For many of us the Rocky Mountains begin and end in Colorado. This great mountain range under assorted other names actually extends north through Wyoming, Idaho and Montana into Alberta, Canada where it could be argued it reaches its pinnacle of glory. We recently spent a week in the region and were overwhelmed by its mountains’ rugged grandeur and its glacial lakes’ serene beauty. What we were not expecting was excellent cooking and a world class wine list, but then we knew nothing of the Canadian national culinary treasure, the Post House in Lake Louise.
“Would you like Caribou with your Richebourg or Banyuls with the bear?” All this is possible at the Post House (www.posthotel.com ), a Relais & Chateaux jewel a few miles from the shores of Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. Bear is not currently on the menu but not too many miles from where grizzlies prowl, the restaurant turns out Michelin star quality food. To view the menu please click here . There is also one of the world’s greatest restaurant wine collections comprised of over 25,000 bottles. Every major region producing great wines is represented with some of the broadest horizontal and vertical depth you will ever see. Looking through the list, it is easy to do a double take and think you are sitting in Taillevent or La Tour d’Argent. And when you glance through page after page of the best Italy has to offer, you could easily be seated at Enoteca Pincchiorri, the famous Florentine restaurant. To view the wine list please click here . Seeing it, it is hard not to pick up the phone and immediately book your flight to Calgary. It’s a two hour drive from the airport.
If wining and dining in Relais & Chateaux luxury at 1500 meters in the Rockies were not enough of a draw, within one hour of the restaurant you have the Banff and Lake Louise National Parks. Lake Louise is one of the most stunningly beautiful sites we have ever seen. The Fairmont Chateau Hotel sits at its shoreline and the views from its hotel windows are stunning. Hiking trails with breathtaking views cut through the surrounding mountains and two uniquely British Empire treats, tea houses, await hikes of 2 ½ and 5 miles. There are no roads, so once a year a helicopter brings in a whole season’s supplies of tea, flour, sugar and natural gas to supply these outposts for all the summer’s hiking tourists. The cooks and servers have to hike in and out everyday and bring in additional supplies on their backs!
The Fairmont offers a formal afternoon tea and its halls are filled with pictures from the 1920s of famous Swiss mountain climbers brought over to lead treks into the mountains. The Fairmont Lake Louise and Banff hotels were built about a century ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. to encourage people to visit the beautiful interior of Canada. Each of these sites became a National Park, and an even larger park, Jasper, is several hours north. For someone who has not seen the terrain it is hard to imagine the size and numbers of the mountains that go on for hundreds of miles along the continental divide. If one can imagine The Grand Tetons on steroids, you get a rough idea. The Winter Olympics were held in this region during the 1980s and the site of ice skaters on frozen Lake Louise is a picture worth a Currier and Ives print.
Streams fed by glacier snow form wild rivers coursing through these rugged mountains. One day we joined Wild Water Adventures (www.wildwater.com) , for a 3-4 hour category IV white river rafting trip down the Kicking Horse River, quite aptly named I might add. The Wild Water crew is one of the most experienced running trips down this river and, while it is thrilling, their licensed guides are very experienced and you feel quite safe in the company provided wet suits, helmets, fleece and thermal boots and gloves. The water temperature is in the 40s and if it is not a hot day, the thermal protection is welcomed. The company has been running the river for over 20 years so they are quite experienced and one of only two licensed to operate in this region of the river. After paddling for 2-3 hours, the BBQ lunch back at the company’s headquarters is a delicious treat and the spread is exceptional considering its rustic location. There are several gourmet salads and your burger choice includes a freshly grilled slab of wild Canadian salmon, a tasty reward!
The town of Banff is a large glacial valley surrounded by mountains. It too has a grand hotel with a famous, 100 year old golf course whose holes each have a name and a brief story about them. One hole, The Devil’s Cauldron, needs no description! The Banff Springs hotel is another Fairmont property and has several good restaurants. The hotel’s halls feature water color illustrations of Roaring Twenties circa gentry coming for the summer to play golf and enjoy nature. The view from its deck looking out at the golf course below with 6,000 ft. peaks descending down to the edges of the course is awe inspiring.
For those who don’t golf or play tennis, there is an outdoor pool, horseback riding and hiking. For shoppers, the Banff town of 5,000 people supports some nice shopping and several good restaurants like The Maple Leaf. The town has the feel of Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Plan a visit. You will not be disappointed.