A whirlwind Tour
A whirlwind tour of Banff and Jasper in November was a great opportunity for me to get my first taste of Canada and the Rockies. So, after flying into Calgary it was on the bus to our first port of call Banff and the newly refurbished Mount Royal Hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Banff as a town would not be out of place in Switzerland, its chalet architecture and mountain views are beautiful. A small-town with a population of 7,500. It attracts 4.18 million visitors to the National Park per year. Designed for the tourist Banff has a good choice of hotels and quality restaurants cafes and general shops. There is a friendly vibe and good transport links. The first bar I went into even brewed its own gin! Most hotels offer a good restaurant, bars and a pool or a hot tub in our case the hot tub was outside on the roof of the hotel. Bracing – with temperatures around 1 to -8 not for the faint hearted.
Arriving in November is a great time to go as it is just before the main skiing season starts so you can really appreciate the winter landscape without being distracted.
Whilst the bears are hibernating, you regularly see the Elks out and about. The thing that strikes you most when traveling through the National Parks are there are no small hamlets. it can be hours before you see another driver on the road!
The Banff Gondola is fun an easy way to take in the sights of Sulphur Mountain. For those feeling more energetic then skiing or snow-boarding down is great fun! You might even get met by a red squirrel foraging for food. There is also an opportunity to either learn or brush up your ski skills! A visit to Bow falls is also a must. Even at this time a year when the waterfall and lakes are freezing over, you still get flashes of the turquoise water caused by the minerals in the water and oh so clear.
We were lucky enough to secure the services of our coach driver Mike McCormack who loved sharing his experiences and love of the Rockies with us, as did many of the guides we met over the five days. On our journey to Jasper Mike schooled us in bear etiquette should we inadvertently disturb one. On the road – highway 93 there is such a feeling of space with mountain views that continue to surprise and delight you on this beautiful route.
Jasper again is not a large town -no high-rise here, located within the Athabasca River Valley and an important rail terminal. Freight trains can take 30 minutes to pass as they are so long, so make sure you are on the right side of the track otherwise it can be a long wait!
For those wanting to experience some time on the train through the Rockies, be warned that many of the tourist routes close at the end of September and don’t run again until April, so you need to check carefully before your book your trip. The preferred winter season method of transport between towns is coach. The Glacier Skywalk has also closed by then, but there are still some wonderful hikes and glacial walks to experience. I was lucky enough to join a guided tour and hike up part of the Miligne Canyon, this was an opportunity to see the rugged terrain first hand, take in that mountain air and see the waterfalls frozen as if in some fairy tale.
Another evening I went to the Fairmont Jasper Park Hotel for dinner. The interior of the main part of the hotel looks like something from a Scottish baronial hall. There are private lodges surrounding It, which are set in 700 acres around the shore of Lac Beauvert. The Fairmont hotel chain and glorious buildings sprung up thanks to huge investments in the railways in the 1900s. This five-star hotel has outstanding restaurants, the food and wine are of the highest standard. There is even a Labrador in each of the chains hotels for those guests missing their own pets to walk or stroke. We had a wonderful experience watching the stars in the Dark Sky experience which had a temporary home in the grounds.
While in Jasper we stayed at the Lobstick Lodge Hotel, situated on the edge of the town – an advantage if you don’t want to be woken by the freight trains early in the morning. It is a modest 3-star hotel, comfortable with large rooms and good food.
For our last night we headed back to Lake Louise frozen this time of year. I now can say that I have walked on water! In the summer it is transformed into a jewel like turquoise blue lake, in winter it is majestically covered with a thick sheet of ice. Stepping out on that ice sheet for the first time is scary – oh yes, but in a funny sort of way liberating as well. Our last hotel the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits proudly to one side with iconic views from many of the rooms. When we there the staff were starting to polish the ice rink on the lake ready for the winter skaters! Again 5-star comfort and it was with great sadness the next morning that we bid the staff and Marcus the Labrador farewell! The dog was already in search of his next dog treat from that new guest.
On the way back to Calgary we took the opportunity to visit the Olympic Park made famous by Eddie the Eagle, the jump is closed, but the ski slopes are still well used.
Would I go back? – that is always the acid test for me when travelling, I would like to visit again perhaps at a different time of the year. I am so pleased that winter was my first experience of this wonderful and welcoming country. If you enjoy walking taking in glorious views or like to ski you would enjoy this holiday.
Judith Quiney flew return Air Canada from London Heathrow to Calgary. She stayed in Banff at Mount Royal Hotel, in Jasper at Lobstick Lodge and in Lake Louise at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
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