Tucked into the trees of Priddis, a hamlet 40-ish minutes from downtown Calgary, lies a sophisticated little hotel that is verrry boutique — just 13 suites.The top photo was of Emerald Manor, a guest house built to accompany this private residence, Sapphire Hall. Before the two buildings (which lie within 25 kms of 4 golf courses) became the Azuridge Hotel three years ago, they were the private getaway of DIRTT rebel entrepreneur Mogens Smed.At 13,000 square feet, Sapphire Hall was primed to become a hotel. My room was on the top left, one of the few suites available in the main house. The name of Sapphire Hall is courtesy of the current geologist owners, who took their christening inspiration from precious gemstones.There are subtle flourishes of extravagance every step of the way. Why offer a plastic card when a room key can exude luxury car? (Back when luxury cars had keys, that is).That key led to a room that shared no walls with other guests. With the hotel’s signature drink, Dangerous Diamond (a sparkling concoction of prosecco and elder flower liqueur, blue curaçao and caviar), to help with the journey along a view-strewn hallway.If you didn’t guess from the key chain, my destination was the Pearl Room. With complimentary pearl to take home. Naturally erratic, it reminded me of the pearls I found in Sayulita.King size bed? Check. Frette sheets? Enthusiastic check!The evening I was there was so warm I had to close the curtains against the sun. Lounging poolside would have been perfect — if there was a pool. However, Azuridge has other options in the relaxation department.Eating is one of the main activities on offer. The Opal Dining Room has a lovely layout…… but I was lured out to the patio for the incredible west-facing vista, just in time for a Rocky Foothills sunset. A helpful server somehow achieved the perfect balance with the umbrella, adjusting against eye glare while allowing for a perfect sightline to the horizon, for the ball of fire’s evening bow. Meanwhile, the salad was lovely. And I was impressed by the lion head on the white ceramic soufflé bowl. Because I am impressed by things like that. Here’s another shot for the foodies: gelato served in an ice-block holder. With edible pansies. Merely a palate cleanser between courses.Afterwards, I returned to my room to find all my makeup arranged ever so thoughtfully. Why don’t all hotels do this? Azuridge, though, is a standout in the service department. Home to the only guilded butler in North America, the hotel strives to raise pampering to the penultimate. The gold box is my go-to for Aerin’s easy-packing eye palette, btw.Besides romantic getaways, Azuridge specializes in group retreats, conferences and weddings.Should you feel the urge to explore Azuridge’s 13 acres, you’ll probably run into this guy, who has spawned his own urban myth (although urban is not the right word for this part of the world). Steven Spielberg is a regular guest due to a show jumping daughter who competes regularly at Spruce Meadows. Rumor has it that Mr. Spielberg gave it to the hotel. However, I must burst that prehistoric bubble. T-Rex was already on the property when the geologists acquired it. And what a property it is! Aaah, Azuridge.
It’s the middle of April and the ski season is still going strong in the Canadian Rockies. Lake Louise Ski Resort, located in the heart of Banff National Park, is just a two-hour drive from Calgary.The Lodge of the Ten Peaks at the base could be the ultimate ski chalet. Those are hand-skinned logs btw. It is Canada’s second largest log structure. But (sorry!) I can’t tell you where to find the first largest. More on Canadian manners further down in this post.Once you’re on the hill, if you take a rest stop on the first run (like I tend to do) you may notice that you’re at the same altitude as the ski hill’s namesake: Lake Louise, still frozen and looking like it’s tilted. (Although that’s crazy, because lakes don’t tilt. I checked.) Can you see it across the valley? And yes, that would be the Valley of the Ten Peaks. If you’re a vintage currency collector, you may recognize the vista from two former versions of the Canadian twenty dollar bill.
Next, head to the lift that you can see just past my right foot.There’s plenty of room to stretch out on the Top of the World six passenger chair.At the top, aka Top Of The World, you have a double black option. I went for the poser option.Luckily there’s a green run down from every chair lift. And look at those Rockies!A handy sign tells you the distance to Tokyo and Cape Horn, just in case you feel like a long run. If you can tear yourself away from the epic spring ski conditions, check out the Whitehorn Lodge. It’s always been here, mid-mountain on the front side, but it was only just converted to an upscale restaurant this season. Normally the ski racks out front are packed, but we were here on a Monday. Nothing like eating lunch 6700 feet above sea level. Usually I just have beer and wings on a ski day, but the the Rocky Mountain Game Platter for Two at Whitehorn couldn’t be passed up. After a winter of snowboarding 4 different mountains in 3 different provinces/states, and sampling the restaurant fare with all associated mountain resorts, I now feel it is safe to say that I am a game platter expert. The air-dried buffalo, cured chimney sticks, peppered duck breast, artisan cheeses, figs, sun dried cranberries and raincoast crisps on this one qualify it as Awesome.
Just to keep it carnivorous, I followed it with the Bison Burger. At Whitehorn, it comes three ways: with blueberry compote and brie, roasted red pepper and goat cheese or bacon and cheddar. I hadn’t had a burger with blueberry jam before, so I gave it a try. Delicious. The bison is locally sourced. The only other high-end mid-mountain dining option I’ve tried in recent memory was at Jackson Hole. Couloir may use Kobe beef in their burgers instead of bison, but Whitehorn is a lot closer to home. It’s not pictured here, but the inside of the lodge has been nicely decorated with wood accents on the walls and tables with amazing views.With a belly full of food and enough libations to inspire your inner Robert-Redford-from-Downhill-Racer, take a fast one down the front side. The Grizzly Express Gondolas will float you up to the top in minutes.From there, if you head over to the back side, you can pick your poison: green, blue or black diamond.The Larch Chair will take you up another peak. With 4200 skiable acres, Lake Louise is one of the largest ski resorts in North America.Back at the base, there’s nothing like having a beer at the end of the day — right by the lift. I took this after they’d closed up shop. With blazing sun at 5:30 pm, I wasn’t the only one lingering in the 10 degree temps. (That’s Celsius, folks).This being Canada, even the No Smoking signs are super polite.The lifts will keep running at Lake Louise until May 11. Saturdays they’re open til 5pm. Then they shut down … and open for summer season just three days later. Which will probably go for ages, since they have still have a 200 cm base. See you soon, Lake Louise! Hopefully on another day when it’s so sunny and bright I need my goggles on, even after I take my snowboard off.
After a day on the slopes, should you choose to forgo your option to go home and stay at a Sunshine Mountain Lodge fantasy suite (apologies to both The Bachelor and the Lodge) … first you tub, then you dine. The hotel claims they have the largest outdoor hot tub in Banff, but I would go even further and say it’s probably the biggest in the province. With the admirable masonry of the high stone walls to block the wind, bring a brew (in a can, not glass) and sink in.After you towel off and slip into something less waterproof, there are several dining options to choose from. If you’re feeling rowdy, you can walk 20 steps from the hotel to Trappers. You can enjoy casual fare inside the Lodge at the Chimney Corner Lounge and Sports Bar. Or you can upscale your evening to the more formal Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, where the chef will start you off with an amuse bouche. We split the Caesar Salad on the excellent advice of our excellent server (Aussie, of course, like almost all the staff here), because it would have been too much for one person, if you’re intent on several courses. It had just the right amount of dressing (over-saucing is a constant dining concern for me) and an added touch of crisped pancetta.This is my Pained Blogger look as I take a shot of the Dreaded Food Porn. Normally I try to avoid it. There’s nothing I hate more than whipping out my camera during a meal. It’s just so rude! Plus my Venison Osso Bucco (incredibly tender and tasty) and Risotto is getting cold. But at the Eagle’s Nest Dining Room, the food takes center stage. Except for the lovely log beams, the room itself is not the ultimate in ambience. It doesn’t detract from the experience because the service and the food, which are top-notch, are what it’s all about. Except for when you desire a dining photo that doesn’t scream Food Blog 101.For dessert, we decided on a change of scenery, and our waitress kindly accommodated. This is when I realized the Chimney Corner Lounge is called that for a reason. The focal point of this classic ski-lodge lounge is the enormous chimney. Another intimate sitting area with a separate fireplace sprang from the same rocked-in chimney to our right. I was going to check out the other sides to see if there were even more fireplaces, but then I got too comfy, sated with the most incredible piece of chocolate cake. It could be the walnuts that made it so delicious. Or perhaps the vanilla creme on the side. I was also dazzled by the spotlight illuminating the deer so perfectly. Please excuse the lack of full reportage of the chimney situation.
Time to roll on back to our room to get a good night’s sleep for the ski out tomorrow.
On Day 2 of our romantic retreat to Banff, it was beautiful — and almost unbearably cold. Suddenly, admiring the view from Room 1108 at Buffalo Mountain Lodge…… ,with its lofty timber ceiling, seemed more important than going snowboarding. Definitely more romantic. But you can only stare at the ceiling for so long. What’s a winter trip to Banff without a trip to the skihill? Even if it’s -18 Celsius at the base, not counting windchill? Surely there’s something romantic about facing frigid adversity together.At Sunshine Village, this snowboarder sucks back some nicotine to face the day. However, in keeping with the gondola theme of Banff Romance, I’m going to recommend heading into the building on the left. Located ten steps from the gondola, the base lodge has super-hot coffee and a nice selection of muffins and sandwiches. Which works out well, because the gondola ride is the perfect length to enjoy a coffee and a muffin.After the gondola, we opted to get on the Angel Express quad, which sails past the Bra Tree. Note to self: stock up on colorful skivvies before Valentine’s Day.It was a good day to be a panda. That suit had to offer some extra protection against the extreme cold.A sign helpfully reminds skiers that there are other, warmer places in the world. But it was time for Romantic Activity #4: Snowboarding. So I took a few runs in the name of love. Care to join us, Bono?With the lack of fresh snow recently, I was surprised to find the groomers weren’t icy at all. Even still, the ridiculously cold temperatures drove us inside after just a few runs. In the Day Lodge, I tried to re-hydrate, but the cashier wanted me to pay 25 cents for the paper cup. I didn’t have a quarter. I didn’t see any water fountains. The cashier took a hard line on my lack of coinage and refused to give me the tap water. Is that even legal?
Skiers paying $85 to ski Sunshine Village should have a free water option. Put out some jugs and plastic glasses, Sunshine.
A few days after this was posted, Sunshine’s Director of Sales & Marketing emailed me to say: “We have since followed up with our staff to remind this is NOT our policy.”
With a bad taste left in my mouth from the Day Lodge (literally!) we chose Mad Trappers for lunch (pictured above). Located in a classic old log-cabin near four lifts, it’s a wonderful place to get a beer and contemplate your next run. Even while you’re still wearing your jacket and toque. Because on a day like this one, there’s just no point taking it off.A few wisps of clouds marred my perfect view of the Rockies. Better stop taking photos and start riding. Because no matter what the temperature may be, any day spent on a snowboard is a good day!Back at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, even the roaring fire in the lobby lounge, with alcohol in close proximity, couldn’t keep me from…… Romantic Activity #5: Winter Hot Tubbing. The nice thing about this one is Buffalo Mountain Lodge has the hooks for your towels and robes inside a little room just steps from the tub. Very important when the temperature is still plunging.After a day facing the elements, the last thing we wanted to do was fight them to find dinner. Luckily the Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant at the lodge, allowing us to dine under beams untainted by nails. (Really! It’s an old-fashioned construction thing.) To start, we nibbled on the Charcuterie Board, a Banff bonanza of Elk Salami, Smoked Buffalo, Smoked Peppered Duck Breast and Wild Boar Pâté (to die for), among other things. For my entree, I had the rack of lamb, cooked just the way I like it, medium rare. Nice, but not mind-blowing. Next time I think I’ll try the Northern Caribou. The seared medallions of meat are a house specialty.
With V-Day hot and heavy on the horizon, Banff is a serene place to cool your jets in the interim. Designated a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1995, Canada’s first national park always offers an incredible experience — whether you live close by in Calgary or on the opposite side of the world. Romantic Activity #1: take your sweetie to Sulphur Mountain. The gondolas fit four people, but if they’re not too busy you won’t have to share the ride with strangers. Hashtag: Room For Romance! Taking the gondola is touristy, but fun. You can hike up instead, but when would you cuddle with your significant other? Plus, there’s a Starbucks conveniently located at the bottom, in case you need a toasty beverage while you float up 2,292 feet. I probably should have gotten one to keep my jaw from dropping at the view. At the top, a vista of six mountain ranges awaits. Looks like the golf course down at Fairmont Springs is awaiting a good thaw.I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say this is probably the only mountain summit boardwalk you’ll find in the Canadian Rockies. If you’re not up for braving the cold, there’s a restaurant and a cafe in the gondola station. And, of course, a gift shop.But if you do take the one kilometer-long Summit Walk, not only will you discover signage pointing out which peaks you are peeking at…… you’ll make it to the Cosmic Ray Station. Back before being a meteorologist was a glamorous TV news gig, Norman Bethune Sanson climbed Sulphur Mountain (named for the hot springs on its lower slopes) on snowshoes in 1896 to record weather observations for the Banff area. Then he was hooked. He hiked up the steep three-mile trail over a thousand times over the next thirty years.After that rocky mountain high, it was time for the hotel. I empathized with the ice sculpture upon check-in, but the Buffalo Mountain Lodge offers one of the best warm-ups in Banff.Thawing options (aka Romantic Activity #2: apres-Gondie) include a full-size claw-foot tub on a heated slate floor…… and a wood-burning fire. When we arrived, paper and kindling was ready to light in the fireplace. With extra wood just outside the front door if you need it. For Romantic Activity #3: Dinner, I returned to an old flame to get my full-on foodie on ~ the Bison. Sourcing many of their ingredients from local farmers, the restaurant takes its inspiration from the region. After an afternoon sourcing my warmth from the heart instead of the temperature, there was no energy left over for in-depth menu perusal. Ordering the bison at Bison seemed like the right thing to do. And it was. Prepared in the open copper kitchen, the Carmen Creek Bison Ribeye was a massive slab of meat of smoky, saucy deliciousness. The lean bison meat was marbled and flavorful. And necessary to fuel us through Day 2, when we will face the choice of snowboarding in sub -20 temperatures or staying by that wood-burning fire. Stay tuned.
The first TOPSHOP in Alberta has arrived.300+ people patiently waited their turn to pour through the newly opened doors this morning. But even with the most enthusiastic response to a TOPSHOP debut in Canada, the senior events and marketing manager tells me they still need to create more brand awareness.Steph Hoff whisks me away to the personal shopping room so we can chat.”We’re not really in-your-face billboard advertising,” she says. “It’s more organic, through social media and word of mouth.” Besides prepping for the opening event, the marketing team spent nine days partying in YYC — in the name of research. “To understand what the environment is like, understand what the people are like.”Like the flagship stores in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, the Calgary location will feature premium collections, collaborations and limited edition products. And that super VIP-yet-free personal shopping room. Which, I should mention, has a good-sized stash of cupcakes.In the denim dreams department: my hunt for the ultimate classic jean jacket may be over. You can find TOPSHOP in all its two-story glory attached to Hudson’s Bay, at the south end of the mall.
Of the three ski resorts in Banff, Sunshine is my favorite. Although since I’ve only been to Lake Louise twice and I’ve never skied Norquay, I have to admit I’m not really qualified to make this statement. But isn’t that the beauty of having a blog? The gondola takes you from the parking lot to the base of three hills. But at the end of the day, there’s more than enough snow to ride Banff Ave trail back to your car. In fact, today’s a huge powder day.Even though the clouds are obscuring the mega magnificent view usually to be had up here, Cookie’s got me covered. In Alberta, the sun always comes out at some point.Mix it up at the top of Mount Standish Express high speed quad. Do a few turns in British Columbia.Here comes the sun – I see some semblance of a shadow. And a white gourd — no, wait, that’s my Helli Hansen ski jacket. I am not down with this non-svelte silhouette. I gotta get a new jacket. But I’ve been saying that for years. Just avert your eyes and look at the B-Pro instead. Mmm… Gnu… Or that view of the Rockies! Meanwhile, you might notice there’s not much of a downward grade on this particular stretch of snow. At Sunshine, it’s good to bring a skier along so you can catch a ride by hanging onto one of their poles when you hit a flat spot. There’s a few of them here.Here’s another view to look out for at Mad Trapper’s Saloon. Just don’t let it startle you as you tilt your head up to take a swig of that midday beer. Built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, you have to stop by this log cabin for lunch. Trappers makes a mean burger and it’s old-school ski vibe all the way. On the final day of the season (May 20 this year), the balcony is the best place to watch the Slush Cup. I didn’t fall! I was taking a break… … to take this photo. I can’t get enough of these Skittle-colored gondies. Luckily there’s still a month and a half left in the season. Next up: apres ski.
It may be April, but our local Alps are still piled with snow. No foolin! The Canadian Rockies are less than an hour’s drive from Calgary. Home to several ski areas, Banff Alberta starts inspiring awe from the Trans-Canada Highway. Established in 1885, Banff National Park is the birthplace of Canada’s national park system. The name Banff comes from Banffshire, Scotland, birthplace of one of the big money boys who backed the Canadian Pacific Railway. CP Rail constructed fabulous, castle-like hotels in each major city across Canada. And in the occasional park.Built in 1888, the Banff Springs Hotel brought tourists to Canada’s Wild West. One of this country’s original luxury hotels, it is still a grand dame of glam.The Rundle Lounge may have incredible views, but settle into a divan away from the window’s glare and enjoy the gothic vibe of the ceiling’s stone arches — and the Worcestershired vodka of a Caesar, the drink invented in Alberta. As a courtesy translation for Americans, the menu also listed it as a Bloody Mary , but FYI it’s not quite the same. Up north we use a blend of clam and tomato juice instead of pure tomato juice. Motts actually sells it in stores: Motts Clamato. Sounds super gross but, just like escargot, it’s actually very yummy.Surrounded by nature on all sides, the hotel is a great starting point for fresh air exploration, in your most glamorous hiking outfit. Alongside the glacier-fed Bow River, it was almost too warm for my Italian fox fur hat, but it still seemed totally appropriate.By the way, this is the product I’m using this week to cover up the ever-evolving skin graft on my nose. The Lancome is very nice, but not made for super scar duty. However, it could be my application. I get better at blending with more practice (check the pics tomorrow) and the SPF is a plus for protecting my new epidermis patch.In the meantime, up river are the Bow Falls. Probably the most underwhelming view in Banff, but they were made famous by Marilyn Monroe in the River of No Return, so you gotta check ‘em out. When Ms. Monroe stayed at the Banff Springs (now owned by Fairmont) in 1953, it was the height of luxury. When I stayed there a few years ago, the room I was in seemed like it hadn’t been updated since Marilyn’s trip. Maybe they’ve made some changes. I don’t know, because I decided this time I would stay somewhere completely different. Stay tuned … Blue Besos is in Banff all week!