Love in the wild blue yonder

OPEN ROAD: Driving Canada's Yukon.
OPEN ROAD: Driving Canada's Yukon.

Canada's big open spaces usually conjure up images of hiking, hunting and fishing, but the country also has some memorably romantic soft spots that will charm couples of all ages.

Falling in love

An evergreen North American honeymoon destination for more than a century, Canada's Horseshoe Falls still has the magic to ignite the love light in your eyes. Clinging to each other, couples explore the roar aboard the Maid of the Mist as the boat ventures into the maelstrom thundering 52 metres overhead.

Geese fly through swirling, towering mists as an astounding 130 million litres a minute plunge over a crest line curving more than half a kilometre. It's attracted the regal and royally deranged and some are depicted in the town's IMAX production, Legends & Daredevils.

Tightrope walker Charles Blondin was the first to cross them. A 63-year-old spinster school teacher stuffed herself and her cat into a barrel and plunged over them, while the Prince of Wales saw their first illumination in 1860. Dripping in luscious rainbow hues, this spectacular scene still enchants couples out on an evening stroll.

Budget romantics can get a million-dollar front-row light show seat at Fallsview Casino's $C20 ($NZ25) buffet. Request a falls view table and say you don't mind waiting.

Romancing the stone

Why is sex so much trouble? I'm not sure who's counting, but of the 7.8 million sockeye salmon attempting the 480-kilometre migration from the Pacific Ocean to spawn at the mouth of Adams River, only 2.1 million complete the trip to nirvana. The males then have to muster the energy to compete for mates and sexually exhaust themselves before dying. Note to self: don't come back as a salmon!

Travel the same route in Rocky Mountaineer's comfortably upholstered GoldLeaf seats, however, and it's easy to see why this award-winning rail trail is on so many couples' bucket list. "It's something we've always dreamed of doing," they chorus. Fingers entwined, they watch jaw-dropping landscapes, from crystal-tipped rivers to monumental mountains, slide past glass-domed carriages.

Phone cameras are on visual overload, capturing ribbons of snowmelt tumbling over plains, towering Douglas fir forests and serrated mountain ridges carved with scalpel precision.

It's a long way from Siberia but near Lake Louise we pass the wooden cabin where Doctor Zhivago romanced Lara in the movie that set many hearts aflutter in 1965. With seamless service, there's nothing to distract you from enjoying the ride.

You don't even have to worry about luggage - it's waiting for you in your room at each overnight stop. With hearty breakfasts, gourmet lunches served with fine regional Okanagan wines and snacks on demand, what's not to love?

Paris match

When it comes to romance, the croissant-shaped island of Montreal almost gives Paris a run for its money. Known as Canada's kissing capital, French-speaking citizens proudly celebrate their Gallic heritage by greeting visitors with a smacker on both cheeks.

It works like a charm in a city where culture, style and food have put Montreal high on the international hip parade.

Nibbling local delicacy racine petits fruits, tiny wild blueberries dipped in chocolate, while reclining in a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around the Old Town's web of cobblestone streets is like a dreamy re-run of yesteryear.

Graciously restored 18th-century buildings now house stylish boutiques, galleries, cafes and bars that become especially romantic at dusk when lights softly burnish centuries-old stonework.

Like Paris, Montreal is a bike-friendly city of distinct neighbourhoods. Cycle around Plateau Mont-Royal from where Montreal takes its name. See maple trees arched across sun-dappled streets where music, art and food markets are a daily celebration, then head up the mountain for spectacular sunset city views.

Three hours from Montreal, the chic, walled enclave of Quebec City's Petit Champlain Quarter is part of a city that is the cradle of French culture in North America.

Cuddling couples stroll along cobblestone streets flanked by Normandy-inspired field-stone cottages with brightly painted front doors and geraniums spilling over window boxes.

Sitting in Place Royale, the square where Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Catch Me If You Can was captured, the lilting melodies of a piano accordionist lure lovers into charming bistros and cosy inns.

Take the funicular ride to the boardwalk overlooking the St Lawrence River, where stylish couples have promenaded since the Belle Epoque.

Riding the range

"City folk don't know what it feels like to taste sweet water from our springs, see a pincushion of stars at night and experience the sound of stillness. It's a totally different life to the one they're living and it provides an opportunity for them to connect with nature and themselves." Owner Norm Dove is summing up the Echo Valley Ranch & Spa experience while piloting guests aboard his Cessna 206 for the 30-minute flight from Kamloops Airport.

A ritzy, rustic resort for just 40 guests set among 8000 hectares, horse wrangling and riding, all-terrain exploration, abundant hiking, fascinating guests and old-fashioned cookouts add spice to life on the range.

Guest cabins sit amid rolling lawns and there are well-stocked fish ponds where Darrel "The Kid" demonstrates the finer points of fly fishing while giving his extensive repertoire of jokes a workout.

Guests can snack on handfuls of wild raspberries and strawberries gathered along dusty trails or join chef Jason Folk to forage in the prolific kitchen garden and gather wild watercress by the pond before a cooking class. In this wild, pure environment, his "farm to fork" culinary philosophy is the real deal.

Echo Valley is great for couples who need therapy - massage therapy, that is. The ranch's exquisite Baan Thai luxury spa pavilion is where urban cowboys and girls come to relax after a day riding the range on the ranch's Tennessee Walker horses. Created by architect Dr Pinyo Suwankiri, who designs for the King of Thailand, guests select from a menu of total-body therapies and traditional Thai massages that are delivered by experienced, authentic Thai masseuses.

Sipping hot ginger tea made from just-picked fresh ginger root fits perfectly with the spa's philosophy of going with the flow of life.

It takes two

Two people side by side in the cabin of an RV with nothing before them but the open road may not be everyone's idea of heaven.

But if you're seeking couple-dom adventure with majestic scenery, vast lakes and hardly a soul around, then travelling under a big sky through Canada's Yukon delivers big time.

From the town of Whitehorse slung along the banks of the mighty Yukon River, stock up the mobile pantry, put Johnny Horton's North to Alaska in the CD player and head up the Klondike Highway for a five-day expedition that'll bring out his rugged pioneering spirit. Trace the sparkling Stewart River as dust plumes off loose gravel all the way to Dawson City, set beneath cotton-wool clouds. Following in the footsteps of the gold-rush stampeders, stroll Front Street's boardwalks past clapboard shop fronts and check out Diamond Tooth Gerties, Canada's oldest casino.

Get your guy on stage at the follies show with a line-up of lovelies and you could go home with one of the garters! Cross the mighty Yukon and drive the Top of the World Highway that spans mountain ranges and vertiginous chasms before dipping into Alaska.

Lunch on the banks of glacial rivers, fish in emerald lakes and embrace the big outdoors by hiking to the treeline, safe in the knowledge that he'll protect you from any bears in there.

Massive rivers of snowmelt unlock Kluane's ice-bound heart, the world's largest protected area that stretches from the Yukon to Alaska, spreading like a giant circulatory system into wide river plains that bite deep into valleys.

Take a walk on this wild side as sunset flushes the mountain in a warm blush and you'll find that it takes only two to have a singularly unforgettable experience.

The writer was the guest of Canadian Tourism Commission and Air New Zealand.

Trip notes

Getting there

Air New Zealand operates direct flights to Vancouver from Auckland.

Getting around

VIA Rail Canada has an excellent schedule of inter-city passenger rail services across Canada.
Rocky Mountaineer offers iconic rail adventures.
Air Canada and affiliates operate daily flights linking cities across Canada.
CanaDream rents motor homes of different sizes.

Staying there

Niagara DoubleTree Fallsview Resort & Spa, 6039 Fallsview Boulevard, Niagara Falls, Ontario. King bed US Fallsview rooms from $C149 ($NZ200)

Montreal Hotel St Paul, 355 McGill Street, Montreal. Fall specials have rooms from $C232 ($NZ265).

Quebec City Hotel Manoir Victoria, 44 Cote du Palais, Vieux-Quebec. Standard rooms from $C189 ($NZ205).

Echo Valley Ranch & Spa A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, at 10635 Jesmond Road, Jesmond, BC. Lodge rooms from $C190 ($NZ230), one-bedroom deluxe cabins from $C250 ($NZ290).

Whitehorse Gold Rush Inn, 411 Main Street, Whitehorse, Yukon. Queen bed rooms from $C170 ($NZ199).

More information

Sydney Morning Herald