My scheduled departure out of Banff station on that crisp July morning was aboard no ordinary train. As we ventured out through the early morning mist, which cloaked the spectacle that was set to come, the chattering passengers of the Rocky Mountaineer were full of expectation.
Much like those first explorers, fur traders and gold seekers, our two-day journey west, across the Canadian Rockies, was to be a fascinating journey of discovery. True to its name, the ‘First Passage to the West’ from Banff to Vancouver retraces the historic Canadian Pacific Railway, famous for uniting the country and connecting British Columbia to Canada over 125 years ago. Now a flagship route for this luxury touring train, our journey took us past emerald green, glacier-fed rivers and fir-clad mountains, across suspension bridges of engineered excellence and through dusty towns, heavy with the histories of their pioneering founders. Luckily, our Silver Leaf carriage hosts were on hand to ensure none of these colourful tales or the unfolding natural wonders passed us by without notice.
Setting out from Banff towards Lake Louise we were told of the founding of Canada’s National Parks, its early European visitors and the First Nations people of Canada, all whilst tucking into freshly baked cinnamon scones, served to our tables with piping hot coffee. Sitting within our glass-domed canopy, the mist rose to reveal the picture postcard views that we had all been waiting for. Eyes were peeled for glimpses of wildlife, with strict instructions to shout out our moose, eagle or bighorn sheep sightings, so that everyone in the carriage could share in the spectacle. As the landscapes rolled by, further tall tales were shared of the race to the west by the railroads, the arduous expeditions of those early explorers and the amazing feats of engineering that still make this journey possible today. The spiral tunnels through mountain innards that took 1,000 men 20 months to complete being just one such achievement.
The entire journey was blessed with engaging commentary and interesting anecdotes from our carriage hosts, never over-bearing and always delivered as if telling these tales for the first time. Around another bend, over another creek, the views kept on coming to be savoured from the comfort of our seats, accompanied by a cheeky glass of wine (or two) and a delicious three course lunch. The Silver Leaf breakfast and lunch menus over both days offered a culinary tour of Canada with a choice of two dishes for each course including a gluten free and lighter option, with other special dietary requirements catered for at a moment’s notice. Our meals were all prepared off the train but Hamish our carriage chef, worked wonders from his tiny galley kitchen to serve up these tasty treats to our individual tastes. If you’re travelling Gold Leaf the menu choice is broader and served à la carte in a separate lower deck dining area of your two-tier carriage. Stepping out to the vestibule (or larger viewing deck if you’re travelling Gold Leaf) for some post lunch fresh air and to capture some photo memories through the open windows, the heat struck me. Gone was the mountain chill, and the rolling pastures and desert-like tundra that had crept up on us whilst we ate, was a pleasant surprise.
Now a flagship route for this luxury touring train, our journey took us past emerald green, glacier-fed rivers and fir-clad mountains, across suspension bridges of engineered excellence and through dusty towns, heavy with the histories of their pioneering founders.Kathryn Malone, Travel Bureau
As the train has no sleeping quarters, our overnight stop, which is included in the journey, was in Kamloops, a sleepy little town with a riverside park to stretch our legs and plenty of dining options, although a light bite and an early night was all we could muster. Day two of our magnificent 594-mile journey brought much of the same, with desert plains turning to pastures, the train skirted sprawling lakes and snaked again around mountain ridges, before the city of Vancouver beckoned in the distance. More fine food, a little snooze (shhh!) and lots more gazing out the window were blissfully the only things that required my attention. The one thing that had changed was the atmosphere on board.
After 48 hours of making friends and sharing stories and experiences, a more congenial band of travellers you could not find. Leaving our glass cocoon, having relived the struggles of those first pioneers and marvelled at nature’s genius together, we bid fond farewells and made promises to ourselves of return journeys to Jasper, Whistler and beyond, with the slow life of train travel never feeling more appealing.