The Canadian Rockies – WOW!

The Canadian Rockies - WOW!

By Linda Lovin

I recently faced a critical travel decision. My husband was approaching a very significant birthday, and at the very same time, we would celebrate 34 years of marriage. Where should we go for a one-week vacation?  My husband left the planning to me but reminded me that he hated airports, long flights, and travel in general.  My goal was to make the right decision about location/supplier partner/excursions/dates of travel and to WOW!!!! my man in the process. I am thrilled to report that the decision to travel to the Canadian Rockies resulted in the most wonderful travel week of our lives (to date).

"...the expression on my husband's face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe."

In the course of planning trips of all types for my clients, I have dealt with a host of outstanding experts in the travel industry. For this personal and most special occasion, I chose Entrée Destinations as our partner supplier. Their motto of “service and hospitality are in our DNA” are not empty words. Beginning with my first telephone call, they were attentive to my every request and honestly did “sweat the small stuff and obsess over details.” As a Travel Advisor, I felt I shared a kindred spirit with Entrée Destinations.

On September 21 our adventure began. We departed DIA for an easy 2.5-hour flight to Calgary. After breezing through a friendly international arrival terminal, we were met by Min, a long-time resident of Calgary and our greeter from Entrée Destinations. Min ushered us through the Calgary airport, insured that our car rental experience was seamless and was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Calgary and all of the territory we were about to explore. She offered a multitude of travel suggestions – one of which was Gypsy Guide. This is an incredible app that gives practical, historical, and cultural commentary along numerous driving routes not only in Canada but throughout the USA.

Tip: Be sure to pre-load Gypsy Guide in an area with a strong Wi-Fi signal.

And then – it was WOW!!! All the way. The countryside around Calgary is rolling hills of farm and ranch land with jagged mountains thrusting on the horizon. As we drove on the Trans-Canada Highway, we simply became speechless. Please understand that we are twenty-five-year residents of Colorado, have traveled the Rocky Mountain West extensively and we love our home in Evergreen. However, we were totally unprepared for the majesty that was unfolding before us.

Tip:  Pre-purchase a Discovery Pass that allows access into all of Canada’s National Parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites.

After about two hours of driving through absolute jaw-dropping magnificence, I treasured the moment when the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise first came into view and the expression on my husband’s face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe. Located in Alberta’s Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chateau was originally built over 100 years ago as a base for outdoor enthusiasts and alpinists and sits at the base of a glacial moraine that fills Lake Louise. The water is emerald green from Victoria Glacier’s sediments and is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful works of nature on the planet.

Tip: Lake Louise has been “discovered.” Each day, bus after bus stream into the area, all filled with tourists from around the world. By reserving a room at the Fairmont with a lake view, it is possible to enjoy the miracle of sunrise over the lake and glacier within the comfort of your room.

Lake Louise

We spent a day soaking up the scenery that lies within an hour’s drive from Lake Louise. Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is a jewel that offers relaxed lodging and dining in a serene setting. Athabasca Falls and the mountains and valleys

of Yoho National Park provide one breath-taking moment after another.

The next day, we took the highly recommended Ice Explorer Glacier Tour departing from the Glacier

Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway.  It was the coldest and windiest day of the season so, while we did get to take a short ride on the Ice Explorer onto the 10,000-year-old Athabasca Glacier, we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have wanted on the most visited glacier in North America.

After two nights in Lake Louise, we drove the Icefields Parkway for the trip to Jasper. This road has been described as the most beautiful mountain drive in the world. My husband and I have not witnessed all the mountain drives in the world, but it is difficult to imagine scenery more spectacular. Initially, we stopped at every vista for photographs thinking that surely this was the most beautiful view of the day. The gorgeous panoramas just kept appearing with every curve of the road.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a different experience from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Situated in Alberta’s magnificent Jasper National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comfortable cabins line the shore of a lake that often reflects the image of surrounding mountains. It is quiet and boasts a world-class golf course.

Our first morning in Jasper, we enjoyed a private walking tour of the area with Alpine Art Ecotours and learned about the history of the indigenous people in the area as well as the fauna of the forest. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with our local guide about everything from history to current Canadian politics.

That afternoon we cruised Maligne Lake with its beautiful azure-colored water. Alpine scenery, frigid glacial water from the three glaciers visible from the lake, and the haunting beauty of Spirit Island, a place of religious significance to Canada’s First Nation people, are part of our memory of that special day.

The next day, we re-traced our steps on the Icefields Parkway and took an exhilarating helicopter flight up, over, and

 

 

Spirit Island

down into the Canadian Rockies. Rockies Heli Canada also provided a short hike and lunch beside a waterfall as part of the experience. My husband remains in touch with our local guide in hopes of a future fishing trip into the wilderness areas we saw.

Our final days were in Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs. The world-famous “Castle in the Rockies” has been providing legendary hospitality to guests for over 130 years.  Once again, we experienced unbelievable beauty, fabulous food, and people so genuinely nice that we felt like we were in our own hometown. The town of Banff is a quintessential mountain town with a myriad of lodging and excellent dining options.

Our last guided tour was a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka, the second longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies.  Stunning snow-capped mountains juxtaposed against the brilliant autumn colors of the trees were reflected on the water during our glorious morning outing.

Lake Minnewanka

On the closing day of our trip, we awakened to low clouds and snow showers. Reading books by local authors in front of a roaring fireplace provided us with the perfect ending to the perfect celebratory trip.  WOW!

Exploring Scotland, Something for Everyone!

At the northernmost tip of the British Isles lies Scotland. Home of golf, Scotch Whisky and Haggis, Scotland has a little something for everyone.  Whether you are looking to spend a night sleeping in a castle, go hiking across the lush, green countryside, or speed across the lowlands on a scenic train trip, Scotland will not disappoint.

Foodies tend to find that Scottish cuisine, which shares much of its background with typical English fare, is more varied and flavorful than the traditional foods of its southern cousin. With a wide array of seafood, dairy, game and breads, special delights such as Marmalade pudding, Dunlop cheese, Scotch pie and Rumbledethumps are always a treat. Accompanying beverages run the gamut from Scotch Whisky (no e in Whisky for them) to Ginger Wine along with Scotland’s other national drink, Irn-Bru, a non-alcoholic carbonated soda that stands up to competition with more ubiquitous global brands.

Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, is home to the country’s most famous fortress, Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which “opens the doors, streets and alleyways of an entire city to an explosion of creative energy from around the globe” every August. Started in 1947, the Fringe was created to celebrate and strengthen Europe’s rich cultural life post-WWII. Anglophiles will also find visits to Holyrood Palace, St. Giles’ Cathedral and the dormant volcano known as Arthur’s Seat quite fascinating.

For those seeking more high adventure, summers off Scotland’s Oban coast afford the opportunity to go snorkeling with the world’s second largest fish, the basking shark. Perthshire, Aviemore and Fort William’s narrow gorges and fast-flowing rivers are perfect for visitors who want to experience canyoning — sliding down naturally formed water flumes, cliff jumping, rappelling down rocky cliffs and climbing under thundering waterfalls. And for those seeking a little competition, there’s always land yachting, where you can race your friends across a beach in sail-powered three-wheeled scooters.

Fantasy and fiction lovers will find their heyday in both the lowlands and highlands as they explore Inverness’ Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle in search of Nessie, ride the Jacobite steam train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct featured in the Harry Potter movies, or storm the Castle of Guy de Lombard just as Arthur and his knights did in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Bonnybridge, in Falkirk, has become the UFO capital of the world with more than 300 sightings every year. Not to be outshone by the mainland, the more than 790 Scottish Isles have their fair share of legendary locations as well. The Isle of Skye’s Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr make up the landscape of MacBeth. And the Isle of Lewis’s Calanais Standing Stones inspired a similar setting in Brave. Also, how can you truly go wrong in a country whose national animal is a unicorn?

Recommended Reading:

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

Inspired by true events, the New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home is a touching story of a group of Irish emigrants who sailed aboard the RMS Titanic. Blending fact and fiction seamlessly, the book explores the impact and lasting repercussions of the Titanic tragedy on its survivors and their descendants.

Blog written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel.