Our winter drive to Banff, about 126 km west of Calgary and 58 km from Lake Louise, is past intimidating Rocky mountains flaunting their pristine white coyness in new snow-capes. The prominent peaks, Mount Rundle, Norquay, The Three Sisters, are giveaways that we are approaching Banff, a quintessential mountain town nestled within Banff National Park, Alberta.
I had visited Banff in the summer of 2014, a bustling colourful timber town with rustic architecture merging with the surrounding rugged wilderness of the Rockies. In January 2016, my first winter trip, Banff appeared still in slumber, a lazy bear waiting to be nudged into action. Later, flipping through tourist brochures I came across a line up of winter activities from wine festivals, music and craft fairs with local flavour and winter sports run-ups in Banff and environs. Maybe, the deserted look was due to lunch time or resting time with few braving the cold outdoors: stragglers carrying their winter sports gear, construction workers, tourists and people like us enjoying a snow stroll on the Banff Avenue or the main road, clicking pictures of the giant Snowman and desperate to leave sitzmarks on the pavement snow.
Banff, discovered in the 1880s and named Banff by the President of Canadian Pacific Railway for his birthplace in Scotland, was a railway outpost and since then has careened down the majestic slopes to metamorphose into a tourist haven with chalet styled luxury hotels developed by the Canadian Pacific Railways and residential and commercial premises borrowing from the picturesque landscape.
Snug in winter-wear we ambled down Banff Avenue or main street, shuffling in gift shops and chalet-like malls and before the sales person, in one of the stores, could ask for the fifth time ‘Need help’ purchased Ice wine tea gift packs for friends.
From street walking we moved into the cozy comfort of the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs, a luxurious ‘castle’ complete with gothic ceilings and glowing candelabra, a take off on Scottish/British royal living with more than 700 rooms, dozen eateries, lounges, popular spa, tennis courts and golf course. The ‘Springs’, as it is referred to by the guests and staff, was a gift of Canadian Pacific Railways and has played host to stars and royalty from Marilyn Monroe to King Edward VIII (who later abdicated the throne) and present elite, stars, politicians and sportspersons. Walking inside one does feel like ‘royalty’ and we plan to come again.
The majestic buildings merge with the color palette of the surrounding mountains and we watch, from one of the hotel terraces, the setting sun take a ski run down the snowy vista of Bow Valley.
A refreshing tea break in the Rundle lounge of the hotel and we bid adieu to Banff