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Cool Breaks in Canada and Iceland

Cool Breaks in Canada and Iceland

Adventure beckons for Michelle Telford from Oasis Travel’s Lisburn Road branch as she spreads her wings as guest of Icelandair and Explore Edmonton.

If you’ve ever thought of a holiday in Canada I’m willing to bet that you haven’t thought of travelling via Iceland.  I thought not.  Now, thanks to Icelandair services from Belfast City Airport, it’s incredibly easy to break up your journey to Canada with a stopover at Reykjavik, just three hours’ flying time away.

Despite being is recognised as one of the most expensive European capitals, (post the 2008 financial crash, the Icelandic Krona has been steadily strengthening), Reykjavik is massively popular as a short-stay destination.  A cheeky stopover is a great way to get a taste of this amazing region, without breaking the bank.

Determined to make the most of limited time, we headed straight from Keflavik Airport to the Blue Lagoon, to ward off jet lag with a relaxing bathe in the nearby Blue Lagoon. Soon we found ourselves floating in the mineral-rich waters of this world-famous natural geothermal spa, admiring the splendour of the surrounding lunar-like landscape.  It’s an amazing, slightly eerie, experience you won’t want to miss, but pre-booking is essential.

Next day the ‘Golden Circle Tour’ gave us a whistlestop tour getting up close and personal with some of the waterfalls, geysers and lava landscapes of Iceland.  As we boarded our onward connection to Edmonton, Canada, that evening I think we were all planning a return trip to Iceland … and we were all agreed that it is so special that it’s well worth saving for!

After getting into the holiday ‘zone’, the six hour onward flight was comfortable and relaxed, and arrival reinforced that feeling as we dandered over from the Arrivals Hall to the wonderfully convenient and well-appointed Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel.  Airport hotels often get a bad press, but this is one that shows how to do it: Its polished, soundproof rooms have every luxury and some even have runway views. Amenities include the chic Halo Bar & Bistro and a Starbucks, plus an indoor pool, a whirlpool and an exercise room. There are also 20 meeting rooms and a business centre, for those poor sods who aren’t travelling totally for pleasure!

I have to admit that, before my trip, I knew little or nothing about the Canadian Province of Alberta, and I was delighted to discover a region bursting with things to do.  The access to the celebrated Canadian ‘Great Outdoors’ was, perhaps, to be expected but who knew that the West Edmonton Mall is the largest shopping mall in North America and the tenth largest in the world and a veritable Mount Everest of entertainment and attractions spanning the equivalent of 48 city centre blocks? We packed in as much as we could in a week, and had barely touched the surface of what’s on offer for visitors to this part of Canada.

Elk Island National Park proved an astounding sight and a great experience with its bison handling facility offering visitors the chance to see how this magnificent animal was brought back from near extinction. The Park is an important refuge for bison, elk and more than 250 bird species and a brilliant introduction to Canada’s rich flora and fauna. Later it was ‘ready, set, paddle’ with Haskin Canoe on Astotin Lake, where we saw the park from a different vantage point, paddling gently and peacefully along, taking in world-class views.  

The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village provided us with a colourful and lively insight into how early pioneers made new lives in this area of Canada.  There are more than 35 restored historic buildings here with costumed re-enactors to explain the pioneer story – even our delicious lunch was authentic Ukrainian!

I had often seen people zapping around city centres on segways, but my first experience of this sort of transport was to be with the engaging guides from River Valley Adventure Company, tackling some of the 150km of trails which transverse Edmonton’s famously beautiful river valley and learning about its history and environment.

Next stop Prairie Gardens Adventure Farm (there’s seemingly no end to adventure in Canada!) in the prettily-named Bon Accord area for the less than strenuous ‘Fire Roasting’ dining experience. This is s a 35 acre enterprise with over 50 fun family farm activities on offer; great fun for big as well as little kids – and the wonderful food cooked over an open fire was complemented with stories and entertainment.

Back to the city again with a switch of hotels, checking into the landmark Chateau Lacombe, with its spectacular panoramic views of the North Saskatchewan River Valley, yet within easy walking distance of the city’s bustling Arts District, its Legislature Assembly, characterful City Market, theatres (look out for lively Festival programmes), shopping, nightlife and restaurants … plus the fun destination that is the Situation Brewery where you can taste local craft beers.

The city attractions just keep on coming.  At Edmonton International Raceway I was suited up, strapped into a fabulous car and became Queen of NASCAR racing for ten never-to-be-forgotten laps.  At Northlands race track, I instantly became an aficionado of horse racing … and of the wonderful dining at its chic Colours Restaurant.

Even if you aren’t into ice hockey (keep that quiet in Canada), make time to visit Rogers Place, home of The Edmonton Oilers (and many concerts).  The stunning cantilevered architecture welcomes you into an immense building which feels like the Starship Enterprise! Heaps of things to see and do, plus an elegant casino just next door.

Fort Edmonton Park provided a great step-back-in-time historic experience, packed with as much fun as information.

Wonderful food is an essential part of the Edmonton experience, whether you help create it at the Get Cooking school or simply revel in it at charming cafes such as Little Brick or fine dining emporia such as the elegant Kitchen By Brad.

If you go to Canada then you owe it to yourself to try your hand as a lumberjack ….and, at The Rec Room, I had my own lumberjack moment, learning to throw an axe in true pioneer style!  Probably not my finest sporting achievement, but great fun all the same.

If you’d like to capture some of that pioneer adventuring on your next holiday, call in or contact me for fresh ideas on Canada and Iceland.

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