My wife Natalie and I recently visited Alberta, Canada. It was my second time there and it’s a part of the world that many travelers refer to as one of the most beautiful places on earth. My first trip was last summer for the world famous Calgary Stampede. This year, Stampede is being held July 3-12, 2015 so there’s still time to book a trip. If you go, here are my 10 tips for Stampede first-timers! This last trip was supposed to be for some spring skiing but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate so instead, we just had a relaxing holiday that included jaw dropping views, fresh mountain air, tasty local food and spa treatments.
L.A. to Calgary
My first visit to Alberta, I flew Air Canada Rouge (here are 10 things to know about flying Air Canada Rouge) but I learned that if you’re not flying in the front of the plane on Rouge, it’s much better to be on WestJet. After the 2.5-hour flight from LAX, I met my wife near baggage claim; she’d flown in from Toronto to meet me. We timed it perfectly so our planes arrived just minutes apart. From there, it was a short walk to the rental car station, where we grabbed the keys to our SUV and headed north.
NOtaBLE – The Restaurant
It’s a 90-minute drive to Banff from the airport and to break up the drive and get some incredibly good food, we stopped off at NOtaBLE – The Restaurant. It’s 30 minutes from the airport and named after chef Michael Noble, who seriously makes the best rotisserie chicken I’ve ever tasted. Natalie also loved her seared scallops, which were served with grilled romaine hearts and a bacon and caper dressing but I bet the next time she goes she will get the chicken. It was that good.
Driving to Banff
From NOtaBLE, it’s just an hour drive to Banff National Park. Once you arrive to the National Park, the drive turns into one of North America’s most scenic. However, if you’re driving, don’t get distracted by the views. And keep your eye on the speedometer, as there are plenty of cops waiting for violators.
Buffalo Mountain Lodge
The first two nights we spent at the rustic Buffalo Mountain Lodge. The nine-acre, 108-room property is run by Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts and is a perfect retreat for couples and families. It’s located only 1.5 kilometers (not quite a mile) from downtown Banff (five-minutes by car, 15 minutes by walking). Although there wasn’t much snow, the clean mountain air and the smell of pine trees brought me back to my childhood when my parents used to take my siblings and me to Vermont for the weekend to ski. Our room felt more like a luxury log cabin with its pine ceilings and the stone fireplace. I loved the fact that the housekeeping staff gets the fireplaces all ready to go twice a day so all guests have to do is strike a match. That’s like a slice of heaven, especially after coming back from a long day on the mountains or a big dinner. My wife’s favorite part of our cabin, besides the LCD TV with Blu-Ray player, was the bathroom that featured a claw-foot tub and heated slate floors. Tip: I learned that it’s easier to get the fire roaring if you crack the patio door open and get some air running through the place.
Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room
The Buffalo Mountain Lodge has a few dining options: The Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room, The Sleeping Buffalo Lounge and Cilantro. We ate two meals in the Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room, which serves local specialties like buffalo striploin, northern caribou and of course, Alberta beef, which the province is famous for. Their ribeye steak, served with roasted balsamic fingerling potatoes and shallots in a red wine reduction was delicious and filling!
Good to Know
-The free WiFi works okay but not great; it’s up in the woods so it’s patchy
-There’s an outdoor hot tub that’s open 10am to 11pm, which is popular for après ski relaxation.
-If you visit in the summer, hike up to Tunnel Mountain; it takes about 45 minutes.
-The hotel gets lots of German and British guests, which makes it feel very international.
Cedar & Sage Spa
Since we were so close to downtown Banff, Natalie and I visited it frequently to check out the restaurants, shops and spas. The first day, we visited Banff’s newest spa called Cedar & Sage (Tel.: 403-985-2200). It’s popular with locals since tourists would never find it on their own. It’s located on the second floor of the Bear Street Mall; it’s not a great-looking spot. But once through the doors of the spa, you can tell the owners and workers are passionate about health and wellbeing. They offer a range of treatments including a combination of Swedish massage techniques with a First Nations therapeutic influence. Afterwards, be sure to get one of the beet, apple, carrot and ginger juices from the juice bar (juices costs $7.25 CAD for a 29-ounce). A one-hour massage is $129 CAD for tourists and $89 CAD for locals (FYI: Currently $1 CAD is $0.81 USD so everything in Canada is 19% off for Americans). The only thing I didn’t like about this place is that they don’t have a bathroom in their beautiful spa – it’s just outside the door in the not so nice mall.
While walking the streets of downtown Banff we came across the Malsala Indian Restaurant. They had a big sign boasting that it was voted the best Indian in Banff, which made Natalie and me laugh since it’s probably the only Indian restaurant in Banff! We weren’t planning on eating Indian food but when we popped our heads inside and saw the place was packed and mostly with Indians, we figured it had to be good. And it was! The only downside was that it took 45 minutes to get our food after sitting down. But the staff is friendly and if you sit by a window it has pretty good views, too.
Banff to Lake Louise
The next morning, we drove 45 minutes from Banff to Lake Louise along the TransCanada highway. The views on this stretch are even more spectacular than the roads to downtown Banff. Last summer we went to Moraine Lake (here’s my story) but it’s closed in the winter. We also kayaked on Lake Louise (here’s that story). But since it was early spring, the road to Moraine Lake was closed and Lake Louise was almost completely frozen over. But we still stopped off at Lake Louise to snap some photos and see what it looks like in the winter time.
The Post Hotel & Spa
Natalie and I stayed at the Post Hotel & Spa, which is a Relais & Chateaux property. It’s just a 3.6-kilometer (2.2-mile) drive from Lake Louise. We’d stayed there last summer and absolutely loved it and I didn’t think it could get any more beautiful. But it did because Mother Nature decided to dump about a foot of snow the night we arrived so we woke up to a winter wonderland.
The Post Hotel is located within Banff National Park in Lake Louise Village, approximately 115 miles (184 kilometers) west of Calgary and 36 miles (56 kilometers) west of the town of Banff. The property opened in 1942 but was renamed The Post Hotel in 1957.
In 1978, two Swiss brothers—André and George Schwarz—bought the hotel and turned it into one of the finest hotels in the world. Today the property includes 60 rooms, 29 suites and five cabins. All were made with a blend of log, timber, stone, and pine so the style is often described as rustic elegance. Each room is equipped with a goose down duvet, whirlpool tub, solid pine furnishings, wooden paneled and beamed ceilings, slate bathroom flooring, limestone bathroom vanity, robes and slippers, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a DVD player (complimentary DVDs are at the front desk). Room rates range from $275 to $475 per night.
We were in one of their 29 suites (prices range from $500 to $1,500 per night), which include all of the same amenities that the rooms have but also come with a wood-burning fireplace, separate shower and soaker whirlpool tub, coffee and tea maker, mini-fridge, and wet bar.
The Post Hotel is known for their food. They have three dining options, the most popular being the Post’s Dining Room, which is led by European-trained Executive Chef Hans Sauter. Advance dinner reservations are recommended with two seatings available: 6:30 pm (and earlier), or 8:30 pm (and later) and there is a dress code of casual elegance. This means no athletic attire, T-shirts or shorts at dinner. They also have an award-winning wine cellar featuring over 25,000 bottles and 2,200 selections. We had dinner and breakfast here and both were delicious—and the service was great.
The other restaurants are Fondue Stübli, a 24-seat stübli (translation: small, cozy room), specializing in traditional Swiss-style fondues, and the Outpost Pub, an English style pub setting that offers a pub-fare menu and sports events on TV.
The Post Hotel also has a 3,200-square-foot Temple Mountain Spa that opened in 2005. The spa has fantastic hours as it’s open from 9am to 9pm. That’s smart since most guests are gone during the day taking part in the area’s adventure activities. The spa menu offers an assortment of treatments like revitalizing body rituals (scrubs, wraps and exfoliation) and massages, from therapeutic and aromatherapy massages to signature treatments like a bamboo or Thai stem massage. On the menu are also facial therapies, massages, foot and leg treatments and a ‘Gentlemen’s Menu’, featuring three treatments designed specifically for men. I had the Thai Stem Massage, which was fantastic and I can see why it’s one of their most popular massage treatments.
Delta Calgary Airport Hotel
The following day, we had 10am flights out of the Calgary Airport. Instead of dealing with driving two hours and running into Calgary’s nasty traffic, we arranged for a hotel at the airport. Natalie and I stayed at the Delta Calgary Airport Hotel, which was perfect since it’s located in the airport (the only one that is) and it’s across the street from the rental car lot so it couldn’t have been any easier. No shuttle buses needed. The hotel has a lovely indoor pool right in the lobby, there’s a gym and free WiFi (no password needed). But the pillows are way too bulky and you can hear your neighbor’s doors start to slam around 5am. I’m guessing most travelers book a room here and not downtown Calgary, only when they have an early morning flight out or if their flight gets canceled. If your flight is later than 7am, wear ear-plugs to sleep. FYI: Our rate was $169 CAD but I heard the clerk quote a walk-in $199.
As you can see from the photos, Alberta, Canada is a beautiful place to visit no matter what time of year. But when it’s covered with snow, it’s even more special.
Note: This trip was sponsored by Travel Alberta.