There are certain red-hot destinations where everyone seems to flock these days. Intriguing Iceland is one; beautiful Banff is undoubtedly another. Whether it’s due to our current political climate, an exchange rate greatly favoring American travelers who head north or simply the pressing need to hang out among some of the nicest people on Earth, Canada seems the place to plan your next trip.
We recently discovered Calgary, located a less-than-two-hour flight from Seattle. This sun-soaked gem in Alberta serves as a perfect gateway to Banff National Park and the rest of the sensational Canadian Rockies.
In Calgary, which is set between the prairies and the peaks, creative entrepreneurs have been hard at work pushing past ‘country and western, oil and gas’ stereotypes, meaning the city’s food, drink, arts and culture scenes are rapidly on the rise. Here are just a few of the reasons you’ll want to put Alberta, Canada, on your radar—and fast.
Not only does Calgary offer an unexpected bounty of urban parks and gardens (the 49-acre Prince’s Island Park, for example), but it’s also an awesome cycling town, thanks to its extremely flat landscape and impressive network of bike paths that wind through city streets and along the Bow River. In fact, Calgary boasts the longest urban pathway system in North America—which will soon be the longest in the world, when the Rotary/Mattamy Greenway opens in September and connects all 55 communities.
Then of course, there are the nearby Rockies, which dazzle with their magnificent peaks and otherworldly turquoise lakes. The best news? In celebration of Canada 150, all of Canada’s national parks and historic sites offer free admission; in Alberta, these 19 sites include Banff, Waterton Lakes National Park, Bar U Ranch, and Cave and Bason.
As an alternative to Banff, also check out charming neighboring mountain towns like Canmore. Before commencing outdoors adventures in locations like Grassi Lakes, fuel up with a healthy, rainbow-hued lunch at Canmore’s ComuniTea; try the Protein Bowl chock-full of quinoa, kale, purple cabbage, zucchini spirals, roasted yams, basil pesto and a free-run egg. Or, load up on fresh goods at the Canmore Mountain Market, which runs every Thursday through October 5 and must boast the world’s most picturesque farmers market setting.
Women seeking hiking buddies might want to connect with local A.V Wakefield, a professional photographer and steward for the outdoors who launched Hike 365 as a way to build community for those interested in hitting the trails together.
EAT, DRINK + BE MERRY
Calgary’s no longer just a “steak and potatoes” town, something evident by the sudden abundance of cafes serving juices and bowls as well as restaurants rooted in seasonal, vegetable-forward menus. Chef Connie DeSousa of Charcut/Charbar, a Top Chef Canada finalist, praises her hometown’s close-knit restaurant community and a shared vision of transitioning toward farm-to-table cooking.
At Foreign Concept, where dishes “honour colonial Vietnamese cooking with surprising flavours from across the continent,” be sure to try the butternut squash and green mango slaw, the Gochujang albacore tuna poké, the Alberta trout cha cha la vong (with dill, turmeric and confit scallion rice noodles) and the Vietnamese coffee parfait. Afterward, enjoy a cozy nightcap at neighboring wine mecca Bar Von Der Fels.
Other standouts include the historic Deane House (think oysters, halibut cakes and “Top Grass Beef Perogies”) and the frequently buzzed about (for good reason) Ten Foot Henry, where favorites range from the roasted carrots and pan-roasted gai lan to the chocolate-avocado torte finale.
The beverage scene thrives here, too, thanks to a recent Alberta brewery boom; cocktails lovers also have plenty of options, like bustling Proof, where bartender Jeff Savage promotes health and wellness with such unexpected ingredients as cold-pressed carrot juice, Vitamin D, ginger, wormwood and tumeric. Spice up your night with the bar’s popular “Fire at the Pharmacy” concoction or “El Santo,” a smoking mezcal and palo santo-based creation.
As the pioneers of Canada’s boutique hotel concept, Le Germain combines stylish surroundings with top-notch service; we highly recommend you make this venue your home base while up north. Le Germain Hotel Calgary offers a plush downtown oasis with detail-oriented service. Exuberant concierge Ben Phillips, recently decalred an official member of Les Clefs d’Or Canada, happily lends a pass—for up to four guests—to ascend the neighboring Calgary Tower or arranges for day use of the hotel’s complimentary Lexus courtesy car (meaning you can take trips out to the Rockies or the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary).
The pampering continues in spacious rooms featuring modern art by local talents, dreamy rain showers and goose down duvets. Loyal guests return for the deluxe continental breakfasts, nightly turn-down service, 24-7 gym with a view and the major perk of no check-out time (when booked online). Look out for wellness packages that allow guests to mix Alberta adventure with ultimate relaxation at the on-site spa.
Sounds pretty tempting, eh? Believe us; Canada is definitely worth the hype.