Having just returned from an amazing visit to the Canadian Rockies, I felt I had to share the experience before we put Winter behind us and turn our faces to the sunshine.
The Canadian Rockies in Winter is a spectacular sight – frozen lakes, crisp white snow and cosy log fires make it an ideal romantic break.
Calgary is the gateway airport and whilst the city is worth seeing, the best part at this time of year is the Rockies, some 90 miles away, where the stunning town of Banff nestles amongst snowy mountains. With accommodation ranging from simple chalets to the 5-star Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, there is plenty of choice. Bars and restaurants line Banff Avenue with their welcoming winebar-style menus and relaxed atmospheres.
Regardless of whether you ski or not, there is so much to experience in this winter wonderland. A walk through Johnston Canyon (with ice cleats strapped to my shoes) was a leisurely but invigorating experience. It took around 30 minutes to reach the lower falls and a further – rather more energetic – 30 minutes to get to the upper falls. A hot chocolate break is mandatory after such exertion!
You can book a 90-minute snowshoe walk from Lake Louise (one of the most photographed places in the Rockies). The gondola ride to the top of the mountain has breath-taking views and our guide was informative and interesting as she regaled us with tales of avalanche control and mountain wildlife.
Learning to ski or snowboard is easy in Banff or Lake Louise. Ski Big 3 can organise group or individual lessons on nursery slopes just to help you get familiar with moving on the snow and then, after that, just practise and enjoy! A great way of easing the inevitable aches of the day is to plunge into Banff Upper Hot Springs. This soothing natural pool is fed from Sulphur Mountain and reaches around 40 degrees.
Food and drink is a major feature and there are many special and delicious delights to be had. For a hearty big breakfast try The Keg (inside the Caribou Lodge) or The Poppy Brasserie with a full-service buffet including a Pancake station (with unlimited maple syrup of course!) and a smoothie bar for a more healthy approach.
The Banff Avenue Brewing Company is great for high quality beers and massive portions of pub food. Another must-visit is The Park Distillery, renowned for their own specialist Vodka and Gin: pair either of these with their rotisserie speciality and you have a winner.
Castello Ristorante in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is highly recommended – the lobster ravioli and arancini was to die for!
For a delicious fondue experience try Walliser Stube, a speciality restaurant in The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel. This restaurant is well-established and full of character. If you have not tried fondue before – or remember it as being ‘the thing’ in the seventies – it is time to try their amazing Mushroom and Shallot fondue with truffle, followed by the Toblerone fondue for dessert! Add a shot of Frangelico for extra heavenly moments!
Other random but equally exciting must-do’s include dog sledding. This a really fabulous experience and if, like me, you are crazy about dogs, you will want to choose a company who respect and treat their animals well such as Snowy Owl Tours – a family-run business that operates a professional and safe service.
If you want a longer experience, travel through the Icefield Parkway into Jasper where you can board The Canadian Train which travels from Toronto to Vancouver. This overnight journey will keep you warm, cosy and well fed on board and then, when you wake up in your snug cabin, you will be in Vancouver – a bustling scenic, friendly city on the Pacific coast.
I could go on…and on…and on…but maybe another time!
Time Difference: 7 hours
Currency: Canadian Dollar
Flying Time: 9 hours
- Take the transfer coach from Calgary to Banff rather than drive. It is a regular service geared up for icy weather.
- British Citizens require a Eta visa to enter Canada www.
- Thermal underwear is essential – even if it is a romantic break!