Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 15, 2017
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Banff bounty

How to take in Banff's bounty in just a weekend

Nothing says weekend getaway quite as much as Banff. The area offers some of the most pristine, heart-stopping scenery in the world. Earlier this fall, an awestruck hiker from Aspen I met on the backcountry trails in neighbouring Yoho National Park gasped: "We have nothing like this in Colorado!" Really, there's nothing like this anywhere.

You can hike the heights and passes from spring to fall, and ski the stunning peaks in the winter. In the shoulder season, there's as much to enjoy as any other time of year. The nights are crisp, there's snow in the air, the hotels and B&Bs offer their lowest rates and the restaurants aren't crowded. Even buzzing Banff Avenue settles back to a version of the small-town atmosphere it will never quite recapture.


Friday
4pm
Tunnel Vision
Drop off your bags, lace up your hiking boots and head for the summit of Tunnel Mountain (tel: 403-762-1550; www.banff.com/hiking/tunnel_mtn.shtml). The well-maintained trail begins at the south end of Banff Avenue and takes you up gentle switchbacks through big pines and firs. At the top, you'll enjoy fine views of the town and of Mt. Rundle.

The trail has been around almost since the town began and so have the elk-- watch for them in clearings and on lawns in town as they munch on the last of the season's icy grass: winter comes early at 1500 metres. The loop is an easy 4.3 kilometres with a 300-metre climb.

On the way back, stop at the Banff Centre (107 Tunnel Mountain Drive, Banff; tel: 403-762-6100; www.banffcentre.ca) and review the play lists. There may be snowflakes in the air but all is warm and cultural inside. On Friday nights, there's always a concert and often a play as well. November's lineup is especially strong.


6pm
Soak It Up
Don't change out of your hiking clothes, just hop in the car and take the short drive up to the Upper Hot Springs (101 Mountain Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-1515; www.hotsprings.ca). Feeling ambitious? Then keep walking, it's not far. People have been coming here to soak since the 1880s. Lie back in the soothing 40°C waters and contemplate an early meal if you're taking in some culture.

Or splurge at Le Beaujolais (212 Buffalo Street, upstairs, Banff; tel: 403-762-2712; www.lebeaujolaisbanff.com). It was established more than 20 years ago by Albert Moser and is considered by many the best restaurant in a town of excellent eateries. Winner of the prestigious Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, Le Beaujolais has a fine cellar.

The menu is classic French: beef tartare, foie gras, butter-poached lobster and scallops, rack of lamb Provencal and beef tenderloin in herb-shallot Cabernet reduction tempt even the most jaded pallet. Can't decide? Opt for the six-course chef's surprise ($95 or $150 with wine pairing). You won't be disappointed. Most tables have magnificent views of a landscape that never stops giving.


10:30pm
A B&B for R'n'R
Stroll back to Tarry-a-While B&B (117 Grizzly Street, Banff; tel:403-762-0462 www.tarry.ca; rooms from $100) which is a few short steps from the restaurant or a quick bracing walk from the Banff Centre if you took in a concert or play. Enjoy a nightcap from that bottle of brandy in your bag in front of the fire before going upstairs. Slip under the thick duvet in the Mary Schaffer Suite.

Ms. Schaffer first visited the town in 1889 and came back to stay. She built the home in 1911 and it's now one of the town's most historic, managed by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (111 Bear Street, Banff; tel: 403-762-2291; www.whyte.org). Leave the window open a crack and enjoy happy dreams in the cool mountain air, even if your nose gets cold.


Saturday
8am
Easy Louise
Bound down for a sumptuous breakfast in the sunroom or in front of a fire in the lounge and fuel up for a full day of cross-country or telemarking in the spectacular scenery around Lake Louise and Lake O'Hara.

Grab your boots and head on down to Mountain Magic (224 Bear Street, Lake Louise; tel: 800-661-0399; www.mountainmagic.com) and pick up the skis and skins you've reserved ahead of time. The alpine touring packages go for $40 a day, $30 for telemarking equipment. Load up the car, and you're on your way.

About half an hour's drive along the Icefields Parkway takes you to Laggan's Mountain Bakery and Deli (101 Lake Louise Drive, Lake Louise; tel: 403-522-2017) in Lake Louise's small but busy Samson Mall. Fortify yourself with a latte and one of the pastries or have them put together a bag lunch for a ski or a hike.

Forget something? Check out Wilson Mountain Sports (101 Lake Louise Drive, Lake Louise; tel: 403-522-3636), the outfitter a couple of doors down, for any last-minute needs like an extra pair of wool socks -- they'll even rent you skis in a pinch.


11am
Remote Access
Twenty minutes later pull into the Lake O'Hara parking lot. From mid-June until October 8 and from the beginning of February through April, yellow school buses operated by Parks Canada ferry a limited group of visitors up an 11-kilometre gravel road.

At any time of year, this is one of the gateways to BC's Yoho National Park, a region of stunning cross-country ski and hiking trails to one of the region's loveliest lakes. Some visitors stay at the rustic Lake O'Hara Lodge (Yoho National Park; tel: 403-678-4110/250-343-6418; www.lakeohara.com) which is set on the shore facing some of the world's finest mountain scenery and is well worth a visit. Others pitch their tents in the 30-space campground. Reservations are required well in advance for either of these accommodations.

The window on the small inn's quaint mezzanine frames the view of one of the Rockies' most famous paintings, created by American impressionist John Singer Sargent. In 1916, he set his easel on the shore of the lake not 50 metres away. Strap on the skis and you're ready to explore the area along Cataract Brook which parallels the road to the campsites and lodge or set off to Lake Wapta or Ross Lake. There are maps and all the information you need on the Parks Canada (tel: 250-343-6433/250-343-6783; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/yoho/) website.


1:30pm
Savage or Civilized
After lunch, drive back down the road to nearby Lake Louise. Spectacular in any season, the famous lake begs to be explored. Weather permitting, you can do it by dogsled. Howling Dog Tours (109 Bow Meadows Crescent, Canmore; tel: 877-DOG-SLED; www.howlingdogtours.com) out of Canmore can arrange a two-hour trip which will set you back about $140.

But you don't have to let the dogs do the work. Skiing and snowshoeing are options, as is simply sitting outside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (111 Lake Louise Drive, Lake Louise; tel: 403-522-3511; www.fairmont.com/lakelouise) while drinking in the view. Or partake of the formal afternoon tea in the comfort of The Lakeside room. Sparkling wine, Cointreau-soaked fruit salad, rare Indian teas and finger-sized sandwiches and little cakes -- what could be nicer?

On your way back to town take the turn off to Moraine Lake, pictured on the back of the old $20 bill. The steep mountains soar like enormous icebergs above a Lilliputian sea of remarkable colour. So much beauty you can only whisper. Another option: come earlier in the day and hike, snowshoe or ski yet another of Canada's most stunning areas.


4pm
Store Hopping
Suffering from scenery fatigue? Go straight back to Banff Avenue and get into the shops before they close. Check out the snowboards and fashions at Rude Girls (207 Caribou, Banff; tel: 403-760-4412), saunter through the gift shops, enjoy a coffee at Evelyn's Coffee Bar (201 Banff Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-0352) or browse till closing time at the superlative Banff Book and Art Den (94 Banff Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-3919; www.banffbooks.com) near the bridge. In a different kind of shopping mood? Combine your purchases with a tour of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (405 Spray Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-2211; www.fairmont.com/banffsprings). The historic pile has a fine mini-mall in the basement.


7pm
Some Like it Rare
After all that exercise, a slab of Alberta beef might be just the thing. Try The Keg (521 Banff Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-4442) in the Banff Caribou Lodge or Bumper's Beef House (603 Banff Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-2622; www.bumpersinn.com), family oriented and a bit of a Banff tradition.

It's Saturday evening and the night is young, so hit the Rose & Crown Pub (202 Banff Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-762-2121; www.roseandcrown.ca) for live music around and if you're still up for it after a set or two, swing over to the hip HooDoo Lounge (137 Banff Avenue, Banff; tel: 403-760-8636; www.hoodoolounge.com), the sister club to the cool Aurora at 110 on the avenue; both are open until 2 AM.


Sunday
11:30am
Irish Brunch
Banff Avenue is quiet, slowly coming to life, the shops have been open about an hour but business is still slow. All is serene at the St. James's Gate Olde Irish Pub (207 Wolf Street, Banff; tel: 403-762-9355) which still has a Saturday-night, Sunday-morning feel. The Guinness on tap goes remarkably well with the crab-asparagus-Guinness soup and shredded-beef-stuffed Yorkshire pudding -- just the fortification needed for the trip back to Calgary. There's not a spot in the country that can cater better to the body and the soul.

 

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