AAH FOR ROCK­IES

The seats are warm and the scenery’s cool on the Rocky Moun­taineer

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | CANADA - PAUL EWART

There’s a pop­u­lar adage which states that life (and, by proxy, travel) isn’t so much about the des­ti­na­tion, it’s about the jour­ney. I find my­self con­tem­plat­ing the apt­ness of this say­ing as I take in some of the most stag­ger­ingly beau­ti­ful scenery I’ve seen, all from the deca­dent com­fort of a huge, leatheruphol­stered chair with built-in “bum warmer”. Toasty, wide-eyed, and with a de­cent glass of red in one hand, cer­tainly I’m in no hurry.

I’m on the Rocky Moun­taineer.

Canada’s most iconic train jour­ney. The lux­u­ri­ous lo­co­mo­tive has hy­per­bole in spades. A peren­nial on the “world’s best” lists (Conde Nast

Trav­eler re­cently hailed it as one of its top five trains on Earth), since launch­ing in 1990 the pri­vately owned train has taken more than two mil­lion pas­sen­gers through the breath­tak­ing Cana­dian Rock­ies via the towns of Jasper, Banff and be­yond.

START­ING POINT

I be­gin my own ad­ven­ture in Banff. En­sconced for a day and night pre­de­par­ture as part of my over­all pack­age, it doesn’t take much for this quaint re­sort town to win me over.

Home to the coun­try’s old­est na­tional park, it’s an ad­ven­turelovers’ play­ground. Here you can ride gon­do­las, visit nearby Lake Louise (the turquoise lake ringed by peaks that fea­tures on countless post­cards), ski, snow­board and kayak.

Ris­ing be­fore dawn the next morn­ing, dur­ing the trans­fer to Banff sta­tion my head is filled with vi­sions of ro­man­tic train travel, of car­riage cock­tails and con­ver­sa­tion, of grandeur and old-world charm. Mulling over such fan­tasies, I board via an adorned red car­pet with the help of friendly staff and smartly clad porters. I’m in GoldLeaf class – the top of­fer­ing on board.

Led to my seat on the up­per level of the dou­ble-decker car­riage, I take in just how spa­cious its beige leather di­men­sions are. A con­trol panel on the right-hand side al­lows for re­clin­ing and lum­bar sup­port, and then there’s the afore­men­tioned bum warmer, which is an ab­so­lute rev­e­la­tion. Bliss!

Cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­at­ing the Rock­ies

doesn’t mean hav­ing to rough it, and for those who need crea­ture com­forts but han­ker af­ter some ad­ven­ture, the train is ideal.

SET THE SCENERY

As much as in­side the train is great, it’s re­ally about what’s go­ing on out­side. The stand­out fea­ture of the

Rocky Moun­taineer is its cus­tomde­signed, glass-domed coaches that put guests in the thick of the spell­bind­ing ac­tion. There are panoramic views of glacier-topped moun­tains and tum­bling water­falls, snow-topped forests, crys­tal-clear rivers and emer­ald-green, glacier-fed lakes re­flect­ing the sur­round­ing peaks. My fel­low pas­sen­gers is­sue “oohs” and “ahhs” at every turn as we rush through Western Canada on the First Pas­sage to the West flag­ship route that takes us from Banff to the Kam­loops, and ul­ti­mately Van­cou­ver.

Scenery aside, the 360-de­gree views make wildlife spot­ting a breeze. Mere min­utes into our jour­ney and we spy an elk. Hours later, we’ve seen more bald ea­gles and os­preys than I thought pos­si­ble. On ground level, among the Cana­dian crit­ters fre­quently sighted are bighorn sheep, moose, and, most ex­cit­ing of all, vis­it­ing dur­ing griz­zly sea­son, bears.

Glued to the win­dow, cam­era atthe-ready, I be­come hawk-eyed when we pass a sal­mon-filled river.

DINE LIKE A VIP

Sit­ting in com­fort tak­ing in hours of awe-in­spir­ing scenery works up a se­ri­ous hunger. Thank­fully, the train has this cov­ered. The chef at the helm of the on-board kitchen, which eas­ily ri­vals some of the coun­try’s top eater­ies, has cooked for Bill Clin­ton and the late Princess Di­ana.

We eat break­fast and lunch on board, head­ing down­stairs to the din­ing cart. This is prob­a­bly the ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween GoldLeaf and Sil­verLeaf classes – those in Sil­verLeaf don’t have a sep­a­rate din­ing cart and have their meals served to them in their seats.

In GoldLeaf there are two sit­tings for break­fast and lunch, which are re­versed on the sec­ond day. Those in the sec­ond sit­ting re­ceive cof­fee and buns be­fore break­fast, and cheese and bis­cuits pre-lunch. You never have to worry about get­ting peck­ish as staff pre-empt hunger pangs with snacks and home­made cook­ies.

The meals are made us­ing fresh Pa­cific North­west in­gre­di­ents and are de­li­cious, from scram­bled eggs and smoked sal­mon for break­fast to slowroasted pork loin for lunch.

In the cart, ta­bles are laid out for four, giv­ing pas­sen­gers a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to meet each other. My com­pan­ions are a mix of Aussies, Ki­wis, Brits, Cana­di­ans, Amer­i­cans, and Ir­ish. Over three cour­ses – paired with an ar­ray of BC wines (Cana­dian wine! Who knew?) – we’re soon bo­som bud­dies. Ev­ery­one is up for min­gling, so solo trav­ellers needn’t fear be­ing short of peo­ple to talk to.

Post-eat­ing, you can snooze, read a book, do some more win­dow gazing, or get a few more drinks with your new-found friends. An in-seat drinks menu of­fers non-al­co­holic items, plus lo­cal beers, wines and cock­tails, in­clud­ing the uniquely Cana­dian Cae­sar cock­tail, which is or­dered and served in your seat by the cour­te­ous train staff who dis­play sig­na­ture Cana­dian warmth and friend­li­ness.

I rel­ish the fact that the jour­ney gives you time to both re­con­nect with the nat­u­ral world around you, and to dis­con­nect – there’s no Wi-Fi on board. Feel­ing a lit­tle tipsy from one too many vi­nos dur­ing lunch, I get some fresh air on the out­door view­ing plat­form and watch as alpine forests flash back. Still de­ter­mined to see the elu­sive bear, I only re­treat back to my seat when the chill gets to me.

FUN­DA­MEN­TALS

Stop­ping overnight in the small city of Kam­loops, I dis­cover the in­ge­nious lug­gage sys­tem used by the Rocky

Moun­taineer. Un­like other train jour­neys, such as The Ghan or the

Ori­ent Ex­press, pas­sen­gers don’t sleep on board. In­stead, the train pulls up for the night and ac­com­mo­da­tion is pro­vided in lo­cal ho­tels. Lug­gage is packed in the morn­ing, left in the room and not seen un­til you check into the next prop­erty where it’s wait­ing for you, no muss, no fuss.

While there are no stops or ex­cur­sions dur­ing the ac­tual jour­ney, there are plenty of add-ons and ex­tras for guests, with more than 80 hol­i­day pack­ages in to­tal, in­clud­ing tours, multi-day self-drives and ho­tel stays in var­i­ous des­ti­na­tions. New 2019 pack­ages in­clude a splurge-wor­thy lux­ury lodge stay with guided he­li­hik­ing, and guests are even able to add on an Alaska cruise to make it a two-in-one hol­i­day by rail and sea.

AND MORE SCENERY

Mid­way through day two, there’s still new fod­der for the eyes. Though the route is short, we tra­verse three dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent cli­mates along the way: the snow-capped moun­tains of Banff, the dry Kam­loops re­gion – which is home to one of Canada’s only deserts – and then on to wet and mild Van­cou­ver on the Pa­cific Coast. Through­out, there are his­tor­i­cal ghost towns, beaver dams, fresh­wa­ter lakes, rapids and old min­ing tun­nels.

On-board com­men­tary points out all of the above, along­side colour­ful lo­cal tales of First Na­tions char­ac­ters, of set­tlers be­ing lured to the area by promises of ap­ple trees only to dis­cover they were trees that had ap­ples tied to them (true story), of aban­doned, haunted lu­natic asy­lums, and Hol­ly­wood film­ing lo­ca­tions.

All too soon, we pull up into Van­cou­ver sta­tion where a line of beam­ing, flag-wav­ing staff are wait­ing to greet us. Dis­em­bark­ing on the plat­form, I cast one last look back at the ma­jes­tic train be­fore a speedy trans­fer to the plush Fair­mont Ho­tel in Van­cou­ver’s CBD.

Now a firm con­vert to a slower pace of travel – es­pe­cially one that in­volves the level of lux­ury I’ve just ex­pe­ri­enced – I worry about my abil­ity to cope with the im­mi­nent re­turn flight home in a cramped econ­omy seat, where I’m pretty sure there won’t be a lav­ish three-course de­gus­ta­tion, or an in-built bum warmer in my seat.

I won­der if Rocky Moun­taineer is plan­ning on branch­ing out into air travel any time soon?

THE WRITER TRAV­ELLED AS A GUEST OF ROCKY MOUN­TAINEER

PIC­TURES: ROCKY MOUN­TAINEER, ISTOCK

Land­scapes and wildlife are breath­tak­ing from the comfy seats of the iconic Rocky Moun­taineer; Mo­raine Lake, near Banff, is a stun­ner.

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