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Winter in Alberta

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A life without adventure is a life not lived, and so it was time to live life to the full and go adventuring. I was to explore the province of Alberta in Canada and all that it had to offer in the depths of Winter. Starting from Edmonton and travelling by road along the Icefields Parkway via Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff finishing in Calgary. This was to be no normal road trip, but a journey that would wake up and tantalise all of the senses, taking in all the beauty that Alberta has to offer when the snow arrives and transforms this corner of Canada into a winter wonderland. In Edmonton we checked into the fine Fairmont Hotel Macdonald which had something of the old stately homes of Scotland, from the grand exterior to the baronial fireplace, lounge and bar. We were checked in to our private suites located on the Gold floor with exclusive access to the cosy lounge with log fire and homely breakfast. Of course no sooner had we arrived then it was time to experience Canadian hospitality mixed with Mexican cuisine at Rostizado; with the first drink to pass my lips in Canada being Tequila, I realised that this was going to be one great ride. Of course the food was delicious and the cocktails aplenty. However, it was soon time hit the comfy beds of the Fairmont to recover from the day’s travel and dream of the adventure ahead.

The following day we had a full list of activities from snowshoeing in ‘Elk Island National Park’ with the highest density of hoofed mammals per square kilometre than any other area in the world, this is where the Bison has been conserved and brought back from the brink of extinction. If there are any Bison herds around the world it is highly likely that they originate from Elk Island. After building up an appetite, it was time to visit the 1903 building of Little Brick for some rustic and wholesome food. This is where my affair with coffee drinking took a whole new direction when I discovered the ‘Dirty Chai Latte’; ‘oh mon dieu!’ how I am now addicted to this blissful winter warmer, I wonder how it might taste with a little added rum?!?. After our leisurely lunch it was time to experience Canada’s national Winter sport- Ice Hockey; Lacrosse being their national Summer sport apparently. We made our way to Rogers Palace to watch the local team the ‘Edmonton Oil Kings’ play the visiting Broncos. With fast flowing action and a few entertaining scuffles, this was a entertainment on overdrive, with so much going on that it was hard to know where to look. Sadly the locals lost, but not without providing a lot of entertainment. It was then off for a spot of dinner at the small and intimate Bar Clementine, with its 1920’s art nouveau style interior, expansive liquor and cocktail menu plus an endless supply of delectable tasting dishes, the perfect evening to while away the hours with friends.

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When we awoke the next morning, it was time to don our winter gear in readiness for a fat bike tour with Revolution Cycle. Our guide Michael apparently knew the guy I sat next to on the flight over; are there only ten people living in Canada or does everyone seem to know everyone? Michael took us on a tour around the river valley of Edmonton on bikes with the fattest bike tyres I have seen; of course I managed to fly over the handlebars within two minutes of riding due to Canadian and European brake systems being on different sides, and my ineptitude to remember this fact. Luckily I rolled away like the ninja that I am to live another day. This is a great way to see the city, and the woods along the river. Eventually we arrived at the man made Ice Castles, though I think they have Disney’s Elsa from ‘Frozen’ on the payroll building their spectacular structures, tunnels and slides made purely from ice. This is Instagram heaven and then some, the deep blue colours and ice shapes are mesmerising, a truly exceptional experience. Once we headed back to the Fairmont, it was time to pack our bags and prepare for the four hour drive to Jasper.

Jasper is located in Canada’s oldest and largest Park- Jasper National Park, part of a bigger UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jasper was to be our first base for adventures in the local area. We checked into our luxury signature cabins at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in a 700 acre year-round luxury resort around the shores of the serene Lac Beauvert. Allegedly one of the cabins is haunted and apparently the Queen of Britain honeymooned here, so it was good enough for me. Once settled in it was time to venture downtown to Jasper where the Elk can be found loitering on the streets. Here we sampled the culinary delights and magic elixirs of the oddly named Evil Dave’s Grill, a family-owned restaurant with an internationally inspired menu with some great twists to some classic dishes like Cowboy Sushi. The next day we were off to explore the ski resort of Marmot Basin a fabulous and mysteriously quiet ski resort; you can read our review about it HERE. After a tasty lunch on the mountain at Caribou Chalet, it was time to head off for an afternoon adventure of ice walking. We were picked up by Sundog Tours, fitted with thick rubber boots with additional studs and transported to Maligne Canyon. We followed the river until it became a towering frozen canyon at which point we could walk along the river exploring a myriad of frozen waterfalls, ice caves and a whole world that is unapproachable outside the winter months. It was then back to the Fairmont to warm up in the hot tub and pool, followed by dinner and cocktails in The Emerald Lounge followed by some stargazing at the Jasper Planetarium housed in the Hotel. A perfect end to a pretty awesome day.

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With a quick 7am breakfast at the Hotel’s Orso Trattoria we were off and following the Icefields Parkway. A highway that stretches from Jasper 232kms along the Continental Divide to Lake Louise passing through some of the most idyllic scenery on the planet, with mighty giant mountain peaks, huge expansive icefields and long sweeping valleys as far as the eye can see. This is planet earth at its finest, showing off with complete splendour of what it can achieve given enough time. There is a reason that this is in the top ten drives to be experienced in the world. It was hard not to stop to take photos at every opportunity, if we had we probably would have never completed our journey; anyway we had a date to keep, a date with Rockies Heli for an even more spectacular view of the Rockies. Luckily the weather was perfect as our Heli defied gravity and bore us up into the fresh mountain air. We flew to a height whereupon the trees merged together to become giant green carpets of forest that seemed to follow the valleys endlessly, whilst the giant mountains of the Rockies rose up out of these carpets of green with a magnitude that the human mind just can not comprehend. The sheer beauty of nature never fails to stun me, in fact the whole audience on the helicopter were silenced by the unremitting allure of the Rockies. After meandering up several valleys, we made our way to the foot of a mountain where we set down and donned snow shoes so we could explore a little of the wilderness. We ventured into the woods for a while until we found a good viewpoint where upon our pilot and guide produced hot chocolate and Baileys…God I love Canada.

Eventually we had to head back to the Heli to make our way back through the valleys to the basecamp where a delicious lunch was awaiting our arrival. Once appetites were satiated we made our way to down the road to visit Abraham Lake; we walked onto the ice of the lake to discover a very strange anomaly. Bubbles of methane from rotting organic matter had been trapped in the ice during the winter month creating a visually stunning effect that I have never seen the like of before, allegedly it is possible to light these bubbles near the surface. After some time playing on the ice and taking in the scenery it was time to get back onto the Icefields Highway and make our way through the sweeping landscape of Alberta to Lake Louise.

We arrived at the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resort Deer Lodge, a wooden log hotel with much rustic charm built in 1923 as a tea-house. We relaxed in the rooftop hot tub whilst talking with fellow travellers about their adventures in Canada. It was then time to prepare for diner in the charming Mount Fairview Dining Room where the menu had a fabulous selection of meats such as Elk and Buffalo reared on their own Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch, a perfect journey of farm to plate. It was then to bed in readiness for a morning of skiing at Lake Louise Ski resort.

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After breakfast we made our way to Lake Louise ski resort the next morning, with perfect blue skies overhead. The Lake Louise Ski resort review can be read HERE. Suffice to say the skiing terrain was fantastic, with pistes for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the steep chutes in the back bowls and the super grippy snow conditions. It was then time for some extraordinarily tasty sushi and beer at ‘Kuma Yama Sushi’ in the The Lodge of Ten Peaks situated at the base of the Lake Louise ski resort and then off for some ice skating on the pristine Lake Louise itself. Could this be one of the best spots on earth to ice skate? Probably. Once the legs were tired of skating it was time to slow down the pace of life with a horse drawn sleigh ride along the shores of Lake Louise to take in the breathtaking Victoria Glacier. After a fun packed day, we made our way to The Station Restaurant to step back in time inside the first building constructed in Lake Louise and dine on a mixture of Canadian and internationally inspired dishes. What an amazing day it had been and what better way to celebrate than in such beautiful surroundings, as the trains still chugged past just as they always have.

Sadly we had finished our journey along the Icefields Parkway, but it was time for one last visit in the area. Banff was our next stop for the morning. The clouds had come in, but it did not stop us riding the newly renovated Banff Gondola to the top to experience the ‘Above Banff Interpretive Centre’ to learn more about the history, flora and fauna of the area. Once back down the mountain we made our way to visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site where we visited the original cave hot spring sacred to native people. When European settlers discovered the springs it pretty much put Banff on the map and became the birthplace of Canada’s national parks. Make sure you bring a nasal plug if you are not so keen of sulphuric eructations. Once we had our fill of gaseous exchanges, we made our way for downtown Banff to wander through the streets, visit the various art galleries and drink the local coffee at the Wild Flour Bakery. Whilst it was just a fleeting visit, from what I saw I can tell you now that I will be coming back to Banff one day, though now it was time to get back on the road again for Calgary.

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We met with the Judy the passionate owner of Calgary Walks and Bus Tours to attend her “Canada Dry, Eh?!” walking tour. This was a fascinating walk through Canadian history and its relationship with booze, the speakeasy’s, riots and local cocktail scene… so glad that I live in the 21st Century! The tour aptly finished at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel where a highly alcoholic cocktail awaited our arrival, the Canadian ancestors would be proud, I hope. It was then time to check into the very central Hyatt Regency Calgary, with super modern contemporary suites and what seemed to be one of the best collections of Canadian Art that I had seen yet. We suited and booted in time for dinner at Cilantro a chic yet cosy restaurant once again owned by the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resort with most of its produce created on its own ranch. Opting for many shared plates of rustic dishes, this was feel good food that fed the soul as well as the belly, at the end of all of this delightful food we needed a brisk walk home on through the chilled Calgary air.

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I was miserable, it was our last day before flying back to the UK, but not before visiting the Calgary Tower, 191 metres above the city, this is a great venue to spy the city from, with 360° views and glass floor platform built to help you defy your fear of heights. Once back down to earth we finished with a tour of Studio Bell, home of the national music centre, and an architectural phenomenon. With nine interlocking towers and five floors of musical history, knowledge and interactive exhibits one could get lost in music. For a final meal we ducked by Charbar for homemade pizza and our last taste of Canada.

Now it was time to finish the adventure in Alberta and head home. Not that I was ready to, for Alberta and Canada managed to get into my blood; I felt at home here, the land was just beautiful and satisfied my artistic eye and need for the the great outdoors. The people are friendly beyond belief and restored my respect and appreciation for humanity. The food and drink satiated my desire for good sustenance and good times. The Rockies fulfilled my urge to ski, snowshoe and lead an active life. The province of Alberta filled my heart with adventure and exploration, so much so that I must go back, as soon as I can.

For more information on Alberta visit www.travelalberta.com
For more information on travelling to and within Canada visit www.destinationcanada.com

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