Stewart tells us this with a twinkle in his eye, patting the early stages of a beer belly.

It’s admirable honesty, especially considering one of us is taking notes, but that’s apparently not unusual in these parts.

According to our guide Grant Millar, Scottish born and married to a Vancouverite, being open is typical here, and goes hand in hand with the local laid-back outlook on life.

“Nowhere else would you find out details like that,” he says fondly.

In Mercer Consulting’s annual roundup of the cities with the best quality of life, Vancouver came fourth last year — behind Zurich, Vienna and Geneva. It hasn’t left the top five in the past 10 years.

The city scores points for its location — crouched between the Pacific Ocean and Coast Mountains — which gives locals the best of both the urban and outdoor worlds.

The climate is mild, the restaurant and bar scene top notch — oh, and sometimes the beer is 2 per cent stronger than you might expect.

With all this on offer, it’s not surprising the local disposition is generally relaxed.

This attitude seeps through the city, and from the guy on our hostel reception desk, who I imagine would remain unruffled even under heavy sniper fire, to the standard late-for-work excuse (“there was a long line at Starbucks”), you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of stress.

A bad temper is such a novelty that one Davie Street diner, The Elbow Room Café, specialises in being rude to its customers.

Ask for a coffee first thing in the morning and the waitress will say you look like you need it — which is much funnier than the subtle abuse of many London cafés, and probably true after a tour of Granville Island Brewing.

If Vancouver’s neighbourhoods are generally easy going, then Granville Island is permanently stoned.

It doesn’t take long to work out why the area is a popular weekend hangout for locals.

As you cross False Creek on a water taxi (you can reach Granville by land — it’s an island only in name — but this is the quickest route from the city’s West End) the apartment blocks of Downtown Vancouver seem far away from the colourful, quirky houseboats lining the waterfront.

Instead of cars in garages, most of the residents have a pile of kayaks.

The “island” tag comes from Granville’s former status as a centre of industry in the early 20th century, and its resulting nickname: Industrial Island.

Today, though, it’s Vancouver’s creative hub, with the former warehouses and factories now home to studios, galleries and shops hawking the weird and wonderful, from crystal balls to puppets.

It’s here you’ll find the Emily Carr Institute for Art & Design, one of Canada’s top art schools, several theatres and, doubtless aiding this creativity, Granville Island Brewing.

After learning how to make the company’s trademark natural unpasteurised beer, our tour of the micro-brewery finishes with a tasting session.

Several samples of Island Lager, English Bay Pale Ale and Cypress Honey Lager later, we head to the vast Public Market to be easily seduced by organic produce and freshly baked cookies.

Next year Vancouver is set to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Luckily the locals seem to have mastered the art of being simultaneously laid-back and motivated, and judging by the preparations so far it’s unlikely the Games will be anything other than a success.

That is unless any competitors stumble across to Granville Island before their event, from where there’s every possibility they may never want to leave.

» Amy Adams travelled with Hostelling International Canada (+1 613 237-7884;

Winter Olympics 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics will be the third Games in Canada, though a first for British Colombia.

Events will be held chiefly in Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond.

The Nordic sports (cross-country skiing and biathlon) will be held at Whistler Olympic Park, and alpine skiing events will be on Whistler Mountain.

Sliding events (luge, bobsleigh and skeleton) will be on nearby Blackcomb Mountain.

Vancouver’s Cypress Mountain will host the freestyle skiing and snowboarding, and Richmond the speed skating.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway connects Vancouver and Whistler to ease congestion on the three-hour commute.

Vancouver will be the warmest city to host the Winter Olympics, and for the first time some of the events will be held at sea level.

» The 2010 Olympic Winter Games are on February 12-28. The first set of tickets has been sold. The next opportunity to buy tickets will be mid-2009. See


In a nutshell

Drag yourself away from Granville Island for a while and explore these other Vancouver neighbourhoods.

The West End

This area, home to the city’s gay community, centres along Davie Street, where the bus shelters and bins are neon pink, and rainbow flags adorn the traffic lights. You’ll find great cafés, restaurants and eclectic shops.


Shop till you drop among the futuristic towers that surround Granville and Robson Streets, before taking a breather at the Vancouver Art Gallery.


Named after an English sailor ‘Gassy’ Jack Deighton, who ditched his sea legs in 1867 and opened a saloon here, this is the city’s historical quarter.

Check out the steam clock that chimes and puffs out steam every 15 minutes.


Feast on dim sum in North America’s third largest Chinatown, home to the towering Millennium Gate and a great night market during the summer.


This former warehouse district is fast becoming gentrified — the towering redbrick buildings transformed into flash apartments, excellent restaurants and home to the most happening nightlife.

The Great Outdoors

On the branches of a hemlock tree the snow lies so thick it’s created a cone-shaped cave for us to squeeze into.

As our group stands hunched over, careful not to clash snowshoes, our guide Karen takes us through the 10 essentials you need to pack to go snowshoeing on your own.

I’m not listening very carefully, I must confess, as the likelihood of me heading off snowshoeing in, say, Richmond, isn’t that great.

For Vancouverites however, it’s a possibility every weekend in winter.

We’re on Cypress Mountain, one of the three mountains overlooking the city.

It’s a 30-minute drive from Downtown Vancouver and is Canada’s most popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing area.

“The learning curve for snow shoeing is like this … ” Karen had told us at the beginning, holding her arm flat to indicate there was no learning curve at all.

And she was right — in a few minutes most of us have got the hang of spacing our steps wide enough so we don’t trip over our own feet, and off we gently lollop into the white depths.

Apart from the odd cross-country skier, we seem to have the snow-laden forests and meadows to ourselves — so it’s a bit of a shock when we emerge at Hollyburn Lodge, sliding down a bank on
our bums, to find hordes of other snowshoers already tucking into cookies and hot chocolate.

Vancouverites, it seems, like to make the most of the great outdoors mere minutes from their doorsteps. If you want to experience the city like a local, you’d better do the same.

Mountain magic

The other nearby mountains are Grouse and Mt Seymour.

In summer you can hike and picnic, and in winter choose from skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Sea breeze

Head out kayaking or windsurfing on English Bay or Burrard Inlet.

For something more chilled head to one of the city’s many beaches, such as the imaginatively named Second and Third beach near Stanley Park.

Park life

Take a stroll round the largest city park in North America, dodging the joggers, skaters and cyclists while admiring the views of the Strait of Georgia from the sea wall.