than at a remote campus. In Toronto, old and new are happy neighbours.
Next stop Niagara, a 90 minute drive from Toronto and home to the world’s second largest waterfall. There are in fact three falls that flow into the Niagara River which forms a natural boundary between Canada and the US, but the Canadian falls – the Horseshoe Falls – are the biggest, cascading 2.2 million litres of water a second into the river below.
Niagara is a small town, easily covered on foot. The Falls themselves are freely accessible although as we got closer we needed a rain jacket due to the permanent spray. Smart hotels line the road alongside the river and the Rainbow Bridge, so named because the spray often causes rainbows, links Niagara to Buffalo in the state of New York.
The area boasts numerous vineyards. Typical wine production includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling. We also visited nearby picturesque townships such as Niagara on the Lake, Jordan and the Balls Falls Conservation Area. It is one of the earliest settlements in this part of Canada and includes the Grist Mill dating back to 1809 and St George Church, built in 1864.
We came across so many memorable sights but one thing everywhere had in common was the feeling of safety and the friendliness of the people, from shop assistants to staff at the smart city hotels. Wherever we went we were made to feel very welcome.
For more information on this and other walking holidays in the UK and around the world contact H F Holidays, 0345 470 8558 or visit www.hfholidays.co.uk
‘The effort stopped all conversation but our lung-stretching efforts were rewarded with breath-taking views’
Book a suite at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac with its antique furniture, decorative wood panelling, marble bathtubs, and enormous windows looking out across the St. Lawrence River.
Take a day trip on The Train of Le Massif de Charlevoix. Admire the wonderful and otherwise inaccessible scenery and enjoy breakfast and a four-course dinner.
Have lunch in the revolving restaurant at the CN Tower. Book in advance.
See a performance by the Canadian Opera Company or the National Ballet of Canada, both based in Toronto.
Take a deluxe Niagara Wine Tasting tour including lunch, two winery visits and tastings of the red, white and renowned ice wine. Don’t drive!
See the Falls from above with Niagara Helicopters – a truly unforgettable experience.