Empty-nesters enjoy a catch up in Canada

Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise.

By Kylie Mitchell-Smith

The upside of becoming an empty nester and having your adult offspring move to the other side of the world is that you now have an excuse to visit some new and beautiful places around the globe as our own Travelling Senorita Kylie Mitchell Smith discovered recently when her oldest son moved to Canada.

We take a direct 14-hour flight from Brisbane to Vancouver, with a handy connection to Calgary. Alberta is in the depths of winter, so we rug up to outrun the jet lag and explore the historical streets of the city of cowboys.

We discover a thriving city, a haven for foodies, bursting with history and pride. Modern yet age-old, with character-filled streets and friendly locals. Built on a grid system, we wander the avenues and discover a hive of activity on Eighth and Ninth. An eclectic café scene has popped up on Fifth Avenue that borders the picturesque (and frozen) Bow River.

We choose to stay at the Fairmont Palliser close to all the action on Ninth Avenue – a charming, re-invented railway hotel built in the early 1900s. Art Deco style with a grand ’50s ballroom and suitably fitted-out rooms, complemented by a well-appointed restaurant and bar – we get a sense of those that have passed before.

A picturesque two-hour drive from Calgary to Banff National Park, we feel like we are driving into an endless, screensaver of snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes. As you enter the National Park, take the turn off to Banff, a village that its built around the majestic lake, with the towering mountains as the backdrop.

Limited by the restrictions applied by the National Park to preserve the natural environment, Banff is a unique town, dotted with souvenir shops, a brewery, distillery, cinema, and restaurants.

The crowning glory of the town is the stunning castle on the hill, the 130-year-old, Fairmont Banff Springs, located in the heart of Banff National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A year-round luxury mountain resort with all the trimmings, we land there as snow is falling. As picturesque as it is commanding, the resort has several dining experiences, from authentic Italian to a Spanish tapas bar to a German-inspired taphouse.

We try the Italian and delight over the freshly made pasta dishes, like the Charred Sweet Corn Ravioli with lashings of crispy porchetta and fermented chilli. For dessert we can’t go past the Apple Raison Crostata with a glass of Grappa e Limoncello – that warms our cockles.

The award-winning Fairmont Springs Spa has captured the natural surrounds, with outdoor hot springs, indoor magnesium pools, eucalyptus sauna and steam room, and treatment suites. We indulge in a ‘Majestic Blue’ with mountain lavender, mineral salt exfoliation, massage and body wrap.

A must see and do, is the Banff Gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain, with 360-degree views across the Rockies and beyond. A short, elevated walk to the peak of the summit and you’ll feel on-top of the world. On the way back down visit the educational centre and Sky Bistro high above the Gondola with, quite possibly the best views we’ve ever seen.

The resort is well-equipped with a championship golf course during summer, and mountain resorts for skiing in the winter, including an ice-skating rink on the resort’s frozen lake surrounds.

A short drive to Canmore Caves, we brave the narrow entrances into the caves, and crawl our way along a 4km grotto to Rat’s Nest Cave. The ancient caves are home to 7000-year-old bones, and the friendly staff are well equipped to lead the way in (and out) of this natural wonder.

We take a one-hour drive from Canmore, back into the National Park, destination Lake Louise – the real reason for our journey to the Rocky Mountains. We are visiting our 23-year-old son Lewis, who, after completing a degree in Economics and Commerce at UQ, has opted for a working holiday at the Fairmont Chateau on Lake Louise.

A stately hotel that is perfectly positioned next to the grand lake, frozen in all its glory. The hotel services over 500 rooms and is as elegant as it is relaxed in style. Friendly staff welcome you at every turn – we find Lewis serving at the most picturesque and opulent Lakeview Lounge.

After we acquaint ourselves with the hotel, the natural surrounds, and of course our son, we take off to the local ski field. Lewis is well acquainted with Lake Louise Ski Resort, when he’s not working at the chateau, he’s honing his snowboarding skills on the mountain.

A day well spent on the mountain is followed by a night spent by the outside fire, set amongst the ice bar and ice sculptures that adorn the lake. Dining options at the Chateau include comfort food at the pub, modern and hearty cuisine at Lakeview, and Mediterranean fare at the newly appointed Louiza restaurant.

We dine at Louiza and try the Homemade Empanadas, Galicean Mussels and Basque Lamb Shank, with a delicious Elderberry Sorbet with Crispy Basil to finish. The Hotel wraps around the lake capturing the sublime, snow-capped mountains, and is all about the serenity. As summer fast approaches the lake melts, the wildlife awakens (bears) and the environment transitions.

We vow to return to Banff National Park, and with our younger son set to join his brother in the not-too-distant future, it’s on the cards. A desirable destination for snow lovers in the winter months, with hikers and nature dwellers to discover a different look and feel in the summer months.

For more from our favourite PR/ TRAVEL WRITER/PODCASTER head to www.travellingsenorita.com

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