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Canada is a vast territory of untamed nature, mineral wealth, and top-ranked ski country, all pinned down on its southern corners by some of the world’s most livable cities. These urban areas are great jumping-off points for reaching the nation’s wilder interiors.

On the Pacific Coast is the cosmopolitan hub of Vancouver, an extraordinarily good-looking city settled in between mountains and forest and bay. It’s an expensive place -- your best bet is January-March for deals when the city is cold but not unpleasant. Vancouver is about a two-hour drive south of Whistler, the largest ski resort in North America.

Banff National Park is another wintertime playground, with skiing, dogsledding, snowshoeing and sleigh riding. It’s also a warm-weather trove of hikes, bikes, horses and campgrounds. The park sits about a 90-minute drive west of Calgary, a metropolitan hub that retains a bit of its frontier character, mixing rodeos with emerging arts and nightlife.

Swing over to the east end of the country to reach Toronto. Described as “New York run by the Swiss,” Toronto has rich, big-city cultural and culinary achievements and a politeness and precision that Gotham can only dream of. It’s a clean, walkable city worthy of a many-day stopover. It’s also less than two hours north of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, long accepted as the “better” side of the falls.

Swiss precision changes to French flair further east in Montreal and Quebec City. While these two towns are sometimes pitted against each other as “should I visit this one or that one”, make it easy on yourself and see both—a three-hour train ride connects them. Both cities are rich in European charm—probably the two most “European feeling” cities in North America.

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