The Blues in the Blue

review and photos by Aonan He

If one had to leave some blue sentiments somewhere in the world, I would leave mine at Lake Louise in Banff.

Since the Coronavirus, everything has changed. I was on an exchange program in Cuba that I had to call an early end to, and I did a 14-day self-quarantine upon my return to Edmonton. From the sunny beachy vibe to winter self-isolation, the sudden shift drove me mad. I just wanted to get out of here! Visiting Lake Louise became one of the most convenient means to free myself again.

Get a National Park Day-pass (adult 10$, maximum 7 people per group) online, and you are all set. It usually takes about 4 to 5 hours to drive from Edmonton to Banff. My boyfriend and I went there in June when the Banff National Park had just reopened. On my previous Banff trips I had always stayed in regular full service hotels outside the park such as the Coast Canmore Hotel. Often it makes sense because they are not very expensive.

However, I decided this time to stay at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, one of the most upscale resorts inside Banff National Park. Here is the real reason: we were offered a special rate of CA$389 for a Fairmont mountain view room, including parking, one-hour canoeing, and continental breakfasts for two.

Because of Covid-19, almost all of the indoor amenities were closed during the time we were there. However, everything is now back in operation if you decide to travel.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a pet friendly hotel with a pet charge of CA$85 per room, per night plus taxes. Except for the Kids’ Camp, every other service, such as the fitness center, whirlpool, spa, and the Mountain Adventure program including canoeing and skiing are available now. You will just need to make a reservation to book your service ahead of time.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise took the coronavirus pretty seriously as every guest had to wear a mask and take a wrist temperature test when driving up to the front door. The hotel grounds, which are normally open to the public to walk around, were closed; only guests could enter. We walked into the main lobby and our baggage was immediately taken by the concierge.

In the foyer, the ceiling was not very high, but the candlelit glittering chandeliers hanging in the center were enough to catch your eye. The minimal decorations gave off a 19th century hunting lodge vibe. The royal blue and gold carpet was probably the only item that instilled a sense of luxury.

On the right hand side there was a wooden spiral staircase to the parking lot and on the left was a dining hall. The most captivating sight that you cannot get anywhere else is the panoramic lake view, through the large windows that extend across the whole dining hall. It gives you a fantastic visual experience of the sapphire Lake Louise nestled in the mountains. I could not wait to sit there, take a sip of coffee, and enjoy the beauty of the blue.

At check-in, we were given a complimentary upgrade from a mountain view room to a lakeview room. The room was pedestrian at best in terms of furnishings and was small in terms of size. However, the window of the room looked right into the centre of the lake. An absolutely stunning scene! No doubt, 90 percent of the rate we paid was for that very symmetrical view. I just could not help but imagine the sun shining through the mountain top on the lake when I woke up the next morning.

With the electric bikes and canoeing tickets offered by the hotel, which I would not expect from a non-resort hotel outside the park, we started our day activities around Lake Louise. As we walked down the stairs from the hotel’s main entrance, Lake Louise instantly opened up to 180 degrees right in front of us. The sun sparkled as it reflected off the surface of the blue water, and I was immediately mesmerized. Soaking in the sun, we walked towards the boat house where a number of canoes had been parked. I could not wait to soak myself in the sapphire water.

As we walked closer, a long line of people waiting appeared. Just as I was getting worried about when it would be our turn to board, my boyfriend showed our tickets to the staff. They offered priority entrance for hotel guests. We were guided to put on our life jackets and to get the paddles. The staff were very friendly and explained in detail about security issues, which made me feel less nervous about the one-hour back-and-forth canoeing experience. I was ready to enjoy my therapy on the lake.

I sat in the front of the canoe, pointing the canoe straight towards the end of the lake where the mountains began. I felt myself floating on the surface of the lake, staring blankly at the top of the mountains, still covered with unmelted snow. For a moment, I was healed. We did not reach the end of the lake within one hour, but I felt we got our time’s worth.

After canoeing, we signed out the electric bikes from the concierge and spent the whole afternoon peddling on mountain roads. We asked for a map and some route guidance from the hotel.

For both of us, it was the first time riding these electric bikes in the mountains. We chose the shortest round trip route to test them out. It was easy to get used to them and definitely made our rides much easier and more enjoyable. We ended up riding all the routes. Let me say this, for a person like me who rarely bikes, the electric bicycle made me feel confident and relaxed.

For dinner that night, we ordered food from room service to make the most of the lakeview room. Given the Covid-19 situation, their menu only included simple mains such as burger, fries, sandwich, salad and wings. There was no desert. We just ordered some fries and wings and the hotel sent a bottle of Chianti to the room as an arrival gift. The wine was good and the food tasted fine, but of course we hoped to have more options. With the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, everything including the menu is now back to full operation.

The next morning, we had our breakfast in the dining hall with the panoramic view of the lake. After that, we checked out early for a day of scenic driving and hiking.

We started from Lake Louise and stopped at each viewpoint on our way back to Edmonton. The main route we took was the Icefields Parkway which connects Lake Louise to Jasper, along which you are likely to see icefields and snowy mountains no matter which season you are visiting. We were lucky to see at least five kinds of wildlife on that route: black bear, grizzly bear, mountain goat, bighorn sheep and white-tailed deer.

We stopped at the famous Athabasca glacier and did a bit of hiking. Looking at the pinnacles of the Canadian Rockies range, I was in deep awe. We drove and stopped, drove and stopped. I cannot remember how many times we stopped on the way, but I do remember I was breathing all the time, peacefully.

To summarize the two-day trip, it was a deeply therapeutic experience for me with the perfect length of time. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was a little underwhelming in terms of its indoor amenities and meal choices. The hotel ambiance in general was nice but given the Fairmont brand image elsewhere in the world, I would not call it fancy.

However, the complimentary services offered and the fair price we got for an eventual lakeview room made this hotel stay under the Covid-19 situation a worthy experience. The calm and peaceful relief from the canoeing on Lake Louise was unforgettable. The scenic routes to Banff were breathtaking.

I would definitely recommend anyone seeking an experience away from news headlines, debates and uncertainty, to consider a short trip to Lake Louise. That vibrant blue lake really makes you forget about the blues.