DENISE BARKLEY heads to the wilds of Canada to marvel at the beauty of the Fall

THE autumnal trees of Britain are beautiful, but nothing prepared me for the vivid shades that the Canadian maple trees wear like a technicolor dreamcoat.

With trees resplendent in vibrant red, bright orange, glorious gold and mellow yellow, a trip to Ontario to see the annual leafy extravaganza is spectacular - and there’s no better time to travel than this year, the 150th anniversary of Canada.

We travelled with Titan Travel, British tour specialists with an enviable pedigree, on their fly-coach ‘Colours of the Canadian Fall’. This winning combination of beautiful cities and breathtaking natural wonders was a treat. Titan is a great choice for the more mature traveller with an attention to detail that gives you complete peace of mind yet satisfies the most adventurous travel spirit.

Our holiday started in style, collected from home by private chauffeur and whisked to Gatwick for our Air Transat flight to Toronto. Our tour guide Anne greeted us at check-in and looked after us faultlessly for the next 10 nights.

We flew to Toronto, and what a buzzy cool city it is - I loved its friendly, relaxed atmosphere. With the five-hour time difference, it was tempting to have a nap after checking into the sprawling Sheraton Central, but we resisted and got out on the streets to soak up the city vibe.

We ate the most fabulous coconut tiger prawns at Baton Rouge, emerging on to the neon-lit streets and mingling with the crowd.

The next day we climbed on board our coach for a morning orientation tour of Toronto. It included a visit to the St Lawrence farmers’ market where Peameal bacon butties and butter tarts were voted a big hit! No trip to Toronto is complete without ascending the CN Tower. It stands 1,815ft high and became the world’s tallest tower when completed in 1976 – a record that stood for 34 years. Stand on the transparent floor if you dare – not for me thanks, but the views from the observation platforms were amazing, especially the blue vastness of Lake Ontario.

We were lucky enough to return to the top of the tower that evening for dinner in the 360 Restaurant, which makes a complete rotation every 72 minutes, and were thrilled that the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team were playing a match in the vast Rogers Centre below. Seeing and hearing the crowd going wild in the packed stadium was quite something.

We fitted in a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada that day too – highly recommended, and picked up snack supplies from a grocery store. But, be warned, you can’t buy a bottle of wine in a supermarket in Canada – you have to go to a liquor store, how very annoying!

The next day promised big things, and boy did it deliver. Niagara Falls! Everything I had ever seen or read about this awesome natural wonder paled into insignificance against the real thing.

Dressed in red plastic capes, we boarded the Hornblower and sailed right into the curved belly of the thundering Horseshoe falls, gazing through clouds of damp mist at the relentless water crashing down around us. Yes, this should be on everyone’s bucket list – if it wasn’t real you couldn’t imagine it.

We all got pretty wet, but managed to dry off over lunch and then viewed the falls from the top, equally breathtaking, and we even got a hovering rainbow in our photos as the sun’s rays hit the spray.

We left Toronto the next day, heading for Kingston, via The Big Apple store, which specialises in all things apple from pies to cider. We had to partake of an apple turnover, of course!

Kingston is a lovely, homely, town and we stayed in the Delta Hotel on the waterfront and visited the area’s biggest attraction, Fort Henry. There’s steam trains on Kingston quay alongside the old train station, which is the tourist office these days, and we ate great seafood at Dianne’s Smokehouse then enjoyed a little toe-tapping to an Irish band at the Prince George Hotel.

We cruised the Thousand Islands archipelago the next day and it was fascinating to see luxurious homes perched on the little islands, as well as the impressive Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, commissioned as a present for his wife Louise in 1900.

After her untimely death in 1904 he abandoned the project, leaving the unfinished structure as a monument to his love, but the castle has now been restored and is open to the public.

Leaving the boat, we drove to the Sky Tower, which gives fabulous views of the islands and river, and then travelled via the pretty Jones Falls locks on the Rideau Canal to Canada’s capital city Ottawa, where we settled into the Westin hotel for the next two nights.

Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated here, turning wet and chilly. The capital is welcoming, compact and easily walkable, though we couldn’t escape the crowds.

It was Canada Thanksgiving Weekend – which falls on the second Monday in October - and everywhere was really busy, but we had tour guide Anne and coach driver Alex to guide us round the sights and we enjoyed a boat trip on the River Ottawa.

We had lunch at the buzzy ByWard market and wondered what to do with our free time as it was pouring with rain. As luck would have it, the Westin hotel was bang next door to the massive and extremely alluring – for me – Rideau shopping centre. I whiled away a pleasant couple of hours here while hubbie had a nap...

We had been tipped off that Play restaurant was the place to dine – and had the foresight to book in advance. You choose from an array of ‘small plates’. Cauliflower and curry soup, halloumi cheese salad, duck tostadas, mushroom gnocchi and peanut chocolate bombe, all matched with wines – a knockout meal, I’d fight for a table here!

The colours of the trees were really beginning to zing as we headed out of Ottawa to Muskoka the next day.

It is the sugar maple trees that metamorphosize into this technicolor spectacle, and they make up 80 per cent of the southerly Canadian national parks.

We visited the Algonquin logging museum, hearing about the tough life of a logger. Horses were crucial and dragged the logs to the river, where the men balanced on the timbers to drive them down river. They diced with death – one slip and they could be crushed between the logs.

Algonquin visitor centre was unfortunately unpleasantly heaving – so much so that we had to eat our supplied picnic outside. It was freezing, but viewing the amazing technicolor forest panorama from the viewing platform made it all worthwhile. We also walked a mile or so through the park with ranger Sonia who was a mine of information. Apparently the reds and golds of the maple leaves are always there, but masked by the green of chlorophyll in the summer.

We were enchanted by the Chickadees, members of the Tit family, who perched on our hands to peck at the crumbs we held out for them.

Our home for the next two nights was Hidden Valley Resort, a rather rustic hotel in an idyllic lakeside location nestled among the golden trees. Unfortunately, the Thanksgiving holiday had landed Anne with a problem, as the restaurant was full. She and Alex put their heads together and quickly arranged for all 27 of us to go to a local restaurant. It turned out to be a wonderful bonding session and firmed up fledgling friendships.

We went back into Algonquin National Park the next day, and the sun was shining and making those colours pop – cameras clicked madly.

One of the highlights of the holiday for me was the visit to Johnstone’s cranberry marsh, where the harvest was in progress. Who knew that these little bushes are flooded so that the berries can be gathered in with a mini-combine harvester? We saw the cranberries being sorted and packed, toured the marshes in a tractor-drawn trailer, and sampled the wines.

Last stop of the holiday was at Blue Mountain village, staying at the Westin Trillium hotel. This is a ski resort in the winter and reminded me of a Center Parcs village. It was all rather characterless, though the hotel accommodation was top-notch – we all had mini-apartments complete with kitchenettes. There was even a boil-on-the-hob kettle which went down well with my tea-drinking hubbie who had spent all week having to use coffee machines to boil water for his cuppa!

The weather remained bright and sunny and we enjoyed our free time. I valiantly tried Poutine, which is Canada’s unofficial ‘official’ dish really. The Canadians love the gooey mix of chips and cheese curds topped with gravy, but it was not for me.

The last day of our holiday dawned, and we visited the Scenic Caves, which involved a scramble over rocks into a ravine. I thought this a slightly ridiculous activity for our mature group, but the suspension bridge here gave wonderful views of the surrounding lakes and more of those beautiful trees. The fish ladder at Thornbury dam was fascinating too, watching the salmon and trout jumping up the man-made rock tiers to get to the river to spawn.

It was the end of a brilliant holiday, and we returned to Toronto for our flight home. If you enjoy coach travel and want to be kept busy and stimulated, this is a great break. Seeing the Canadian Fall in all its glory is an experience I would not have missed for the world.

Titan 12-day Colours of the Canadian Fall escorted tour, prices start from £2,249 per person travelling on October 9, 2017. Other dates are available. The costs include scheduled direct flights, ten nights in hotels and one in flight, 12 excursions and visits, the services of an experienced Titan tour manager and VIP door-to-door travel service. Call 0808 256 5650 or visit