A country as large as ours has lots to offer, and many made-in-Canada experiences rank up there with bucket-list moments found all over the world. If a recent survey is any indication, Canadians will be sticking closer to home during their summer vacation this year. A survey by the Bank of Montreal conducted in May found that 55 per cent of us aren’t leaving our home province for a vacation, and only 26 per cent plan to cross provincial borders. What a great opportunity, then, to discover these homegrown equivalents of unique global destinations.
Swim in the Canadian Dead Sea
The Dead Sea, which separates Israel and Jordan, is the lowest point on Earth, with super-salty water so buoyant you can float effortlessly on your back. The site has been a natural health spa since biblical times, famous for its beneficial salts and mineral-rich mud. Canada has healing waters of its own, including Little Manitou Lake, near Watrous, Sask. The lake is three times saltier than the ocean, allowing you to lie back and float under the prairie sun. Its shores are lined with mud rich in minerals, and the adjacent hot springs offer therapeutic benefits.
Wander wine country
Visiting France’s famed Burgundy wine region involves much more than the grapes in your glass. The laid-back lifestyle, charming villages and outstanding cuisine draw visitors from around the world.
But Canada has its own delightful wine areas, such as Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment and Twenty Valley. Vineyards in the Niagara region share the same latitude as classic wine regions such as France’s Provence, Spain’s Rioja and California’s Mendocino Valley. Aided by the warming effect of Lake Ontario and rich limestone soils, the region produces excellent wines (similar to those from Burgundy) amid small towns offering romantic hotels and fine dining.
See the Galapagos of the North
In the Pacific Ocean’s remote Galapagos Islands, 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, tourist boats explore a protected archipelago filled with marine wildlife, exotic birds, and ancient islands.
Canada is home to an equally stunning site: British Columbia’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. This rugged West Coast archipelago is a protected region, from ocean floor to mountaintop. Yachts sail among pods of whales and colonies of sea lions, with onshore excursions to explore old-growth forests and original Haida totem poles.
Feel that natural high
Striking mountain scenery, vibrant Gaelic communities and abundant wildlife have long wooed visitors to the Scottish Highlands.
But you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to feel the high. Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park offers stunning vistas around every curve of the 300-km Cabot Trail. Drive, hike and explore the mountains and boreal forest, and enjoy sweeping ocean views. Explore villages such as the Acadian community of Chéticamp or Gaelic-infused Ingonish, both of which are celebrated for their food, music and hospitality.
Explore an ancient enigma
It isn’t known who erected the megaliths of Stonehenge, a mystery wrapped in stone and set in a circle. But theories abound: A Druid temple of worship? An astronomical observatory? A place of healing? A beacon for aliens? Regardless, the site is one of the most popular U.K. tourist attractions.
Less well known, but equally compelling, is the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel near Bassano in southern Alberta. A sacred place to the Blackfoot , it consists of a central cairn, nine metres in diameter, and 28 stone spokes, composed of 40 tonnes of rock. Some archaeologists believe construction began 4,500 years ago, while others believe the wheel is much older. The wheel’s true purpose remains unknown but happily, unlike at Stonehenge, there are no tour buses, ropes, guards or gift shops.
Wander a walled city
Every year, millions of tourists visit Bruges, Belgium, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose fortifications date to the 12th century. Cobblestone streets, medieval churches and charming restaurants and hotels make it a popular romantic getaway.
A sister World Heritage Site is Quebec City, one of the oldest European settlements in North America, whose cobblestone streets and city walls date to the 1600s. Its stone churches, world-class bistros, galleries and museums are best discovered on foot. Quebec City may not boast the canals of Bruges but it offers incredible views of the St. Lawrence River and a 19th-century funicular railway for the adventurous.
Feed your inner Asian foodie
From street food to celebrity chefs, Hong Kong promotes itself as the culinary capital of Asia, highlighting Cantonese and other Chinese regional dishes such as dim sum, spit-roasted meats and a range of seafood.
The Asian culinary capital of North America is arguably Richmond, B.C. Its more than 400 Chinese restaurants include world-renowned dim sum, night markets offering tasty Cantonese dishes, casual eateries and fine dining restaurants.
A night at the ballet
Watching the gentle glissades, soaring grande jetés or perfect pirouettes at any of St. Petersburg’s grand ballet theatres is a cultural highlight, appreciated by newbies and aficionados alike.
Closer to home, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is the longest continuing operating ballet in North America, and, thanks to decades to global touring, is an internationally respected powerhouse. World premieres are held at the Centennial Concert Hall and while the stage might lack the opulence of the Mariinsky or Mikhailovsky, free outdoor performances each summer in Assiniboine Park deliver their own homegrown prairie magic.
Robin Esrock is the author of The Great Canadian Bucket List.