By David Orkin

WHERE With a population of just under one million, Calgary is Alberta’s largest city. Located on the high plains, about 80km east of the Canadian Rockies, central Calgary lies between the Bow River and the Elbow River. At the rivers’ confluence (to the east) is St George’s Island, home to Calgary Zoo (001 403 232 9300; www.calgaryzoo.org). North of the downtown area, Prince’s Island Park and the stalls of Eau Claire Market (001 403 264 6450; www.eauclairemarket.com) are tucked into a bend of the Bow.

Downtown, two good accommodation choices are the Hyatt Regency Calgary (001 403 717 1234; www.calgary.hyatt.com), with doubles from C$287 (£135); and the Fairmont Palliser (001 403 262 1234; www.fairmont. com/palliser), with doubles from C$221 (£104). The intimate Calgary City View B&B (001 403 237 0454; www.calgarycityview.com) has just three rooms from C$53 (£25).

WHY Among the modern oil boom tower blocks, Calgary retains much of its traditional culture of hotel saloons, Western bars and night clubs. Balancing the spit and sawdust are top-notch performance arts groups including the Calgary Opera, and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. The shopping is great, too. Antique-seekers should head for Inglewood. The huge event of the year – billed as “the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” is the annual Calgary Stampede (001 403 269 9822; www.cs.calgarystampede.com): next year’s dates are 4-13 July. Music lovers will enjoy the annual Calgary Folk Festival (001 403 233 0904; www.calgaryfolkfest.com).Winter visitors can ski in the Canadian Rockies and go ice skating, sledding, or watch ice hockey at the Pengrowth Saddledome (001 403 777 4636; www.pengrowthsaddledome.com) home of the NHL team the Calgary Flames.

WHAT For a slice of the past, head to Fort Calgary Historic Park (001 403 290 1875; www.fort calgary.ab.ca) or Heritage Park Historical Village (001 403 268 8500; www.heritagepark.ca). The Glenbow Museum (001 403 268 4100; www.glenbow.org) is the pre-eminent regional museum of the Canadian West. Areas with good dining options include the pedestrian- friendly Stephen Avenue area. With a great Prince’s Island Park location, enjoy seasonal Canadian cuisine at River Café (001 403 261 7670; www.river-cafe.com). For Italian cooking, you can’t go wrong at Capo (001 403 264 2276; www.caporestaurant.ca) in Inglewood, while carnivores will enjoy Caesar’s Steak House (001 403 264 1222; www. caesarssteak.calgaryplus.ca). The city’s Chinatown is home to dozens of restaurants including Vietnamese, Thai – and of course, Chinese. If you get the urge for a martini or cocktail, try Ming (001 403 229 1986). Wannabe cowboys won’t want to miss C&W dancing at Ranchman’s, 9615 Macleod Trail S. (001 403 253 1100; www.ranchmans.com), while if jazz is your thang, make for Beat Niq (001 403 263 1650; www.beatniq.com). For the best overview of the city, try the glass-floored Observation Deck 160m above street level in the Calgary Tower (001 403 266 7171; www.calgarytower.com).

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