It’s the middle of May, and the first thing you see when you look out your hotel room window is a thick blanket of snow surrounding an ice-covered lake. When you join your friends for dinner, you discover the menu is all about fondue—cheese fondue, bison fondue, chocolate fondue.
Where in the world are you?
Here’s a clue. You reached this mountain chateau by riding on a luxury train. No, the train isn’t Switzerland’s Glacier Express. It’s Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer.
You are in Banff National Park in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Your hotel is the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, originally built in the 1890s as a chalet for adventure seekers arriving on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Swiss influence (fondue) comes from Swiss mountain guides. And yes, it’s common for Lake Louise to be frozen over from November to June. In fact, the town of Lake Louise, Alberta is the highest permanently inhabited town in Canada.
In the 1930’s traveling around this mountainous area was a challenge. Back then, the Icefields Parkway was a one-lane gravel road. You could drive one direction one day, and the other direction the next. Today the two-lane paved parkway boasts six over-the-road bridges created just for wildlife. Using the bridges, bears, elk, deer and other critters can and do safely cross the road.
The scenic Icefields Parkway leads to two amazing glacier viewing opportunities, one old and one brand new. Both can be experienced on a day tour offered by Brewster. The first gives you the chance to walk on a glacier thicker than the Eiffel Tower is high. The second is the newly-opened, cliff-edge Glacier Skywalk, a glass walkway curving 918 feet above a deep, glacier-carved gorge.
Riding the rails
Canadian Pacific’s passenger trains are long gone. Enter the Rocky Mountaineer, which has been bringing tourists to Lake Louise since 1990. From Vancouver, your ride took two days (with an overnight stay in Kamloops). Or, if you took the train’s new Coastal Passage route, you began your journey in Seattle, Washington and enjoyed dinner in the dining car on the way to Vancouver, your first overnight stop.
Traveling west to east, your final stop at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise wouldn’t be complete without dinner in the Walliser Stube. That’s where I learned a new trick for cooking my fondue, a dish I hadn’t encountered since its heyday in the 1970s. The trick works best with cheese fondue. After you spear a chunk of bread with your fondue fork, dip it in a glass of brandy or kirsch. Then dunk the soaked bread in the pot of bubbly, melted cheese. I wonder, how do they say “yummy” in Switzerland?