Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Green Getaway: Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, BC is famous for being clean, easy to get around, friendly and beautiful.  On a recent visit, I found all of those things to be true with the added bonus of being a super eco friendly city.  Vancouver's ambition is to become the most eco conscious city in the world by 2020.  And they're serious about it, it's an initiative called Greenest City 2020 and it's a plan to create a sustainable future for Vancouver.  What better place to enjoy a green weekend getaway?
The Fairmont Waterfront is a wonderful choice for the eco minded with award winning environmental policies and programs.  Among their green initiatives, is free parking and charging for electric vehicles, strict recycling policies, and sustainable food options. 

It's one of those hotels that offers enough to do right there on site that even though you are in a fabulous city, you don't really have to leave the premises to feel like you're on vacation.  For business travelers, I would imagine it to be an oasis.  I loved it there so much I really had to force myself to venture out, I just wanted to hang out at the rooftop pool and soak up the amazing surroundings.
There are several factors that make this hotel a real charmer. The staff are incredibly accommodating and friendly and the amenities are excellent.   The most charming thing about this hotel as far as I'm concerned is the roof garden consisting of fruit trees, vegetables, salad greens, herbs, and a thriving bee colony. This takes the concept of the urban garden to an exciting level and is a brilliant green initiative.
Though they started the garden in the early 90's, it would be over a decade until the arrival of the bees.  For many years there was a by law restricting rooftop beehives.  Finally, in 2008, the hotel's then-chef convinced the city to allow the Fairmont to have bees, making the hotel the first in Vancouver to do so.  They save several thousand dollars per year by utilizing what they harvest from the gardens.  Today, chef Mark Wadsworth, who was raised in a bee keeping family and is a walking encyclopedia on the topic, gives tours around the roof gardens educating guests and people in the community about the bees.
Apparently, there are rooftop gardens all over Vancouver.  The bee colony needs a good four acres to forage, and they have no problem getting what they need to thrive up there.  They have about seven hundred pounds of honey on hand at the moment. 

The hotel has cute little jars of honey for guests to enjoy with their morning toast and tea, as well as yummy homemade chocolates with honey and lavender and rosemary grown on the roof.  They even make a signature cocktail, the Honey Basil Collins, a skinny drink that I found delicious and refreshing without the gin. 
Rooms are modern and spacious, views are spectacular and the decor is contemporary.  A 47 inch flat screen television (though not as interesting as looking out the window) is there for entertainment, and an extra large dark wood credenza, beautiful amber mercury glass lamps and totem inspired artwork make the place feel cozy.  I drink tea in the mornings and really appreciated the electric tea kettle in the room, I'm used to coffee pots, but rarely see a tea kettle. 

This hotel promotes and supports a healthy lifestyle.  Hotel manager, Ian Pullan gives guided three mile runs every morning--how great is this for folks who are unfamiliar with Vancouver?  There's a gym that is open 24 hours a day, and President Club members have fitness clothing available so you don't even have to worry about packing work out clothes.  The hotel's restaurant, Herons West Coast Kitchen + Bar, serves up healthy fare as well.  In the summer, 25-30% of the food on the menu is organic and you can get vegan, vegetarian, low fat, and gluten free meals. 
Do sign up for the President's Club, the Fairmont's loyalty program for many added perks like free internet, turn down service, and even discounts on helicopter commutes for business travelers.  After a cozy night's sleep in their cushy cloud-like beds, you can start your day with a bike ride around the seawall.  I strongly recommend this as it was the highlight of our weekend.
President's Club members can get complimentary bikes and helmets for the whole family, they even give you water bottles. Homemade granola bars flavored with honey from the rooftop bees are available as well.  Seriously, how cool is this?  You pick them up right at the hotel, and head off for a bike ride you will never forget, the views are magnificent.  It's away from traffic and feels very safe for young children and the whole loop is about six miles.  There are things to see all along the way such as the beautiful totem poles at Brockton Point, Lion's Gate Bridge, sea planes taking off and landing, and there are concession stands along the way for food and drink.  When you're done, you can head back to the Fairmont for a dip in the pool or a soothing soak in the hot tub. 
If you can tear yourself away from the hotel, there are many other fun things to do in Vancouver that can fit into your weekend easily.  I subscribe to the less-is-more philosophy and recommend picking just a couple of things and returning again for more another time.  That way, you're more relaxed and can take your time.  Even though I have a long list of things I want to do in Vancouver, we planned very little and I still felt as though time was getting away from me too fast, so keep it simple and you're apt to enjoy it more.

If you have children (or not), a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium might be in order.  Located in Stanley Park, it's easy to get to and close to other fun things to do when you're finished.  They have some great exhibits which are educational and fun, their rescued otters being my personal favorite.

I love that the emphasis at the aquarium is on education and they do it in a way that is accessible--very clear signs at each habitat and photos of the environment where you would find each creature.  This really helps to give you a clear picture of the life of the animal and its ecosystem.

The most impressive things about the Aquarium are their conservation programs.  Beach clean-ups, marine mammal rescue, community outreach, partnering with WWF to help preserve our oceans and marine life are all ways the Aquarium is trying to make a difference.  They created the Ocean Wise program to help make sure certain species of fish are not over harvested right into extinction.  By partnering with restaurants (like Herons West Coast Kitchen + Bar) and suppliers, the Aquarium helps to educate the market to serve up sustainable seafood.  That way the ocean can maintain a healthier eco system and doesn't become even more over-fished.  There is an Ocean Wise logo you will see at the market and on restaurant menus to let you know you're making a sustainable choice. 

Vancouver is a fabulous destination, and I can pretty much guarantee you will want to revisit.  I feel like I just got the smallest taste of the city and can't wait to go back.