The Rocky Mountains, at once evocative and yet unnecessarily descriptive, like calling the Atlantic the Wet Sea or the Sahara the Sandy Desert, is synonymous with winter sports, with ski runs and snowboard half-pipes. But that’s only half the story.

Out of season, another set take their place. Ski boots give way to hiking boots and bobble hats to baseball caps. Canada’s wellness industry comes into its own as tourists discover the varied beauty of the Alberta, and the benefits of good old fashioned fresh air and exercise. Autumn in the mountains is a magical time, when the vast expanse of rolling foothills transform into glorious shades of copper, a last flamboyant explosion of colour before the winter snow descends and Alberta becomes monochrome for the season. And so I packed my eye mask and lavender oil, and escaped to the mountains to discover Alberta .

About an hour outside Calgary, the region’s capital, Crosswaters resort in Kananaskis is a great place to start any exploration of The Rockies.. Located in the foothills, the resort is surrounded by incredible scenery, and is a perfect stepping-off-point. As I drove out of the city and into the wilds it was already obvious that breathtaking scenery was going to be   a recurring theme of my trip.

I was allocated a room on Crosswaters’ Wellness Floor, where guests can enjoy one of their adult-only suites (as in ‘no children’, not as in ‘X-rated’), which are designed to help you ‘reconnect with yourself’.

For the unprepared, free yoga mats are available for guests, and each room comes with weighted blankets, soothing scented diffusers, light therapy alarm clocks, and (perhaps less wellness focussed) its own fireplace.

Waking up early to the light of my alarm clock, I padded straight down to the Kananaskis Nordic spa, right at the heart of the resort. The early start was essential as the spa is hugely popular to the point where you can’t reserve in advance.

The spa circuit combines indoor and outdoor spaces and boasts dry saunas set in wagons, scented steam rooms, icy plunge pools and an exfoliation station, as well as a fire pit and something called thermal hammocks. Starting the day in a hot pool as the sun rises over snow tipped mountains is a transcendent experience. As is breakfast.

Starting to feel a little more relaxed, I decided it was time to get the blood pumping and take in the view. Renting an e-bike from Kananaskis Outfitters at Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge (the power assist helps with those steep hills, and believe me you’ll want it) I cycled along the Bill Milne Trail towards Wedge Pond, an eight and a half mile round trip through pine woods and along a glacial mountain river. I’m told there are bears in the area, but no one has spotted one for a good four years, so I went fully equipped with my bear spray (yes, it’s a thing!).

After a great night’s sleep, no doubt the pay off for all that exercise (or maybe just jet lag), I headed to a favourite tourist spot, and UNESCO world heritage site, no less, Banff National Park, the next stop on my Canadian adventure.

Banff National Park is famously beautiful, but the trip there is equally memorable. Take your time and enjoy the scenery on the way; you are always just a bend in the road away from a spectacular crystal clear lake, or a group of meandering mountain sheep.

I booked into the the famous “Castle in the Rockies”, Fairmont Banff Springs. Built by the railway companies a century ago to encourage tourism, this Hogwarts-meets-Colditz of a hotel is a local landmark, and boasts a European-style spa, several restaurants and even its own resident ghost! My room included incredible views across the mountain-ringed valley.

Heading down to dinner, the hotel’s Vermillion Room, a French-style brasserie in a beautiful and chic dining room, certainly hit the spot and a bowl of moules marinières and half a bottle of Malbec later, I was ready for bed.

After a great night’s sleep (unmolested by Canadian ghosts), I was once again itching to get stuck into the landscape, and what better way than by testing my hand at horse riding, western style? Kate and Richard run Centre Peak High Country Adventures, and they take guests on hacks around their family-owned ranch, found near Pincher Creek, and it’s quite possibly the most perfect way to take in the views and clean mountain air of southern Alberta. Kate’s friendly instruction and the broad saddles used in western style riding (the difference between American and European saddles is that between a Lazyboy and a bicycle seat) make the experience surprisingly comfortable, and mean you’ll only have a few minor aches and pains the next day (probably).

After lunch at the Art Deco themed Fairview Bar & Restaurant at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where I enjoyed a fantastic view over the iconic lake from its enormous sash windows nearly as much as I loved their seasonal, Rockies-inspired, menu, it’s back to Banff. There are many gorgeous lakes in the area, but if you only visit one head to Lake Louise. With startlingly blue water and a picture postcard backdrop of jagged peaks, it’s worth taking the drive for a look, but visit in shoulder season to beat the crowds. And at the other end of the scale, I then headed into the skies on the Banff Gondola.

The cablecar takes you to to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, and I arrived just as the sun began to set. The air is thin at the top, and incredibly cold, so I took a brisk walk along the mountain boardwalk to take it all in. At 7,510 feet above sea level, the views are everything you could hope for, but there’s a better way to enjoy it. And that’s from the Sky Bistro. Boasting 360 degree views and an a la carte menu which features a huge selection of cocktails, served by incredibly friendly waiting staff, dinner here the ideal way to round off the day.

It was also the perfect way to end a stay in Alberta. The province has worked its magic on me and as I headed back to the airport, past the glowing mountain peaks that will soon be full of skiers pursuing the perfect run, I felt rested, rejuvenated, and altogether Well.

Trip arranged courtesy of Travel Alberta (www.travelalberta.com)

Quick Facts

Canadian Sky offers an 11-night multi-centre self-drive holiday of Alberta, Canada from £1,999 per person.

Departing on 20 May 2020, the package includes return economy flights with Air Canada from Heathrow to Calgary, compact car hire and 11 nights room only accommodation for two adults sharing. Accommodation includes three nights at Le Germain Calgary; two nights at The Bayshore Inn Resort & Spa, Waterton Lakes National Park; three nights at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge and three nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs. Alternative price for same package but departing 18 September 2020, from £2,299 per person.


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