Cosmopolitan Calgary leads the way to the Rocky Mountains and much more, reports Katie McGonagle
Which image comes to mind at the first mention of Calgary? Is it Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards at the Winter Olympics, or Kate and Wills stepping out in matching white Stetsons for the annual Calgary Stampede?
Whichever it is, one thing is clear – winter or summer, this buzzing city has plenty going on.
With direct flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester, it’s a popular gateway to the eastern Rockies. But it’s far more than just a spot to get off an aircraft and into a car, so don’t let your clients overlook this exciting, multicultural metropolis in their hurry to get out to the mountains.
STAY: GO DOWNTOWN
Budget choice Delta Bow Valley in downtown Calgary is one of Signature from Thomas Cook’s biggest sellers, from £55 a night, and a favourite with Virgin Holidays for its prime location, recently renovated rooms, and free children’s arts and crafts at weekends. The Sandman Hotel is another central option close to shopping and nightlife, with rooms from £82 with Premier Holidays.
For clients who don’t want to be in the city centre, Funway features the Econo Lodge South Calgary Hotel, which also has kitchenette suites for those who want to keep costs down by self-catering.
Also slightly out of town is the Sheraton Cavalier Calgary Hotel, a mid-range option for clients getting in late at night. It’s near the airport and has free parking or a 24-hour airport shuttle, plus great views of the downtown skyline.
Back in the city centre, 4th Avenue is home to some good mid-priced options all conveniently close to the +15 Skywalk, a 10-mile-long series of above-ground pedestrian walkways that make it easier to get around.
The International Hotel Suites Calgary boasts 248 spacious suites and second-floor walkway access, from £117 a night with 1st Class Holidays. The Westin Calgary is another comfortable choice, with food and drink options including an on-site Starbucks and steakhouse for tasty surf-and-turf; from £135 per room with Premier Holidays.
The city’s best-known luxury property is the historic Fairmont Palliser, a 407-room hotel that was an architectural marvel when it was built in 1914. Those with a serious sweet tooth will love its Monday evening Death by Chocolate dessert spreads.Less than a block away lies a more modern form of luxury. The 143-room Hotel Le Germain boasts cutting-edge design and a tranquil spa to add an air of elegance to any city stay.
DO: VIEWS AND ZOOS
If clients can fit in only one attraction, make it the Calgary Tower for unbeatable views from its 360-degree observation deck and revolving restaurant (earn commission on tickets with Attraction World, from £15 per adult or £7 per child aged four-12). Premier Holidays also offers a pre-bookable Calgary City Tour – another good option for time-pressed visitors – which takes in key highlights such as Fort Calgary, Scotsman Hill and the Olympic Park (from £34).
On the subject of the Olympic Park, it’s a must-see whether you’re a sports fan or not, and well worth the short journey to the northwest outskirts. It’s home to high-quality skiing and snowboarding in winter, or mountain biking and a daring zipline from the top of the ski jump tower in summer. Its Sports Hall of Fame also showcases memorabilia from the 1988 Winter Olympics, such as items from the Jamaican bobsleigh team, the inspiration for the iconic comedy Cool Runnings.
Families won’t want to miss Calgary Zoo, home to more than 1,000 animals, a prehistoric park and botanical gardens, or Fort Calgary, where the predecessors of modern-day Mounties laid the city foundations in 1875. Visitors can try on scarlet uniforms or step inside its tiny jail cells. Attraction World has tickets for the former from £14 per adult and £7 per child, or £10 and £7 for Fort Calgary.
Sticking with history, head to the southwest suburbs for Heritage Park Historical Village, a living museum where visitors can explore Calgary as it once was from the 1860s up until the 1950s. Staff dress in historical costume, buildings are recreated in period style and there’s even a working steam engine and paddlewheel boat (from £15, or £10 for under-17s, with Attraction World).
If your clients’ priorities are more focused on good food and great shopping, direct them to the chic boutiques and cafes of pedestrianised Stephen Avenue. From there, it’s a pleasant walk past high-end shops along Barclay Parade to Eau Claire’s famous market.
Those with more time can squeeze in a day trip. Join a dinosaur fossil dig at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, an hour’s drive northeast of Calgary, or head over to Rafter Six Ranch to ride guided horse trails, go hiking and mountain biking, or try a treetops course and zipline.
The intriguingly-named Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump also offers an insight into the hunting practices of First Nations people, who hunted buffalo by guiding them over a precipice then collecting the carcasses for food; Bridge & Wickers offers a full-day trip there, which adds the chance to see a Second World War Lancaster Bomber at the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton and visit an Ice Age site, from £103.
MOVE ON: MOUNTAIN RANGES
The call of the Rockies is impossible to resist, and just a 90-minute drive away, Banff is a good base from which to explore. Funway Holidays offers a one-day horseback tour from Banff along a scenic trail through the Spray River Valley – perfect for views of Sulphur Mountain – for £159.
Most self-drive itineraries move towards beauty spot Lake Louise either for a quick photo opportunity or a one-night stay, then carry on to Jasper National Park for views of beautiful Maligne Lake, scenic drives along the Icefields Parkway, and rafting on the Athabasca River.
At that point, drivers can either loop back towards Calgary – often via the Festival City of Edmonton, as in Signature from Thomas Cook’s Magic of the Rockies self-drive – or those with more time can venture as far as Vancouver.
Travellers keen to see the region in style can swap road for rails with the Rocky Mountaineer, whose Journey Through the Clouds route goes from Jasper, via Kamloops, to Vancouver. Via Rail’s The Canadian also covers the stretch from Edmonton to Vancouver.
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