When the idea of train travel is mentioned, most of us are likely to think of a European setting, as this luxurious mode of travel is not as commonly experienced in North America. One extraordinary train excursion which isn’t preceded by a flight over to Europe, however, is not only much closer to home, it also happens to go through some of the most beautiful scenery on earth! It’s none other than the world renowned Rocky Mountaineer, offering unique rail routes from Vancouver, B.C. to a choice of either Jasper or Banff over the course of two unforgettable days.
There is no shortage of global accolades for the Rocky Mountaineer, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. Speaking of accolades, we start our journey off in Canada’s ‘Most livable city’, arriving downtown at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Rocky Mountaineer partners with the Fairmont Hotel group to provide a first-class stay at both ends of your trip, and if you only have a limited opportunity to explore the sights and sounds of Vancouver, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is your best bet. Personalized and thoughtful five-star service is combined here with location, location, location! Step out of the hotel lobby and you are less than half a block from major attractions such as the Vancouver Art Gallery or the city’s main shopping street. If time permits, widen your exploration while participating in Vancouver’s extremely active lifestyle by taking a bike out for the afternoon – the Fairmont provides everything you’ll need, and what better way to work up an appetite for your evening meal!
Many of us find that our travel experiences are enriched by eating locally, and when in Vancouver you can’t go wrong by opting for seafood. With this in mind, look no further than the Blue Water Café. Nestled in the heart of Yaletown, the city’s trendiest restaurant district, the Blue Water Café has garnered Vancouver’s ‘Best Seafood Restaurant’ award since 2007. The menu is tantalizing to the point where choosing just one or two dishes is challenging. But for all-out decadence we recommend trying their seafood platter, a two-tiered presentation that comes with a little of everything, all from local harvests of course.
End your evening as many locals do with a leisurely stroll along the seawall before returning to the Fairmont for a restful sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s early start. The next morning you are transported down to the city’s main train station, where your Rocky Mountaineer hosts are waiting to greet you with genuine warmth. As Canadians are well-known for their polite, friendly, hospitable character, you can be sure your hosts exemplify these qualities. From the outset it’s also obvious that they really do love their work, and as your journey progresses it’s not hard to see why.
Once the city limits are left behind, settle in to enjoy a constantly changing scenic adventure. Soon the Fraser River is seen roaring far below, its breathtaking course culminating at a point known famously as ‘Hell’s Gate’. Before long the landscape is completely changing, from lush old growth forest to semi-arid desert canyons, giving the feeling that you’ve somehow transported to a completely different place on earth. And this is still only the beginning, with non-stop scenic highlights rolling on by throughout your entire Rocky Mountaineer experience.
Along the way there’s never a need to worry about missing out on anything; from intriguing details of local flora and fauna to the colorful history of bygone townsites and other points of interest, your Rocky Mountaineer hosts provide just the right amount of informative narration, with well-timed humor often adding to the enjoyment.
As far as the enjoyment of one’s palate is concerned, this is a non-stop ride! Sit back and relax as you take in the unfolding view from your upper level seat while indulging in the all-day snack and bar catering service. At breakfast and lunchtime, gather below in the dining level where five star chefs prepare exquisite meals based on regional harvests. From top grade Albertan beef to fresh-caught sockeye salmon, the menu is an all-Canadian crowning affair, and Rocky Mountaineer spares no effort in providing local products along the way. Over breakfast we couldn’t help remarking on how delicious the jam on our croissants was; our server then timely informed us it came from a berry farm we happened to be passing by at that moment. And wouldn’t you know that suddenly that jam tasted even more delicious!
Midway through the trip the train pulls in to the city of Kamloops where you will overnight in one of several affiliated hotel accommodations. Upon entering into the city’s outskirts, the window view presents an interesting bit of contrast. Originally built up around the gold rush, the community’s once gritty, hard-working historical roots come into full display. Once you are out strolling the downtown main street, however, a flourishing culinary scene awaits your discovery. To kick off your evening’s adventure with some unique local flair, make sure to stop in at the Noble Pig Brewhouse. This highly popular establishment is known for its deep fried pickles, an offering which most (if not everyone) rate as “Surprisingly good”.
Day two features even more scenic splendor as snow-capped peaks of the Rockies begin to grace the full 180 degree overhead view of your dome car. Whether your destination is Jasper or Banff, you can be sure to spend this day in awe of the sublime and majestic surroundings. As hosts and guests alike keep their eyes peeled for frequent wildlife sightings, make sure to have your camera ready at hand! Moose, elk and bear are just some of the big ticket items you might very well spot.
Our itinerary took us along endless feats of railroad engineering up through numerous mountain passes, until our final destination of Banff came into view, where we checked in at the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. As Canada’s oldest national park, Banff is unparalleled for its surrounding natural beauty, and for those who like to travel in style the Banff Springs Hotel is the jewel in the crown. Rooms are plush and modernly appointed, the hotel itself is historic and, quite simply, grand to behold inside and out. As with each step along the way in your Rocky Mountaineer adventure, expect nothing here but the best in refined Canadian hospitality.
We highly suggest spending at least two nights here in order to enjoy some of Banff’s many attractions. Go on a guided mountain hike, try your hand at fly fishing in the nearby Bow River, or simply relax with the exquisite spa services provided at the Banff Springs, followed by some leisurely shopping in the town. If your seasonal timing is right, why not head up for a day of skiing! Banff’s Sunshine Village ski resort has the longest ski season in North America, and though our visit saw us there at the end of April, snow conditions were extraordinarily good and our day on the slopes was thoroughly enjoyable.
When eventually the time came to say goodbye to our hosts, it was not without a tinge of regret that we left the Rockies behind on the bus ride to Calgary’s airport. After all, having spent many years venturing far and wide in search of beautiful places on this earth, the Canadian Rocky Mountains still gets our number one vote, a conviction that is reaffirmed more strongly with each subsequent visit.
But wait…it’s not over until it’s over. As a parting bonus of your encounter with Rocky Mountaineer, the return flight to Vancouver provides a dazzling aerial view of all that you’ve just been through. Be sure to get the window seat!
For more information, visit www.RockyMountaineer.com