Battle a snow storm, follow a marmot and embrace the spirit of the Canadian Rockies
There is a part of the traveller in all of us that is constantly scouting for those ‘off the beaten track’ hideaways, yet some destinations manage to stand the test of tourist time, resplendent despite the crowds. The Canadian Rockies is one such location. Whether enjoying vistas from lookouts visited for generations, or venturing backcountry to areas opened by daring Swiss mountaineers, this mountain utopia shall always remain iconic.
Intrigued by the timeless allure of the Rockies, I joined the cohort venturing to this alpine heartland and thus found myself one evening canoeing on a lake so aqua-hued it was almost luminescent. The surrounding forests, crags and glaciers were reflected on the glassy surface, the jagged peaks above looking like a dragon’s spine cutting through the clouds. Alone except for a swooping American dipper, I absorbed the scene, understanding why this range, so visceral in nature, has drawn visitors for over a century.
I had begun my adventure in Calgary, known as the ‘Gateway to the Rockies’ yet often overlooked as a destination in itself. This cowboy-town-turned-sleek-city, famed for the annual Calgary Stampede, is full of entrepreneurial spirit, especially in the diversifying culinary scene with vibrant bars and restaurants replacing the saloons of yesteryear. Hotel Arts, with its stimulating design and welcoming atmosphere, was the perfect base for exploration, the sophisticated art around the poolside patio an ideal conversation starter. Meals from Raw Bar can be enjoyed at this central hub, their reimagining of Vietnamese fare and exotic fusion of ingredients adding a little spice to the experience. Hotel bikes are a great way to exercise after a breakfast of pancakes (covered in layers of citrus Chantilly and strawberry rhubarb compote with a hibiscus twist) at Yellow Door Bistro. From standing on the nerve-wracking Perspex floor of Calgary Tower to cycling through the oasis of Prince’s Island Park (part of the city’s myriad of people-friendly cycleways) or getting lost in the chic shops of Inglewood, Calgary is an urban destination with much to offer.
Emerging culinary ventures have their own signature style. At the lively Native Tongues Taqueria traditional Mexican street food fills the menu, and sharing plates (and eating with your hands) are wholeheartedly encouraged. In the revitalised East Village the kitchen of Sidewalk Citizen Bakery buzzes as chefs work on their specialities. Okanagan fruit is canned for out-of-season use and olives are marinated in beetroot and orange juice to burst with flavour. The results are mouthwatering. The granola is golden, the shakshuka is hearty and the chocolate croissant, a mere ten minutes out of the oven, is buttery heaven.
On the bar front Cannibale, with its relaxed prairie vibe, is where men venture for a pampering shave, with as much care and thought given to the close shave as there is to preparing the perfect cocktail. Just as plentiful hot towels prepare the skin, glasses are smoked over applewood to ensure their Chairman of the Board martini is a smooth, smoky affair. Equally flavoursome is Proof, a sophisticated bar mixing east coast style with an industrial wine library and a splash of quirk. From the enchanting illustrations on the menus to the stories that accompany the cocktails (ask about the Anne Bonny), Proof’s artistic flair is obvious.
Taste buds satisfied it was time to discover the Rockies, and as I drove east the prairies quickly gave way to forested foothills and then alpine splendour as Banff, Canada’s first National Park, came into view. Travelling in July did mean I was one of many enjoying the scenery and wanting space from the tourist buses and s el fie-snapping crowds, I headed to Moraine Lake for some backcountry solitude. With over 6,640 square kilometres of national park I knew serenity could be found.