Finding the best of Vancouver

Steven R. Lorton

SHOPPING
For maps, brochures, and personalized service, visit the Tourism Vancouver InfoCentre (8:30-5 Mon-Sat; 200 Burrard St., next to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel; www.tourismvancouver.com or 604/683-2000). All prices are quoted in Canadian dollars (the exchange rate was about 64 cents U.S. to the Canadian dollar at press time

La Casa del Habano. 980 Robson St.; (604) 609-0511.

Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics. 1025 Robson; (604) 687-5874.

Murchie's Tea & Coffee. 970 Robson; www.murchies.com or (604) 669-0783.

Purdy's Chocolates. 105-1100 Robson; (604) 685-7884.

LODGING AND RESTAURANTS
Even Ebenezer Scrooge figured it out―the holidays were made for excess. Although bargain accommodations abound in Vancouver, splurging is half the fun this time of year. The hotels and their in-house restaurants listed here are especially delightful at Christmas: lavishly decorated, with extravagant seasonal meals. Many offer packages―contact Tourism Vancouver InfoCentre (see above) for special rates and online bookings.

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Opened in 1939, this grandest of the city's grande dames is decorated each year in high, neo-Edwardian style. Steak and seafood top the menu at the hotel's restaurant, 900 West. 556 rooms from $199. 900 W. Georgia St.; www.fairmont.com, (800) 441-1414, or (604) 684-3131.

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. Facing Vancouver City Harbour, the contemporary marble and travertine interior is filled with Christmas trees decorated in monochromatic color schemes and massive pots of fresh flowers. The restaurant, Herons, is famous for its lavish Sunday brunches. And if―we kid you not―musk ox is on the menu, try it. You'll be surprised by its tender texture and subtle richness. 489 rooms from $219. 900 Canada Place Way; www.fairmont.com or (604) 691-1991.

Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver. The festival of trees―40 themed trees sponsored by local corporations for charity―is a Vancouver holiday tradition. The Chartwell restaurant features local seafood. 376 rooms from $225. 791 W. Georgia; www.fourseasons.com/vancouver, (800) 332-3442, or (604) 689-9333.

Metropolitan Hotel. Elegantly understated, a single towering Christmas tree and bold seasonal floral arrangements welcome visitors. The Diva at the Met restaurant features British Columbian cuisine: don't miss executive chef Chris Mills's inlet sockeye salmon with Dungeness crab and creamed leeks in a peppered citrus-orange sauce. 197 rooms from $199. 645 Howe St.; (800) 667-2300.

Pan Pacific Hotel. The Christmas tree in this bustling international hotel's lobby has been known to top 25 feet. The Five Sails Restaurant boasts views over Burrard Inlet and a menu that specializes in Northwestern cuisine. 504 rooms from $199. 999 Canada Place; www.panpac.com or (604) 662-8111.

The Sutton Place Hotel. The lobby is filled with decorated trees and pastry chef Wolfgang Dauke's extravagant displays of chocolates. There's more chocolate at the Fleuri Restaurant: the chocoholic buffet is open 5-10 p.m. Thu-Sat (for those whose sweet tooths have already been sated, there's a fine Sunday buffet too). 397 rooms from $199. 845 Burrard; www.suttonplace.com, (800) 961-7555, or (604) 682-5511.