Canada

Western Canada really encapsulates many people's idea of the wilderness. It conjures up images of bears, glacial lakes, totem poles and snow capped mountains. While you can really get out and embrace your inner explorer on a holiday to Western Canada, kayaking, hiking and whale watching, you can also indulge in the finer life with Vancouver a wonderful multi-cultural city, world-class hotels and lodges and plenty of luxury experiences to tempt you. The Rocky Mountaineer, a train journey which winds through the mountains from Vancouver to Banff is a spectacular way to see the area.

British Columbia or BC as it is more fondly known is bordered by Alaska and the Yukon. You'll find glaciers, wild ocean, islands and wildlife in a Province more than four times the size of the UK.

Vancouver has a stunning natural setting, backed by mountains and surrounded by the Pacific. A string of beaches surround the city which has a stylish centre. You can shop till you drop on Robson Street, eat fantastic sushi on Denman, and then cycle or walk it off in Stanley Park, a vast and beautiful city park punctuated by First Nation totem poles.

Vancouver Island is a must-visit if you have the time. Tofino on the west coast of the island is wonderfully wild and windswept with whales migrating along the shore between March and November time. You can also see the resident pod of Orcas from the island's capital - charming, old-world Victoria. The ferry over to the island is a great experience in itself with wonderful views and it only takes a couple of hours each way. Vancouver and environs can easily be explored with a hire car - roads are well signed and well maintained and driving is easy.

The neighbouring province of Alberta is home to Lake Louise and the Rocky Mountain hubs of Banff and Jasper. A fortnight's classic holiday would be to explore both Vancouver and the island, travel by train to the Rockies (or self-drive in the summer - it's a journey of around 900km /12 hours) and then fly home from Calgary. Banff to Calgary is around a 2 hour drive. Jasper to Banff is around 4 hours.

The weather on the west coast is very changeable and temperatures vary enormously between Vancouver and Banff in the Rockies. The climate in Vancouver in particular is very similar to the British climate. For combining Vancouver and the Rockies June to September are the optimum months. In Vancouver this period offers dry summer weather and temperatures around 20-25 degrees. In June in the Rockies you may still see snow but there is a fresh, vibrant feeling with flowers starting to bloom and the big thaw on. Go a month earlier and you'll find May in the Rockies rather more sleepy with the lakes still frozen and the days very cold. By the start of June the gondolas are all up and running at Lake Louise and bear sightings tend to be good at this time of year (Grizzly Bears). Bear sightings peak in July/August time, as do visitor numbers. In early September you get the best of everything really - wildlife, warm days, nights not too cold, classic shimmering panoramas, everything verdant and beautiful. During October in the Rockies the days are surprisingly warm but as the month progresses Vancouver sees more and more rain and you start to lose sunlight hours. October also marks the end of the season for reliably seeing whales and bear sightings are very few in October.

One of the great joys of visiting Vancouver in summer is the long sunny days you can enjoy between June and September - you can stroll the sea wall at Stanley Park and end up sitting on some driftwood at one of the many beautiful beaches (with a tasty treat picked up at Granville Island Market - the fresh blueberry donuts are very good!) gazing out to sea as all the colours change over the mountains and Lions Gate Bridge - fantastic.