When the frost starts to set in and the leaves turn from green to a spectrum of ochre, burgundy, sienna, red, the hallowed ‘mellow fruitfulness’ of fall gives any environment a kind of old world cinema feel. The air is crisp, the landscapes gauzy, the birdcall sweeter. But of all the holiday destinations (surprisingly plentiful even when the weather cools), it’s still Canada that tenaciously holds the crown for the most beautiful backdrops in these autumn months of forested mountains, mirror-like lakes, a stunning variety of ornithological life and in every city a warm meal held out to travellers by friendly hands. And if, like me, you get itchy feet and want to hike the Rockies, shop the cobbled streets of quaint market villages and historic port towns, grab the binoculars for some bird- or whale-watching (try along the Côte Nord or Saguenay) but aren’t quite energetic enough to hitchhike your way up and down the country, then of course, you have to look at what holiday options are available and appropriate. A tour seems, after some thought, the most sensible option: it’s the only way to see as much of a large region as possible, and with guided tours the fact that all the fussy details are taken care of before departure is a welcome nugget of relief.
Also reassuring is the fact that the travelling is done in a group of people with similar interests, and spearheaded by a guide who’s always on hand to let you know what’s going on, what the history of each area is, etc. Guided tours of Canada can pan out in several different ways, but will generally involve some travel by sea, some by rail, some by coach and some by air (normally getting to and from the departure port). The focus of a tour will be on one form of transport – so, for example, it might be billed as a cruise, but includes travel between stop-offs. Which is all rather fabulous. And if you ask me, a cruise seems the most elegant and luxurious way forward. As long as there’s enough time spent at sea to relax and make the most of the on-board facilities (spa, pool, award-winning food, anyone?), I’m a happy camper. Or not camper (thankfully).
So what might one expect to see on a Canadian cruise? The best bits are likely to be those days and leisure hours spent on land. A popular cruise and tour hotspot would be the region of Quebec. Stop-offs will combine tours and excursions (don’t miss a trip to at least one of the wildlife facilities or national park reserves) with ‘downtime’ where you are free to wander the streets of the city stops. The obvious highlight is Montréal, the chic but gritty French-speaking capital, where graffitied concrete blocks rising up into the sky contrast the elegant architecture of the Old Town, students eating poutine stroll along the main shopping drags where high street names mingle with the fripperies that sell everything from vintage clothes to antique furniture. Make sure you head to the jazz quarter in the evening for a taste of the brassy melodies that made this city famous on the international music scene. But equally gorgeous is Quebec City. A walking tour will take you round the best parts of the city – look out for the Notre-Dame Basilica and the picturesque Place-Royale, the birthplace of French America. And at this beautiful time of year, wherever you go in Canada, don’t forget to leaf-peep!