“Pardon my reach,” the WestJet air stewardess uttered, loading up my glass with yet more red wine as we soared over Greenland’s icy terrains across to Vancouver, Canada. Meanwhile, I reclined a comfortable amount as to not completely pee off the gent behind me, posted a few boomerangs swishing about a Champagne glass on insta-stories, and settled on the US Office for my airtime fix.
A sucker for leg room, WestJet Premium sure delivers, dispelling the airplane food rumours with its selection of moreish meals! Granted, eating scones with jam and cream at ten in the morning Canadian time – despite it being two in the morning back at home – was somewhat bizarre, but hey, they pandered to our Britishness and for that we couldn’t complain. Before we’d even touched down I knew I couldn’t get enough of WestJet. Is it weird to say I was cooing for the journey back already?! Breaking up my flight by firing up a conversation with one of the WestJet air stewards and guzzling vin rouge from a glass that never seemed to be empty, I was informed that the airline had just announced its Dreamliner hub; an investment set to create 650 jobs and $100 million in economic output. Wowzers! Alberta will thus be connected to the world, as WestJet dreamliners soar from Calgary to London Gatwick, Paris and Dublin across dates April 28, May 17 and June 1, 2019. The news of the brand spanking hub and Dreamliner group was undeniably the talk of the town (or plane if you will), with stewards gesticulating to the fact that we were now flying on an old model and should come back and try the new ones. Great, I thought, but don’t mention the words old and plane in the same sentence whilst I’m 42,000 feet above ground…
Onwards we soared to Canada, a destination I would come to write about as one of the most bucket-list trips I could think of, and can only be described using every adjective I have in my catalogue. Amazing, incredible, fascinating, outstanding and…well, you get the picture. Organised by Travel Alberta, we managed to squeeze a whole host of bits n bobs in, but which were the best bits?
Travel Alberta are the brains behind some of the best trips in Canada; whisking their guests away to all of the locations I’ll talk about below. Renowned for views of quite the jaw-dropping nature, Canada far from disappoints when it comes to the picturesque. This is a North American country where star-washed skies, intimidating forestry and stumbling across mesmerising bodies of water are a given, alongside the odd glimpse of the Northern Lights, flittering past as you drive amongst snow-topped mountains. So, what were the highlights? Well, saddle up; there were quite the bucket-list load. Travelling with Travel Alberta, the advent of the Dark Sky Festival saw us whisked away by an orchestra under the stars at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, a place that has seen the royals lazing about in luxury, oh and Marilyn Monroe once stayed (my fan-girl moment right there). The sheer history of the hotel alongside its nature-immersed setting made it truly magical. Picture pastel coloured mountains as the sun began to set, and skies laden with glistening stars.
Whilst in Jasper, I highly recommend jumping on a Harley Davidson (accompanied, of course) and riding about amid the snow-capped Canadian Rockies. Why? Because your adrenaline junkie side will relish the event, and because you may capture a sighting of a grizzly – don’t forget your bear spray! Moving onwards and upwards (quite literally) to Banff Gondola, the scenic cableway and hiking trails at the summit of Sulphur Mountain are really worth a visit. You’ll soar into views of six mountain ranges and the sweep of the Bow Valley – perhaps not one for the vertigo sufferers – arriving at a boardwalk that stretches through the mountains, allowing photo opportunities that will make you the envy of all your friends. Seriously, I’ve never received so many DM’s during my visit to the Banff gondola. Granted, the views were somewhat offset by the Victoria Secret photo shoot happening on one of the snowy peaks, but it just made us think well if it’s good enough for Viccy S, it’s good enough for us!
The Drive of Dreams
If you’ve ever witnessed all four seasons in one day, you’ll know it’s pretty mesmerising. Which is why I couldn’t get enough of the dizzying drive between Jasper to Banff National Park, more fondly known as the Icefields Parkway. The iconic drive which rivals that of Route 66 in my eyes, stretches 232km’s between Lake Louise (which I’ll take more about in due course), and Jasper, and amounts to around five hours of driving which is made easy by the beauty. Wildlife is rife, from bears to bobcats; in fact, we got held up as an elk plodded slow as a snail across the road, causing lines of cars but no complaints. There are stops aplenty throughout the drive, with various wanderlust-enticing points throughout. Whether it’s Pyramid Lake Resort or Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls, there’ll be no utterings of “are we there yet?” going on during this drive.
Lake Louise requires a sub-heading of its own. It’s the lake that makes most want to go to Canada to start off with (one only needs to scroll through the Lake Louise hashtag on Insta to see it’s littered with photos set against its dreamlike landscape). Suffice to say it’s a totally coveted location thatfarfrom disappoints. The emerald green waters, offset by rugged peaks and glaciers, sparkle captivatingly and make your phone battery run flat within a minute as a result of all the picture taking. The Victoria Glacier resides in Banff National Park and acts as a tremendous pin-point before a trek about the area. However, if you’re unprepared to battle fellow tourists when trying to snap your winning pic, I highly suggest jumping in a canoe and taking to the waters. It’s a sure-fire way to draw a huge ticket on the bucket list and provides sensational photo opps. You’ll paddle out and either sit dumb-founded in the centre as you take in the sheer velocity of it all or make your way around the lake slowly but surely. Yes, the water is a whopping 5C at best so it’s recommended you don the life jacket at all times, but afterwards you can clasp your hands around a hot choc at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and renew the heat into your bodies!
The Nordic Spa
Somewhat akin to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is a 50,000-square foot alpine sanctuary that can only be described as looking pretty similar to a MacBook screensaver. Whipping your kit off mid-October in Canada of all places isn’t something we’d typically do unless pools of steaming hot water awaited us, so it was a jolly good job there were. Five pools in fact, some of which were slightly warmer than the others, alongside Banya, Finnish and Barrel saunas, and an Alchemist and Eucalyptus steam cabin. The sentiment of “aaaand relax” wouldhave rushed over me, expect I’d been relaxing for the past four days by this point. So, post-massage I padded in a tartan gown (you all have to wear these, I wasn’t acting as an emblem for Scotland), and positioned myself in the hottest, steamiest pool I could find, to the backdrop of rugged mountain peaks, totally and utterly immersed in nature. Alberta’s Kananaskis Nordic Spa is somewhere where you don’t even want your phone – there’s something far too tranquil, too Bear Grylls about it all that technology just seems rather alien amongst it. Which is why I was more happy than miffed when they asked that we didn’t take our phones into the spa. Post-spa, you feel super relaxed, rejuvenated and (somewhat) ready to tackle your e-mail inbox back in the UK.
Sitting just 45 minutes southwest of Calgary, it’s a total must-visit, and a must-stay come to think of it. Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge boasts various room sizes in a very Instagrammable setting, including luxury lofts that I had the pleasure of staying in. It was one of those rooms where I thought “surely not” as soon as I’d stepped inside. Spanning across two floors – which a little’un like me certainly didn’t need but relished – the loft features marshmallow-like beds, two bathrooms with showers that make you feel like you’re in a Nicole Scherzinger shampoo ad and a dining area, fireplace and private balcony. I was luxurious and I never wanted to leave!
More Than Just Maple Syrup…
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the Canadians don’t mess around when it comes to food. We’re talking big ol’ portion sizes and hefty food comas, but there was no complaining from us! What’s also blatant is the way in which Canada has risen above the masses when it comes to healthy food, vegetarian and vegan offerings. This is by no means a country that uses mushroom risotto as a guise. The best dish I had was at the Banff Park Distillery and Restaurant. Needing to line stomachs after trying a whole host of gin, I opted for the seared BC salmon with maple glaze, roast pepper and quinoa. It was the best salmon I’ve had to date. There, I said it! I’m not sure whether the maple glaze played a part in it, or the chilli gin had mixed up my senses but it rocked my world. Another must-try is a Ceasar, essentially the Canadian version of our Bloody Mary but instead using Clamato juice (clam broth), either way it still sorts out a hangover so that’s a mega win, win! Another temptations spot was Communitea Cafe a favourite of Matthew McConaughey and fam, which serves up the most delightful bowls. The food is fresh, healthy and presented in true Insta-worthy ways. It’s the most moreish pit-stop to date! At the Kananaskis Nordic Spa Cedar Room it’s the ideal time to immerse yourself in Canadian offerings. Again pandering to the non meat-eaters, visitors can indulge in Asian-style stir fry with tofu, delicious. It’s also worth you while dipping into the s’mores bar, again a very Canadian offering. This consists of strawberry marshmallow, peanut butter and basically all that’s good in the world. Or if you’re just on board for something cheap and cheerful, opt for beer and bagels – Canada do both very, very well. For now though, I’ll leave you with this alluring image of me and my Ceasar… Bloody Mary it was good!