Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Touring Western Canada - A Spectacular Winter Idyll

A trip to Canada is right for anyone with a sense of adventure and a love of magnificent scenery and friendly faces. Here we outline some highlights of a tour which starts in Calgary and ends in Vancouver - easily covered in 10 or 11 days, with a few nights in Banff and Jasper to savour the mountain scenes, and an unforgettable train ride too.

Starting in Calgary, a simple morning tour is a great way to take in the atmosphere of this go-ahead, elegant city of skyscrapers and diverse shopping centres. Amongst the attractions is Calgary's Saddledome, the city's 17,000-seat stadium hosting a huge variety of sporting and entertainment events.

After Calgary, a drive west takes you to Banff National Park, known as the gateway to the Rockies, and a spectacular mountain resort. There is so much to do here, including an excursion to Sulphur Mountain for a gondola ride with spectacular views of the mountain scenery, and a visit to Bow Falls. Main activities can be hiking, boating and fishing, and the extra-adventurous might try a helicopter trip over the mountains; or perhaps for those who enjoy the quieter life sometimes - a cruise on Lake Minnewanka?

From Banff, a great place to visit next is Jasper - but on the way it is a good idea to take in the resort of Lake Louise with its clear blue waters a perfect natural mirror which reflects the surrounding mountains and glaciers. The scenery here is breathtaking, with steep gorges, snow-capped mountain ranges, and turquoise lakes. Another stop might be the Columbia Ice field for a snow coach ride on the Athabasca Glacier. Great adventure.

Once in Jasper, you will marvel at the continuous stream of beautiful scenery again with hiking options (how about an evening hike looking for elk?), or a trip to Maligne Lake and its huge canyon. But Jasper is also famous as a starting point for a fantastic 2-day trip by rail on the Rocky Mountaineer - a classic rail journey from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. It takes in Mount Robson the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies and follows the route of the 'Overlanders', 19th century homesteaders who tried to settle down in this wild region, and the Thompson River with views of the Monashee Mountains. Staying overnight at the ranching centre of Kamloops, the next days sees the Rocky Mountaineer continue on to Vancouver via the Fraser Canyon and the churning rapids of Hell's Gate where the Fraser river squeezes through a 100-foot gap.

The Rocky Mountaineer offers two choices of service. RedLeaf Service which provides guests with assigned, spacious, comfortable reclining seats, large picture windows, delicious chilled breakfast and luncheon selections served at your seat in an air-conditioned traditional rail coach environment.

On the other hand, the GoldLeaf Service allows you to use one of the 11 custom-built, bi-level GoldLeaf dome coaches with an upper level offering 360-degree panoramic views. The whole experience includes elegant dining and top class service - probably the rail trip of a lifetime for many.

After this, Vancouver offers beautiful beaches and fine harbour, Chinatown, Gastown, and the beautiful Stanley Park. From Vancouver you can sail across the Strait of Georgia through the Gulf Islands, an area known for its Mediterranean climate. A nice idea is to take in a sightseeing trip to Victoria with its Butchart Gardens and Bastion Square. An interesting collection of totem poles can be found in Thunderbird Park. Staying overnight before a return to Vancouver, you can enjoy a more leisurely stay in Victoria, which will repay you with memories of fine attractions such as the Royal British Columbia Museum, or afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel, or even a whale watching cruise on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

With flights by Air Canada amongst other to Calgary and back from Vancouver, this itinerary is a great recommendation for an unforgettable taste of Canada's pure and spectacular beauty.

Penny Church writes for several Travel Companies in the UK, including Country Connect and the Airport parking specialist http://www.airport-parking-offers.com who offer a wide variety of airport parking and hotel arrangements for UK travellers.

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