There are so many reasons to fall in love with the Canadian Rocky Mountains, but the best reason is because you can adore this destination regardless of your budget.
This is one part of the world where the wilderness speaks to you, no matter how heavy your wallet is. Our Travel Expert Rose Jacobs takes us on a wild and rocky tour of the best!
As I sat perched precariously on the inflatable raft, drifting rapidly down the Bow River in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it occurred to me I was pretty far from home. It could have been the snow-capped mountains surrounding me at every angle. Perhaps it was the water that glowed azure green like no other water we have at home. Maybe it was the running commentary of our friendly rafting guide, describing the oversized grizzly bear that was sitting on the riverbank just yesterday, or perhaps it was the large hunting knife strapped to his thigh that glinted in the sun as he casually described how one is supposed to survive if one comes face to face with such a bear. Either way, I was captivated… yes, by my guide, but more so by the passion for which he spoke about his beloved country Canada; and rightly so.
If you’re contemplating a trip that thrusts you deep into the most extraordinary wilderness, where the people are strangely like Aussies in their sense of humour, adventure and warmth, and where the standard of hospitality rivals anywhere else in the world, then Canada is your destination.
Now, it’s a broad country. So, let’s narrow things down. I’m going to give you my top four destinations and experiences for you to tick off on your bucket list. Here we go:
1. LAKE LOUISE
Imagine a postcard of the most spectacular chateau, nestled at the base of a fluorescent green lake, facing a breathtaking glacier and you have Lake Louise; although these words don’t come close to describing its beauty.
STAY: Chateau Lake Louise. Nothing else will ever compare.
DO: Regardless of the time of year you visit, you must get out onto the lake. In summer, canoeing is the best. In winter, ice skating is phenomenal. Also, I recommend meeting the local mountie, Pat. And, if you’re a dog lover and you’re missing your pooch, the chateau has their own dog, available for walks.
DINE: This is where I struggled, for all the right reasons! I struggled to choose between the amazing dining options within the chateau and then I struggled to fit through the door! Poppy Brasserie is the family friendly option. Lago is the Italian Restaurant (translates to “lake”) and then there’s Wallister Stubé, the Swisse Fondu Restaurant. I’ve made my point.
The Jasper National Park is known for its tranquility. I would agree with this 100 per cent if it weren’t for the elks screaming like hormonal teenage boys during their rutting season. To be honest, this was nothing but fascinating, certainly not a negative!
The lakes, the forests, the mountains that you have to crane your neck to see the top of… what’s not to love!
STAY: The Jasper Park Lodge will steal your heart. You’ll feel like a mountie yourself in the traditional lodges, fitted with fire places and balconies. It’s a huge property and you will feel like you’re the only ones there.
DO: Two top tips – a boat cruise on Maligne Lake to Spirit Island. No-one knows why it is called that, but I can guarantee it will bring out the inner spirit in you and leave you breathless. Secondly, to bring the air back into your lungs, hit the high road in style and saddle up in a Harley Side Car Tour! The Jasper Park Lodge can arrange everything for you. All you need is a wild side and a camera!
DINE: The main restaurant at Jasper Park Lodge looks out of Beauvert Lake (translates to "beautiful green", which it most certainly is!). I strongly recommend sitting on the balcony and with a sundowner… the local specialty “Caesar”, which is like a Canadian twist on a Bloody Mary. Sensational!
You can’t say the word Banff without saying Banff Springs. And you can’t say Banff Springs without immediately picturing hot steamy outdoor spas, set amongst icing-cake like pockets of fresh snow or in the summer, an electric array of colourful flowers and lush green mountains. So, I’m pleased to say, this is what you will indeed find at Banff. It’s a national park, and the rivers are a sight to behold.
STAY: The Fairmont Banff Springs is like a fairytale. It’s originally designed on the theme of a Scottish castle and the history in fact tells that the hotel was accidentally built backwards, facing away from the view! But let me tell you, this has in no way detracted from your ability to soak it in from every angle of the property, including the world-class spas.
DO: The second immediate connotation that ‘springs’ to mind about Banff is the world-renowned golf course. And let me tell you, I have never in my life actually swung a golf club before, but as a complete novice (expert beginner was I believe, the phrase my personal golf instructor gave me!) I had the time of my life! And the view is impossible to beat. Go on, I dare you!
I also seriously recommend the Bow River Float Trip, which was the rafting experience I mentioned earlier. For me, it was my personal highlight of the trip. You have to do it to know why.
DINE: There’s something very, very special about Banff’s dining scene and his name is Joseph William Foster. “JB” is the Head Chef at the Fairmont Banff Springs Restaurant 1888 and he is a man with vision. He is putting a modern twist on the heritage of Canadian dining. Sourcing the best local produce, including Elk, Venison and Boar, your taste buds are bound to find something new. You must have the Buffalo Tartar.
A short flight to British Columbia brings you to the capital city of Victoria. Entirely different to any of the previous ‘wilderness’ themed locations, this is a modern, young, exciting city that sits proudly upon a majestic harbour. And boy does she take advantage of this! The day I landed it was a sultry 30 degrees (A far cry from the snow-capped views of the previous day) and the sun was glistening off the boats, the seaside cafes and bars, the seaplanes. Oh yes, the sea planes!
DO: Book yourself a flight over Vancouver Island and discover the magic of the waterways, the lakes, the mountains and the harbour-side estates. It will blow your mind!
If you’re after something a little more slow-paced then you cannot go past the horse-drawn carriage rides throughout the city and the parks. It is a very special and romantic) way to see a foreign land.
STAY: The Fairmont Empress Hotel is phenomenal. She is a stately old lady, with so many stories to tell. There is no better location in the entire city.
DINE: And this is the main draw-card of The Empress… the Afternoon Tea experience. For a start, the shortest-serving waiter has been with the hotel since 1986. The Empress has served the likes of Harrison Ford, John Wayne, Queen Elizabeth and The Queen Mother and King George VI. In 1999 The Empress became listed as a heritage building. You won’t want to leave… especially when they bring out the pastries and champagne!
If none of this tickles your fancy, then I can only wonder why it is that you are still reading this article. If you’re like me however, you are still wanting to hear more. And this is why I suggest you book yourself a trip as soon as possible. Perhaps leave your hunting knife at home.
Rose Travelled as a guest of Scenic Luxury Tours and Air Canada. All of the above mentioned experiences are available when you book with Scenic.
Rose Jacobs is a Travel Journalist and Television Presenter. Rose also writes her own blog poopypropeller.blogspot.com.au with travel advice for parents travelling with kids. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.