Landing at Calgary Airport after a comfortable flight with Air Transat from Gatwick, we were transferred to the Calgary Marriott hotel. Greeted with refreshing strawberry or lime water, and shown to our rooms, we were then left free to explore the local shops that Calgary had to offer! After several hours of shopping (and trying not to spend all of my money on a pair of real cowboy boots!) we were met in the hotel reception and taken to the Calgary Tower for our meal. The Calgary Tower is one of the highest structures in Calgary, and as well as having an observation deck with a glass floor so that it feels you are literally walking on air, it is home to a revolving 360 degrees restaurant.
After a buffet breakfast at the Marriott we were met by Patrick, a guide from Discover Banff Tours who would be our driver (and tour guide!) for the next couple of days. The two hour drive to Banff was just perfect to take in the scenery on our way. Arriving in Banff National Park was surreal, as we drove through Downtown it was as if we had driven onto a film set. Checking in at the Banff Caribou Lodge and Spa, the beautiful lobby complete with a log fire, was most welcoming. After a quick change, it was time to explore Banff properly, starting with Mount Norquay. Mount Norquay was short drive away, and is one of the three main ski resorts in Banff, however it is currently the only resort which offers night skiing. Despite the heavy snow, our guide from the resort took us up in the chair lift so that we were able to see the fantastic views from the Cliff House. We spotted people on a last minute ski on our way up, on the last day of ski season. Coming back down in the chair lift and covered in snow, and we were taken to the restaurant and greeted with a hot chocolate ‘with a twist’ (maple syrup, and rum!), and offered a dish created by the Canadians, called Poutine, which is made up of chips, gravy and cheese – definitely an acquired taste!!
After lunch, it was time to move onto the afternoon ‘treat’, a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs, proclaimed to have healing powers. After hiring our 1950’s swimming costumes, we braved the cold temperatures to bathe in the springs, we were soon surprised to be sitting on the edge of the pool, looking at the snow falling on the mountains and watching the steam rise from the springs, it was a very surreal experience, that I would definitely recommend!
On the way back to the Caribou Lodge, we stopped off at the Whyte Museum which is full of history, culture and also shows modern art. Walking into the museum, we were lucky enough to meet Tony Bloom, who is currently showcasing his work in the museum, he uses stainless steel to balance 3D shapes, known as ‘Land Buoys’, to explore the concept of threats to the environment. As well as the artwork, there is plenty of history on display some of which dates back to native Canada.
After a good nights sleep at the Caribou, and a (very) early morning swim in the spa’s swimming pool, we were met at the Fox Hotel and Suites, which is rated number 1 hotel on Trip Advisor in Downtown Banff, and shown the different room categories available.
We were booked to go on the Banff Gondola, but with several hours to spare, we were taken on a guided tour to give us a bit more of an insight to Banff. We visited the Hoodoos, which are found off of the Tunnel Mountain road. The Hoodoos are sedimentary rocks which have been covered by harder rock, and therefore is harder to erode. Once the softer rock begins to erode, the statues or “hoodoos” begin to take a unique shape. Our next stop was Lake Minnewanka, and Two Jack Lake – both of which were covered in thick snow and ice due to the time of year, but still beautiful.
Once the skies began to clear, we headed for the Banff Gondola. It took eight minutes (and a lot of checking for bear pawprints!) to reach the top of Sulphur Mountain, where we could enjoy the incredible views from the observation deck. As the sky was still full of grey snow clouds, I was amazed at how far I was able to see, beautiful snow-capped mountains and different lakes, I got out my Hallmark bag for a photo to make sure that the views were captured!
Then it was time for a quick shopping spree in Banff, full of old-fashioned sweet shops where I was able to stock up on fudge! I decided to try all the flavours, maple, butterscotch, strawberry cheesecake! After a late lunch, we were taken to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a huge Scottish-style castle, with stunning surroundings. You can enjoy afternoon tea whilst looking out of the huge floor-to-ceiling windows, or enjoy a cocktail in the bar, even if you are not a resident at the hotel. If you are looking for something more active, why not play a round of golf on the famous Stanley Thompson golf course, where stars such as Marilyn Monroe have played.
After another comfortable nights sleep at the Caribou Lodge, we were taken to the Johnston Canyon. Once we were all kitted out in our comfy walking clothes, and given crampons to go over our snow boots – we set off on a three hour Ice Walk, stopping on the way to see the beautiful frozen waterfalls.
After that, we were taken to Bakers Creek and sat in-front of a roaring open fire, we were given a three course lunch, including our first Canadian burger!! The staff told us stories of their bear sightings, and made us even more excited that we might see one, although it was unlikely as the usual bear sightings are between May and October, and this was only April. After struggling to stay awake in front of the warm fire, we climbed onto the bus to get to our final destination – Lake Louise. We had all seen brochures, photos and heard stories about the magnificent views from the Fairmont Lake Louise, but as it was only mid April, the snow had not melted, and the lake was covered in thick white snow and ice. Despite this, the lake was still breathtaking, so it was no surprise when we decided to spend our free afternoon in our lake-view rooms!
After a short rest gazing from the window and eating the complimentary chocolates, it was time to explore the hotel. Walking through the tea room and restaurant, it was clear to see why people had to make a reservation to get a window seat, it would definitely be worth it. The huge windows look out over beautiful vista, mountains that surround the lake, and trees as they start to lose their snowy coats.
After a final night in Canada, in a huge comfy bed at the Fairmont, I was awoken by the sun shining through my window as it crept over the top of the mountains. As it was our last day, and we had worked so hard, we decided it was time to treat ourselves! So breakfast was a huge plate of waffles with maple syrup, whipped cream and a bowl of fruit on the side – the best way to end our stay at the Fairmont Lake Louise! To burn off the extra calories from the waffles, we took Marcus, the hotel’s pet Golden Retriever for a walk. Any guests can do this – just check him out of the hotel when you want to go and check him in when you return! He was a good sport and even made snow angels with us.
It was around a three hour journey back to Calgary airport, but stopping for doughnuts at Tim Hortons, and keeping eyes (and cameras) peeled for any wandering bears made the journey seem much quicker! Soon it was time to board our flight home to Gatwick, a shame to leave after such a short trip, but I will definitely be going back…maybe next time in the summer?