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Vancouver's best-kept travel secret Add to ...

Little Mountain is a culturally rich and ethnically diverse neighbourhood with a mountain (well, a little one) in the middle. It's also a neighbourhood with a passionate spirit of community, where heated discussions take place on sidewalks about everything from the freshness of local produce to the dangers of gentrification.

Happily, the beloved Bloedel Conservatory on top of the mountain - a groovy 1960s modernist dome that encases exotic tropical flora and fauna - benefited from this spirit as late last year it received an 11th-hour community-backed reprieve from closure.

Now, too, visitors can enjoy an Olympic workout at the area's new swimming pool complex and curling centre, stroll the gorgeous gardens in Queen Elizabeth Park, indulge in the plethora of international cuisine along Cambie and Main streets, and then shop till they drop in the big-box-free zone that offers everything from funky antique shops to high-end fashion boutiques featuring local designers.

And if you come in the fall, check out the Drift - an annual, free-to-the-public event that showcases the work of the neighbourhood's substantial artist community in local shops, cafés, galleries and open studios.

GONE TO THE BIRDS

Start with a journey to the actual Little Mountain - a former quarry turned parkland - and check out the Bloedel Conservatory (named after its initial benefactor, Prentice Bloedel). Open daily, the triodetic dome is a welcome break, with 100 free-flying birds (including some colourful parrots), exotic plants, tropical flowers and mini-waterfalls. Admire the nearby quarry gardens or just gaze at the panoramic view of the city. Enjoy a special occasion meal at Seasons in the Park ( vancouverdine.com/seasons0experience.aspx ), or one of its bimonthly Tuesday wine tastings. ( Cambie Street and West 33rd Avenue; 604-257-8584; vancouver.ca/parks/parks/bloedel/index.htm)

WORKOUT OF CHAMPIONS

If you missed the Olympics, you still have a chance to bask in the afterglow. Just check out the fabulous aquatic centre and curling rink built for the Games. The Vancouver Olympic Centre, a competition site, is now popular with swimmers who enjoy the Olympic-size lanes and the indoor and outdoor pools, which offer a specially filtered, low-chlorine aquatic experience. (4575 Clancy Loranger Way; 604-257-8680; vancouver.ca/parks/info/2010olympics/hillcrest.htm)

LOCAL CRAVINGS

Little Mountain is fast becoming a foodie paradise. While well-established delis and butcher shops are still popular with locals - a legacy of the working class European immigrants who embraced the area in the 1940s and 1950s - pan-Asian fusion and hipster bistros are moving in.

Bob Likes Thai Food is a new favourite, run by a filmmaker from Bangkok who wanted to create a restaurant in which he could offer authentic, down-home Thai food. (3755 Main St.; 604-568-8538; boblikesthaifood.com)

Balilicious (3488 Cambie St.; 604-709-8150; baliliciousrestaurant.com) tempts with mouth-watering satay, while Hawker's Delight offers yummy Malaysian street fare (4127 Main St.; 604-709-8188) and Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France is simply irresistible (198 East 21st Ave.; 604-566-1065; chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca).

Crave is a real gem - a neighbourhood bistro with a Four Seasons pedigree chef that manages to be charmingly low-key and yet possibly one of the east side's best dining experiences. (3941 Main St.; 604-872-3663; craveonmain.com)

THE DEVIL'S IN THE DETAILS

Think "small is beautiful" and you will understand the unique artisanal charms of the area. Consider the amazing Devil May Wear boutique, (3957 Main St.; 604-216-2515, devil-may-wear.ca) run by an ever smiling, ever knitting or weaving or sewing supergirl named Stephanie Ostler who makes almost everything she sells in the store - from frilly eco-friendly panties to some seriously rad - yet sustainable - jewellery.

The Barefoot Contessa (3715 Main St.; 604-879-1137; facebook.com/thebarefootcontessa) offers girly frocks and sparkling jewellery with a retro yet streetwise sensibility, while Cocoon Homewares (3345 Cambie St.; 604-669-8433) and Walrus Design (3408 Cambie St.; 604-874-9770) are great for gift shopping in the village.

OLE!

Main Street's Cottage Bistro is known for its jazz and blues (4470 Main St.; 604-876-6138; cottage-bistro.com). But for those in the mood for a little fandango, the only place to be is Kino Café, where regular flamenco performances are matched only by the Roma evenings when Romanian and Russian gypsy music fills the night (3456 Cambie St.; 604-875-1998; kinocafe.ca).

WHERE TO STAY

This is an oddly accommodation-free zone. If you don't have a friend with a spare room in one of the lovely old heritage houses in the area, you'll have to go to the edge of neighbourhood limits for suitable digs.

The Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel On the northeast edge of the hood, this mild-mannered business hotel is a safe bet. But beneath its calm exterior lurks the adjoining and legendary Biltmore Cabaret. Here, guests can take in live indie music, burlesque shows and comedy nights. Rates from $100. 395 Kingsway; 800-663-5713; howardjohnsonvancouver.ca; biltmorecabaret.com

Hotel Indigo On the northwest edge, the old Plaza 500 Hotel at 12th Avenue and Cambie Street will reopen this summer as a four-star boutique property called Hotel Indigo. Light-filled guest rooms with panoramic views of coastal mountains and ocean are promised. Rates from $189. 500 West 12th Ave.; 604-873-1811; ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/in/1/en/hotel/YVRIN

Special to The Globe and Mail

A previous version of this story contained the wrong address for Devil May Wear. This update has been corrected.

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