“Great Canadian Weekends” feature customized itineraries of the nation’s finest destinations prepared by Vacay.ca, the Concierge to Canada. Travellers looking to get the most out of their stay will want to follow these tips and ideas from our travel experts. The series continues with a look at how to spend a Weekend in Banff.
Story by Katie Marti
BANFF, ALBERTA — It’s not only one of the most iconic places in Canada, Lake Louise is renowned around the world for its turquoise waters, majestic peaks and romantic setting against the Rocky Mountains. A weekend here is time spent in a world that seems eternally frozen in splendour. While Lake Louise is always the highlight of a visit to Banff National Park, it’s far from the only delightful stop you’ll make. Here’s a guide to spending a Great Canadian Weekend in Banff.
DAY 1 IN BANFF AND LAKE LOUISE
FRIDAY, 4 PM, CHECK-IN, Chateau Lake Louise
Address: 111 Lake Louise Drive
Driving distance from Calgary International Airport: 196 kilometres (2 hours of driving time)
What you should know: Chateau Lake Louise is a luxury Fairmont property tucked away in the soaring mountains of Banff National Park and only a short drive from the town of Banff itself. The year-round resort is completely self-contained with several dining choices, a full-service spa and unlimited potential for outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Whether on a family ski vacation, a romantic getaway or a ladies’ weekend at the spa, the Chateau Lake Louise makes for an idyllic and serene home base.
Cost: Rates start at $299 per night for a Fairmont King or Queen guest room with several upgrades available, including a Private Concierge floor with guest rooms and suites starting at $499 per night.
Bonus feature: All Fairmont resort properties are pet friendly, so four-legged family members can join in on the fun.
FRIDAY, 5 PM, EXLPORE LAKE LOUISE
Address: 111 Lake Louise Drive
What you should know: The Chateau overlooks its namesake Lake Louise, a brilliant turquoise basin ideal for paddling in summer, skating in winter, and gazing upon 12 months of the year. The hotel provides skate rentals, offers horse-drawn sleigh rides and maintains beautiful ice sculptures throughout the property during the snowy season, and has canoes on offer in summer. Take some time to stretch your legs and enjoy the great outdoors. You have arrived.
Cost: Sleigh rides depart several times daily and cost $30 per person ($27 per child). Skate rentals start at $11 for two hours ($6 for junior sizes). Canoe rentals start at $45 per half hour.
FRIDAY, 7 PM, DINNER AT THE WALLISER STUBE (Chateau Lake Louise)
Address: 111 Lake Louise Drive
What you should know: Steeped in Swiss mountain tradition, the Walliser Stube blends European sophistication with the warm and cozy feel of a Rocky Mountain lodge. The restaurant’s specialty is fondue and raclette (a Swiss dish similar to fondue), perfect for sharing with friends and pairing with wine as the sun disappears behind towering mountain peaks. Executive chef Felix Pfister hails from Zurich, Switzerland, bringing with him a passion for fine dining and a decades-long career spent honing his craft in Fairmont properties from Arizona to Dubai. The menu is made for carnivores, which speaks to both Pfister’s Swiss roots and his promotion of Alberta beef and game; however, lighter fare and vegetarian options are equally exquisite. Reservations are highly recommended, particularly on weekends and during peak seasons.
Cost: Entrées start at $39 with fondues and raclettes ranging from $44-$50.
DAY 2 IN BANFF AND LAKE LOUISE
SATURDAY, 8 AM, BREAKFAST, POPPY BRASSERIE (Chateau Lake Louise)
What you should know: The Alpine Breakfast Buffet at Poppy Brasserie is the perfect way to kick start a day full of mountain adventures and vacation celebration. With a made-to-order omelet bar, a wide variety of European meats and cheeses, eggs Benedict and a huge selection of other hot and cold breakfast favourites, the most challenging part of your day may be pacing yourself at the table. Enjoy fresh roasted coffee and a sweeping view of Lake Louise as you contemplate the endless potential ahead of you and whether to go back for a second helping of bacon. Who are we kidding? It’s your third helping — and of course you should.
Cost: $30 per person for hot breakfast buffet, $19 for continental. A la carte items start at $17. Buffet is served from 7-10 am, and à la carte menu until 11 am.
SATURDAY, 10:30 AM, WANDER BANFF AVE
Driving distance from Chateau Lake Louise: 45 minutes
What you should know: Banff is a town situated within the boundary of Canada’s original national park and a UNESCO Heritage Site. Popular with tourists year-round, here you’ll find shops and restaurants nestled beneath Rocky Mountain peaks and alongside iconic landmarks like the Bow River Falls and the Banff Springs Hotel. Grab a local beer at the Banff Ave Brewing Co. in the clock tower building or pop into one of the dozens of cafés and bistros lining the streets of the downtown core. Parking is free, but a National Parks pass must be purchased (rates for adults start at $9.80) and displayed on the dash of your vehicle at all times. Visit the Parks Canada website to purchase one online or stop into the visitors centre located at 224 Banff Avenue.
SATURDAY, 1 PM, TREAT YOURSELF AT THE WILLOW STREAM SPA
Address: 405 Spray Avenue (in the Banff Springs Hotel)
Walking distance from Banff Ave: 15 minutes
What you should know: William Cornelius Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific Railway once said of the Banff Springs Hotel: “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.” The resort itself is almost as imposing as the peaks that surround it, constructed of stone and spires with balconies and sweeping Rocky Mountain views, and the Willow Stream Spa is an oasis of relaxation and pampering with a full array of body treatments and massages, as well as a three-tiered system of spring-fed hot pools that keep it consistently ranked as one of the top spas in Canada as voted by a number of sources, including Forbes Magazine. Plan on spending an afternoon drifting away in the lap of luxury.
Cost: Treatments start at $185, which includes access to the spa’s pools and fitness centre.
[box_info]Read more Vacay.ca coverage of Willow Stream Spa[/box_info]
SATURDAY, 6 PM, DINNER AT THE BISON
Address: 211 Bear Street
Walking distance from the Banff Springs Hotel: 15 minutes
What you should know: As local as it gets and with a casual take on fine dining, this is a true Rocky Mountain experience not to be missed. Executive chef Liz Gagnon has hit every single nail on the head, from steelhead trout as delicate as it is full of flavour to Alberta beef cooked to perfection and a blue cheese potato mash that you will be talking about for months after your meal. With all this and more it may be a challenge to save room for the coconut crème brûlée, but you really must.
Vacay.ca tip: Reservations are highly recommended and be sure to ask for a table by the windows in front of the bar.
DAY 3 IN BANFF AND LAKE LOUISE
SUNDAY, 9 AM, GET OUT THERE
What you should know: Obviously, spending a weekend in one of Canada’s most famous and pristine national parks carries with it the luxury of immediate access to the great outdoors. Regardless of the season, there is something for absolutely everyone in this hot spot for fresh air adventure.
In winter: Kingmik offers dogsled tours leaving from the Chateau Lake Louise four times daily with half-hour treks available as well as longer runs lasting up to two hours. Lake Louise Ski Resort is a fantastic family destination with variable terrain allowing for access to alpine bowls with breathtaking panoramic vistas and some of the best powder skiing in Canada for everyone from novice to top shredder. For the more low key explorer, the resort also maintains a fabulous system of nordic trails for cross-country skiing and guided snowshoe tours, as well as a full fleet of rental equipment available from the lobby of Chateau Lake Louise for your ultimate convenience.
Cost: Dogsled tours start at $79-$159 per person. Lift tickets at Lake Louise Ski Resort are $68.95 for a half-day ($54.95 for seniors/youth, $26.95 for kids under 12) and $84.95 for a full-day ($64.95 for seniors/youth, $30.95 for kids under 12). The ski resort will be operating until May 11, 2014 and typically reopens in November.
In spring, summer and fall: Get yourself on top of a mountain. There are several options, depending upon your level of fitness and enthusiasm. Many of the activities will begin right at the back door of Chateau Lake Louise. Guided half-day and full-day tours are available, or the concierge can provide a trail map for do-it-yourselfers. Not to be missed is the hike to the little teahouse perched high above Lake Louise — a great spot to rest and refresh en route. If uphill climbs aren’t on the agenda, Lake Louise Ski Resort offers a sight-seeing gondola ride in summer to get you up to the top in style.
Cost: Guided half-day hiking tours are $49 ($25 for youth) and full-day tours are $69 ($35 for youth). The sightseeing gondola at Lake Louise operates between May 16 and October 13, 2014 and costs $29.95 for a round-trip ticket ($15.95 for children).
SUNDAY, 6 PM, DINNER AT THE POST
Address: 200 Pipestone Road
Driving distance from Chateau Lake Louise: 5 minutes (4 kilometres)
What you should know: The atmosphere at the Post Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property, is cozy with pine log walls and a roaring fireplace to complement the mountain views from every angle. Don’t be fooled, however: the Post sits at the top of the list for fine dining in Lake Louise. Attire is casual elegance and reservations are a must, with seatings before 6:30 pm and after 8:30 pm. Explore an ever-changing menu serving up Canadian mountain cuisine with more than a hint of Swiss influence, inspired by executive chef Hans Sauter. The Post wins consistently raving reviews from all ranks of diners thanks to finely tuned attention to detail, renowned customer service and a stellar wine cellar. Bon appétit!
MORE ABOUT BANFF AND LAKE LOUISE
Flights: Calgary International Airport (YYC) is the ideal airport for travellers arriving by air. It is about an hour’s drive from Banff and almost two hours to Lake Louise. There are several shuttle options and car rental kiosks at the airport for transport to and from Calgary.
When to go: There is not a bad time to go to Banff and Lake Louise, as there are truly endless options for fun and adventure regardless of the season. However, be sure to check opening and closing dates if travelling during October-November and April-May as these are the shoulder seasons wherein you may find conditions are less than ideal depending for the activities you want. Reservations are particularly necessary for accommodations and popular dining spots in peak winter and summer months.
More details: Visit the Banff/Lake Louise tourism website for more information.