Even the most seasoned of travellers agree, experience the Rocky Mountaineer and you will alight from the train in a swirl of superlatives.
Traversing the sublime Canadian Rockies from British Colombia to Alberta, the Rocky Mountaineer’s recipe of success is quite simply its unswerving commitment to deliver the best. The best in hospitality, comfort, cuisine and knock-out scenery to boot.
If you’re planning a foray to Canada, a rendezvous with the Rocky Mountaineer is highly likely to be your holiday highlight. The rail season runs from late April to early October, and the most popular service is the “First Passage to the West”, which connects Vancouver with Calgary and Banff.
The flagship journey rattles along the final leg of the railway that united British Colombia with the rest of Canada. From the emerald-green, glacier-fed rivers and rivers to nature’s soaring cathedrals of the Continental Divide, the two-day rail excursion is a spooling reel of exalted scenery and wildlife-viewing opportunities.
West of Vancouver, as you enter Fraser Canyon, Hell’s Gate is an arresting sight, reminiscent of the Huka Falls, where the surging waters of Fraser River thunder through the narrow gorge.
The colourfully named Jackass Mountain is a hangover from the gold-rush era, when mules lugged supplies across the lofty pass, many slipping to their death on the narrow wagon route. Rainbow Canyon is a photogenic feast, with the minerals in the rocks reflecting a rainbow of colurs giving the canyon a painted look.
After an overnight stop in Kamloops, you’ll encounter striking pillar-like rock formations called Hoodoos, the world’s largest salmon run at the Adams River, and the historic site of Craigellachie, where the last spike was driven in, completing the trans-continental railway in 1885.
Snow-domed ranges abound as the train passes through the Colombia Mountains, the magnificent Spiral Tunnels and onto the lofty Rockies. Castle Mountain is a bulky, turreted peak, with amazing horizontal rock layers. Towering Mt. Rundle lords over Banff and is reflected in the waters of the Vermillion Lakes.
But it’s the Three Sisters, a triple-coned show-stopper, that sends photographers into overdrive, before the lowland romp through the prairie lands into Calgary.
The on-board hospitality is exceptional and the expert commentary delivers the right mix of history, geographic points of interest and wildlife-viewing opportunities. You can choose from three service classes, although the Goldleaf Service is unquestionably the most popular.
The upper-level glass-domed coaches guarantee panoramic views, and the downstairs dining room is a graceful affair, serving a la carte breakfast and lunch. The cuisine is five-star dining standard, and I particularly enjoyed the smoked salmon for breakfast and the Alberta pork tenderloin for lunch.
Best of all, the Rocky Mountaineer is a highly sociable experience, with a continuous, complimentary bar service lubricating the wheels of conversation.
Surrounded by the prairie lands of Alberta, compact Calgary was developed by the cattle industry, hence it’s nickname, “Cow Town.”
In the late 1960s, the oil boom erupted, followed by the natural gas boom of today. But Calgary can’t shake off its cowboy boots off completely– the city is currently celebrating the centenary of the Calgary Stampede, one of the world’s greatest rodeos. The Stetson hats, blue jeans and cowboy boots are out in force!
To experience the city’s wild-west flavour, a great stop is the U Ranch National Historic Site. The Bar U Ranch is a fully-operating cattle ranch that prides itself in preserving Calgary’s cowboy heritage. There are 35 original buildings to explore, some dating back from the 1880’s.
If you have a head for heights, head into the heart of the city and take a trip the Calgary Tower. The observatory’s lofty perch delivers horizon-wide views, as far as the Rockies.
My favourite street that is well worth a wander is the historic trading mecca of Stephen Avenue. Many of the century-old street frontages have been lovingly preserved and regenerated with boutiques and galleries taking up residence.
Delta Bow Valley Hotel is a super-friendly establishment, on the banks of the Bow River with panoramic views across the central city. Elements Lounge in the main lobby, complete with roaring fire, is the ideal spot for a drinks and dining. The tastefully furnished guest rooms are fully-equipped with all the mod-cons and internet access is complimentary. A stunning spot.
Running from April to October, it pays to book early for the Rocky Mountaineer. May excursions are best, if you want plenty of snow-coated photos. www.rockymountaineer.com
For best available room rates and special packages including Signature Club access, go to www.deltahotels.com