Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Relaxing Activities

If you’re looking for more adventurous things to do away from the slopes then the first part of my Winter in Whistler series is here!

To summarise from my last post, I had a snowboarding holiday booked to visit my brother in Whistler, Canada, but after a rather nasty fall a couple of weeks before departure I was left with 2 fractured wrists and a refund on my snowboard. Even with both my wrists bandaged up in splints, I was still determined to make the most of my time in Whistler and catch up on some much-needed relaxation away from work! The picturesque mountain views and flourishes of snow that turned the town into a huge snow globe meant that you could simply sit by the fire, grab a hot drink and watch the world pass by happily. In this post however I am going to highlight some specific activities and places that helped me to switch off and unwind.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – Seeing as in my last post the cheapest option was still a bit pricey I figured for this one I would go as cheap as I could…free! Whistler is burrowed deep up amongst forests, mountains and frozen lakes just waiting to be explored. Each more breathtakingly beautiful than the last, there are a few mapped out paths around the edges of the town that you can follow. Seeing as my whole family were off skiing, I charged up my camera battery, threw on every layer I owned and headed off down the Valley Trail. It took me down past the start of the cross-country skiing route, alongside the skateboard park that was now nothing more than mounds of snow, and across a wooden bridge that looked like something out of Harry Potter. On the other side of the bridge was the town of Blackcomb. I had a mooch around the shops there and grabbed a hot drink to warm me up again before finishing off the trail. It also passed the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre that was unfortunately shut on the day I was there but could be another great place to have a wander around! A few days on I managed to entice my family away from the slopes and we all went on a walk, that was a 20 minute drive away, to Nairn Falls. Now I will put a small warning in here, this was an unmaintained trail in the winter so the path was incredibly icy and actually quite dangerous to walk down. If you are going to attempt it in the snowy season then be sure to wear lots of warm layers and shoes with plenty of grip. The falls themselves had half frozen over into astonishing icicles and the other perk of being the only ones’ stupid enough to walk the trail is we had the falls all to ourselves! My camera got so cold on the hike that it had died by the time we reached the waterfall, luckily it held up for a few seconds to get one good shot though. It took us about 3 hours altogether (most of that time at least one of our bums was on the floor) and if you do want to go in winter the car park is closed but you can leave your car in the little lay-by off the highway.

Mid-Range – There was one part of skiing that my fractured wrists and I could definitely get behind, the après ski! Whistler certainly didn’t have a limit to the places you could grab a drink and a bite to eat so my advice would be to make the most of it! If you’re after a tasty lunch to regenerate after a long day exploring then my top recommendation would be the Mile 1 located just outside Whistler in Pemberton. They offered such a vast range of food choice but for me the Mac’n’cheese was the best I have ever had! It also led to one of the comedy highlights of the holiday when my dad expected it to turn up as burger (think he forgot that Mac only relates to burgers in McDonlads.) If it is a big family meal you want in the evening then the steaks at The Keg were incredible or a more laid-back bar-vibe, but still with excellent food, can be found at Brickworks. One of my favourite meals however was at Il Cammineto, a stunning, classy Italian restaurant right in the centre of the town. The décor was beautifully elegant and the food was mouth-wateringly rich and delicious. Now it wouldn’t be a trip to Canada without a bit of syrup! I had mine drizzled on top of hearty stack of pancakes at Wild Wood that I would eat everyday for breakfast, if only I could actually manage to cook pancakes successfully! All of these restaurants came in at different price tags. There were small cafes and bars if it was a light snack you’re after (Purebread is the place to go if it is cakes that you’ve got the taste for) or tonnes of larger restaurants to really indulge in.

Expensive – Now this activity is by far the most relaxing one of all once you get there. The drive there however was the most stressful part of the holiday for me. I was driving a car twice the size of mine, in the snow and on the other side of the road – let’s just say a stop sign definitely does what it says on the tin when you go straight into it! But minor crash aside we made it to the Scandinave Spa in one piece, couldn’t be a better time to be booked in for a massage really could it. The Spa is a wellness spa in which you can either go for a treatment or just utilise their traditional therapy baths. My massage was incredibly relaxing but also rather painful as she worked all the tension out of my neck. I left feeling so loose and calm though so the agony was worth it. From there we went down to the main floor of the spa. Stepping out into -15 degrees in nothing but a bikini and a dressing gown is a rather shocking experience but all is rewarded when you sink yourself into the 40 degree hot tubs bubbling away. The whole spa works on a system – 15 minutes in the hot tub, a 10 second dunk in the cold pool, then 15 minutes in the relaxation rooms. It is a way to completely shut off from the outside world as all technology must be left in the lockers and no talking is allowed anywhere. I struggled a bit with the last bit but I can promise that a word did not leave my lips as I snuggled down on a bed next to the fire watching the snow float down across the spa. It was such an amazing way to take a moment for yourself and either read a book, have a nap or just do some good proper thinking! The spa is located deep in the forest away from any and all noise, the tall trees surrounding it really make you feel like you’ve entered a whole new world. This level of peace and tranquillity came at a high price though, it was $79 to just use the baths or around $189 for a massage and entry to the baths. In my opinion, the baths and relaxation rooms are such a calming, unusual and detoxing experience that it almost overshadowed the massage so don’t feel like you’re missing out if you can’t fit in a Swedish rub down as well! Just a heads up, you get 2 towels included in both packages but if you just do the baths then you have to pay extra to rent the robes so I would recommend bringing your own if you can!

Whistler is the kind of town that you can make it what you want it to be. If you want a hair-raising thrill-filled adventure holiday then it can provide but likewise if you want some time to shut off from the outside world and just enjoy good company and beautiful settings then it is also a dream destination. With views to take your breathe away and enough food to render your belt useless it shouldn’t be overlooked as a place to kick back and chill in. Just make sure your camera is fully charged and pump your car brakes in the snow!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Adventurous Activities

It is two weeks before I am meant to be jetting off to Whistler, Canada, for a week on the slopes but I am sat in hospital. The X-Ray scan comes back. It is 2 fractured wrists….”Hi Dad, it’s Emma. I think you’re going to have to cancel my snowboard rental and slope pass!”

As of September 2018, my older brother and his girlfriend had moved to Whistler to complete a ski season and my dad and I were flying out to see them. My wrists were wrapped up in metal plated splints and my fear of falling over had now increased twofold but I was determined to get the most out of my holiday. I wasn’t able to board down the mountains anymore but I equally didn’t want to miss out on all the adventures that Whistler had to offer so I layered up like the Micheline man, locked my feet into the sturdiest boots I could find and set out into the cold. I was quite surprised to find how much was actually on offer off the slopes, around every corner was another adventure company offering everything from snow-trekking to sledding with huskies. There was even a giant bungee jump open all year round! I had 6 days to fill and a whole load of jet lag waking me up before the sun had even risen so plenty of time for activities and adventures. I am going to highlight my top experiences in this post.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – It was our last day in Whistler and we had a morning to kill before our flight home. It had hit the bitter temperature of -15 degrees each day of the holiday so there was definitely an appeal for something that wouldn’t involve venturing into the bitter cold again. The perfect solution came in the form of the Escape! Escape rooms. The 4 of us took on the Pinball challenge and were taken into a puzzling arcade world that involved a lot of balls, buttons and wires to escape from. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to ruin the experience if any of you do decide to take it on but I will say that so much effort had clearly gone into the décor and the puzzles themselves, it was an incredibly fun but flabbergasting experience. Located a stone’s throw from the base of the gondolas it was really easy to get to and if we had more time I would be loved to have taken on the other 3 rooms they offered. The Pinball room was in their mid-tier of difficulty but they did have one designed for families and another for brain-boxes who wanted a big-old challenge. Now I have put this in ‘cheap’ section but at $33 per person I will hold my hands up and say it isn’t a bargain but it was the cheapest thing we did there. When I said the beauty and adventure of Whistler came at a price I meant it! (Just a heads up in my next blog post that is focused on more relaxing things to do there are some free options!) We managed to escape with around 3 minutes to spare so I challenge you all to go and see if you can beat us!

I don’t have any photos of the escape room seeing as it’s all meant to be kept a mystery sorry!

Mid-Range – Just because you can’t/don’t want to ski down the mountains doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on going up them. The Whistler Gondola runs daily from the centre of the town up to the top of the mountain. Leaving every minute, it takes endless streams of skiers and boarders up to their start point and for $70 you can join them. The gondola itself takes about 23 minutes and, on a clear day, gives you stunning views back over the town as well as the open winding ski runs that twist and turn down the face of the mountain. At the top there is a small shop and café where you can warm your hands up with a toasty hot chocolate and watch skiers glide down the slopes. I have added this into the adventurous part of the blog series because at the top you also get access to the Peak 2 Peak. Included in your ticket price, it is a separate Gondola that connects Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain. At 436m, it is the highest cable car above ground and if like me heights aren’t your thing then it will certainly leave you a little shaky at the knees. It takes about 11 minutes to get from one side to the other and does give you the most incredible views of snow topped trees and the frozen valley below. You can either get off at Blackcomb and spend time in the little café up there or you can just stay in the car as it takes you back to Whistler. There is no limit to the amount of times you’re allowed to go on it and if you want something to get your heart racing a bit more there are a couple of pods with glass bottoms. When you’ve taken all the phots you want and drunk as much hot chocolate as you can manage then just simply catch the Whistler Gondola back to the base again.

Expensive – For all those adrenaline junkies out there I am sure you’ll be laughing in the face of my escape room and gondola. Sat there thinking they’re about as adventurous as a trip to garden centre but I see your thrill-seeking desire and I raise you a 60mph snow mobile adventure through the back country of Canada. If you really want the kind of adventure to take your breath away then the Wilderness Run Snowmobile Tour with Canadian Wilderness Adventures should be at the top of your list. We all gathered at their shop located in the centre of the town before getting driven out and up to the back country. We were decked out in warm layers, boots, helmet and goggles then given an overview on how to use the snow mobiles safety. If you have a valid driving license then you can drive your own or you can ride along on the back of someone else in your group. Seeing as I couldn’t grip the handle bars, I hung on to my Dad for dear life as he followed the guide through the forest and up the mountain side. Our guide was so much fun and took us over bumpy terrain, round tight corners and even let us run loose on a frozen lake where I think Dad reached speeds close to 70mph. The highlight of the trip for me though was the view at the top of the mountain. Framed by rolling mountain tops and blanketed by thick, untouched snow that glistened in the sunlight it was the kind of view that belonged on a computer screensaver! After taking some beautiful photos we sped back down the mountain, handed back all the equipment and were returned to the town centre. The thrill factor definitely shot up but so did the price, at around $600 for the 4 of us it was the big treat of the holiday but what a treat it was! They also offered dog sledding adventures that I would have loved to try had we had more time.

The host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is renown for its snow-sport activities and facilities but you don’t have to Ski to enjoy your time there! It is a beautiful Canadian town nestled amongst the Coast Mountains. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants and there isn’t an unfriendly face in sight as the locals embrace and welcome the endless streams of tourists that flood there annually. Fancy a more laid back, chilled out holiday in Whistler? Don’t worry I have you covered. My next blog post will be highlighting all the best things to do when you don’t really want to do anything at all.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Lapland travel diary

In December of 2017 I was lucky enough to visit Lapland, Sweden, for my 21st birthday. It was the most amazing holiday of my life and I made sure to vlog it, which you can watch here, but I figured it also deserved a written account on my blog. Here is my travel diary of what I got up to and the things I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a magical winter break next year.

DAY 1 – Arrival 

Today was solely a travel day. We got a flight from Gatwick to Stockholm and then changed to a domestic flight to Kiruna which overall took around 4 hours. When we landed at Kiruna, at about 4pm, it was pitch black and -20 degrees which I must admit was a bit of a shock. We were picked up by a representative from Nordic Visitor, who were our travel company for the trip, and taken to their base to pick up some warm overalls, snow boots and grabbed a slice of pizza for dinner. From there we were dropped at our accommodation, we stayed in cabins at Camp Ripan. Each cabin was big enough for a family of 4 and there was also a main reception with a bar, viewing platform and restaurant. After unpacking we headed into the bar for some Glogg, a traditional mulled wine made with cloves and cinnamon, and some gingerbread cookies – absolute heaven!

DAY 2 – Icehotel and Snowmobiling 

Kicking the holiday off with a bit of exploring, we layered up and headed out into the town of Kiruna. It was like something taken out of a fairytale with pastel coloured houses buried under mountains of snow. We looked around the traditional church and even sat in to listen to some beautiful carols being sung. The whole town is built next to a iron mine and as a result it is slowly sinking. They plan on up and moving the whole town and its residence 3km away from its current location, including taking apart and reassembling the church, which was really interesting to read about in the town hall. Lunch was a very surreal experience. We found a burger van parked in a petrol garage that was selling reindeer sandwiches and chips but it also had the most beautiful teepee seating area filled with fairy lights and a roaring open fire. Very delicious but left you very delirious when you stepped out to see the locals filling their cars up with petrol.

Once back at out hotel we got picked up by a guide and taken to the Icehotel. It is a stunning structure made entirely of ice and offering 65 individually designed rooms for guests to spend the night in. We spent a couple of hours exploring the different rooms, my favourite being the space themed room, before being shown to our own bedrooms for the night. We were lucky enough to stay in the deluxe rooms which meant they had a ‘hot room’ in the back with a bathroom and sauna in. The bedrooms themselves are kept at a constant temperature of -5 degrees (which was actually warmer than the -25 degree temperature outside) so you have to sleep in a thermal sleeping bag and wholly hat. My room was like a maze of giant walls of ice that created a pathway to the bed and it felt like something out of Game of Thrones.

In the evening we were taken out deep into the middle of nowhere for a snowmobiling trip. We followed the guide out along twisty paths through the snowy forest but the most amazing part of the night happened when we entered a massive clearing. For the next 20 minutes we sat and watched the most incredible display of northern lights in the sky. Our guide told us it was the best they had seen for 4 years and it was absolutely breath taking. Turns out it is also very difficult to photograph but I will never forget the bright colours dancing across the sky. We carried on snowmobiling and then stopped in a cabin for some dinner of lingonberry juice and reindeer stew (there is lots of reindeer on this trip)  before returning to the ice hotel for one of the most bizarre night sleeps of my life.

DAY 3 – Spa and Snow Shoes 

I was woken up by a lovely member of the Icehotel staff who gave me a hot cup of lingonberry juice and essentially checked that I hadn’t frozen the death in the night. Given the circumstances I slept really well, the beds were comfy and the sleeping bags were incredibly warm, I just got a very chilly nose! We had one last look around the Icehotel and then headed back to Camp Ripan where we discovered the spa. Dipping in and out of the saunas and hot pools we had a very relaxing day and caught up on a bit of sleep that we missed out on the night before.

Of all the days this was our least busy and most relaxing. In the evening my dad, brother and I ventured back out into the forrest with some snow shoes. They were like big spades with grips on that you attached to the bottom of your shoes and they allowed you to trudge through the snow. Of all the activities this was my least favourite I have to admit, it was very cold, quite difficult and in a way rather pointless as we just walked around in a circle. We did start a fire and saw some amazing stars, as we weren’t allowed any lights, but other than that it would not be something that I would recommend.

DAY 4 – Huskies and Sky Station 

This day was without a doubt my favourite! We spent the day being Husky mushers (driving sleds pulled by huskies) and it was practically my dream came true. On arrival we were greeted by around 140 dogs and led to our sleds made up of 6 huskies. My brother and I took it in turns driving whilst the other sat on the sled being pulled along. We ran across fields of snow and through the woods, with the most beautiful views, but most importantly we got to stroke and cuddle around 30 husky dogs. The youngest on our sled was around one year old and each one loved being snuggled more than the last. I cannot recommend this experience enough! All the guides were so friendly and we stopped for lunch of hot mushroom soup and cheesy bread in a lovely teepee. Most importantly though it was a day with dogs, lots and lots of dogs! (Have I mentioned that dogs were involved enough?)

In the evening we drove for about an hour to the Abisko Sky Station. We were meant to go up a in a chairlift to the station but unfortunately the winds were too strong so it was cancelled. We still got an amazing 3 course meal and watched an interesting presentation all about the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). Following the meal we went on a walk down to a lake where there was a possibility to see the lights again but due to the wind it was incredibly cloudy so we weren’t able to. We were told that it is known to be a place with a high chance of seeing the lights though so if you want to see them you should check it out!

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I forgot to take any photos of the sky station or the meal so here are more dogs to make up for it

DAY 5 – Reindeer farm and Home time 

This was our final day in Kiruna. In the morning we checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to the local reindeer farm. The farm itself was really interesting as it had lots of information about the natives and how they used to live. We were then able to go into a cornered off area and hand feed some reindeers. It seemed a bit intimidating at first as they are rather large animals but turns out they are just like large friendly dogs! They took the food so gently and were happy for you to give them a stroke. It is important to say however that they are incredibly greedy animals so if you want their attention then you will definitely need some food!

We had a rather tense journey home as we were only allocated 50 minutes, once we landed in Stockholm, to get to our connecting flight back to London. Seeing as we were going from a domestic flight to a international flight we had to cut through the lines at security and passport control in order to make it. Ironically after sprinting for the flight our plane got held on the tarmac for an hour due to heavy traffic, at least it gave us time to catch our breath! Before long we were back home and the magic was over! I cannot express enough how much of a winter wonderland lapland is and could not recommend  it enough as a holiday if you want to get away in the colder months! Just remember to pack lots of layers and some reindeer food!

Once again I did vlog the whole holiday so if you want a more visual representation of what I got up to then you can watch it here!

Go and grab another cuppa (or a glass of Glogg) on me, Em x

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