Tuesday, 26 June 2012 10:52 AM
Travelling by train holds a certain romance; it conjures up images of the sophisticated Orient Express and of far-flung destinations. Canada’s equivalent may not boast quite the same elegance and tradition, but the stunning scenery is bound to take your breath away.
I started my journey in Jasper, Alberta – a pretty town in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
There is plenty to see and do in Jasper; if you only have a few hours take the Jasper Tramway to the top of Whistler Mountain, where you may find snow even in the middle of June.
The mountain holds some of the best views of the Rockies, however I had to be content with being told this, as the cloud was so low and thick that day I could only see the snow in front of me and the misty town far below.
If you have a little more time, take a tour of the Columbia Icefield and view the mighty Athabasca Glacier – a 6km-long expanse of ice.
On my hour-long journey from Jasper, we made a stop at the beautiful Athabasca falls and even saw a bear, who was eating his lunch by the side of the highway!
When you visit the Icefield dress warmly; whilst I was out on the Athabasca Glacier it began to snow (I visited in mid-June!).
Luckily, the temperamental mountain weather decided to give me one nice day when I boarded the train to Vancouver. The journey in Via Rail’s 1950s train, The Canadian, would take 20 hours to arrive in Canada’s biggest western city.
The train does not speed through the dramatic mountain scenery – it trundles along slowly, being shunted to side-rails whenever a long freight train (and these freight trains can be a mile long!) needed to pass it.
The 1950s carriages are retro in style, and the booths – though tiny – have everything you need, such as a sink and a separate toilet. There are also shared showers onboard. The beds face the window, so you can have the unique experience of lying in bed and watching the Canadian wilderness fly past you.
Once we pulled out of Jasper, the friendly train staff began serving champagne and canapés on the observation deck – a glass carriage where you can get 360 degree views of the Rocky Mountains. I overheard one passenger describe it as ‘driving a convertible though the mountains’ and I was inclined to agree.
As it rocked along, the train staff would announce when we were coming to a landmark, and as we passed Mount Robson, an announcement was made in both English and French informing us that it was the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. An announcement was also made when the train’s engineer saw two teenage bears with their mum walking along the side of the track. The train even slowed down so we could take pictures!
Trundling through the Rocky Mountains and what seems to be endless forest, makes you realise what an engineering wonder this railway line is. The rails slice through miles upon miles of empty country, with nothing but wilderness around; the only inhabitants being the wildlife.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, and it marked the beginning of settlement in the west and the birth of Vancouver as we know it today; the city was only incorporated when the first trans-continental train arrived in the metropolis.
The food on board was surprisingly good; there are no nasty over-priced sandwiches here. The chefs create an interesting three course menu celebrating Canadian and global cuisine.
I chose the lamb, a rare dish in Canada. Considering the chefs are cooking in a tiny kitchen while the train speeds along at around 50mph, the dish was well cooked and the meat moist. They also serve a selection of Canadian wines, and sometimes have wine tastings onboard.
As I sipped my champagne, watching the snow-capped mountains go by, I thought this is what I thought train travel should be like: great food, great drink and, most importantly, a great view.
By Cat Hughes
Peak season Jasper to Vancouver £576 but you can get up to 75 per cent off on www.viarail.ca/en/deals
To book please visit www.viarail.ca.
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