Sample product: Travelpack offers three nights at the Le Meridien Versailles in July from £589, including flights.
Toronto: Shakespeare, jazz and a world-class film festival are a few of the city’s highlights, but things turn Caribbean from July 21 to August 7, when Caribana hits town (Caribana.com). Bands blast out Caribbean tunes and dancers parade to calypso and steel drums.
Sample product: Globespan offers four nights at the boutique-style Strathcona Hotel from £695 in July, including flights.
Vancouver: trust healthy Vancouverites to come up with an outdoorsy take on Shakespeare: the city’s Bard on the Beach festival (Bardonthebeach.org) takes place from June 1 to September 24. If you don’t fancy mixing stage with sand, try the Jazz Festival instead, from June 23 to July 2 (Coastaljazz.ca).
Sample product: Travel 4 offers five nights at the Best Western Sands from £830 this month, including flights.
Halifax: the Nova Scotia capital celebrates everything from military heritage to busking. The Military Tattoo (Nstattoo.ca) takes place from July 1 to 8 at the Halifax Metro Centre. And the 100th Anniversary of the Changing of the Guard kicks off the annual Celtic Festival from July 17 to 25 (Changingoftheguard.ca; Halifaxcelticfeis.com). Less military muscle will be on display at the International Buskers’ Festival, taking place during August 10 to 20 (Buskers.ca).
Sample product: Gold Medal Travel has three nights at the Citadel Halifax from £885 this July, including flights.
While fans of Brokeback Mountain will be heading for the Rockies this summer, real cowboys will be heading to the city for a change. Calgary, the gateway to the Canadian Rockies, hosts its annual Stampede in July, and if attendance figures are anything to go by – more than one million last year – then the event lives up to its own hype.
Billed as the greatest outdoor show on earth, the stampede takes place from July 7 to 16 and is non-stop action from start to finish. It’s more than just a rodeo, there are events all over the showground: dancers, singers and mock gunfighters all jostle for your attention. North America doesn’t get the World Cup, but it does have the World Championship Hat Stomping Contest. Country music lovers are well catered for with the North of Nashville stage.
The main attractions are the rodeo and cowboy events and many of the world’s top cowboys, from as far as Australia, compete for big cash prizes. The events that really get the ‘yee-hahs’ out of the audiences include the Chuck Wagon races – think Ben Hur but with chaps and stetsons – the bareback bronco riding, steer-wrestling, calf-roping, barrel-riding and the bull-riding.
“In Spain they run from the bulls,” the programme proudly boasts. “This ain’t Spain.”
While Spain may not appreciate this slur on its manhood, you’d be hard pressed to find a more macho pursuit than bull-riding. The sight of a man trying to stay on top of a 2,000lb Brahma bull for eight seconds is a sure crowd pleaser.
Anxious to know why any man would choose to make a living this way, I asked one of the barrel-riders, Ellie from Idaho, why she thought the cowboys would attempt to ride one of these killing machines. “More balls than brains,” was her typically economical cowgirl reply.
Barrel-riding, one of the most skilful events in the Stampede, gives the cowgirls their chance to show they’re every bit as ballsy as the boys. They race around the arena at breakneck speed twisting their mounts between the barrels. Most of the cowgirls were on the back of a horse before they could chew gum and their equine skills are a joy to watch.
Native culture is far more readily embraced in Canada than south of the border. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Indian village in the showground and at the world-class Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary.
The Indian Village, which represents the five tribes of The First Nations People, is a popular family attraction. There are 27 teepees, as well as native dancing displays.
And until you’ve seen world hoop-dancing champion Lisa Odjig strut her stuff, you ain’t seen nothing.
The Stampede is a great time to be in Calgary as the city is small enough to be taken over by the festivities. Even some of Canada’s most prominent politicians come to rustle up pancakes for the legendary free pancake breakfast provided by the Stampede Caravan. It has been a tradition for more than 80 years and is served up every day in and around the city. Flip one for me, Minister, and hold the maple syrup.
Stampede sample product
1st Class Holidays offers MyTravel flights to Calgary from £543, including taxes. Accommodation at the three-star Five Calgary Downtown Suites leads in at £83 per room per night. Stampede tickets cost £32 for afternoon shows and £43 in the evening. Minibus transfers cost £10 each way. A three-night package is available, with accommodation and two show tickets from £255 per person.
Travel 4 offers a three-night break with Air Canada flights, accommodation at the three-star Ramada Hotel Downtown, an afternoon rodeo ticket, plus an evening ticket to the chuckwagon races and grandstand show from £1,132 per person.
Travelpack offers five nights at the four-star Westin in Calgary from £1,159 in July. Included in the price are Northwest Airlines flights, transfers, room-only accommodation, two-day admission to Stampede Park, an evening ticket to the chuckwagon races and grandstand show.