Question: Is less than 12 hours enough time to get a taste of any city? Typically, my answer is an unequivocal “no.”
That said, my recent visit to Alberta’s Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks – home to Banff and Lake Louise – required an overnight in Calgary in order to make an early morning flight. How to make the most of so little time in such a diverse city became my challenge. Yet, this challenge was met by an itinerary that was adventurous, delicious and luxurious. So, yes, it is possible to experience a city in less than 12 hours.
Superlatives describe Calgary. With an average of 2,405 hours of annual sun, it is Canada’s sunniest major city. It’s been named the world’s cleanest city (2013). It is host of the country’s biggest rodeo, the Calgary Stampede (thus the city’s signature white cowboy hats). Fish Creek Park is Western Canada’s longest urban park and its Bow River is one of the world’s top trout fishing streams.
1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. As site of the first winter Olympics to be held in Canada, the selection of Calgary as the setting of 1988’s XV Winter Olympic Games and its most noted landmark, a soaring ski jump tower, captured both my attention and limited time. At 295 feet above ground, the tower is the Games’ most visible legacy and the starting point of WinSport Canada Olympic Park’s Monster Zipline. Reaching speeds up to 75 mph, it is North America’s fastest zipline.
A bit of background: I’ve ziplined several times, most recently at Utah Olympic Park on its Xtreme Zipline, so the experience is not a new one. However, when informed during pre-zip instructions that my release of a parachute would slow my speed, let’s just say I rethought my choice of adventures. Fast forward to post-zip and to my accompanying assortment of emotions: excitement, exhilaration and accomplishment.
4:00 p.m. Even its name, Hotel Arts, is appealing. As downtown’s designer boutique hotel, it was immediately upon check-in that I was introduced to a place more reminiscent of an art museum than an overnight inn. The lobby focal point, a life-sized painting of a horse, has captured such city-wide attention that it is the frequent backdrop of residents’ wedding photos. Locally-owned, its sister boutique property, the Kensington Riverside Inn, is noted as the city’s first Relais & Chateaux hotel.
Hotel Arts’ two restaurants are award winning – Raw Bar (Top 10 Best Restaurants) and Yellow Door Bistro (Best New Restaurant 2013, Best Brunch 2015). While Yellow Door’s fare has been described as “bistro-inspired cuisine with a reverence for classic ingredients but served up with a contemporary twist,” Raw Bar features Vietnamese cuisine with a modern flair. The Yellow Door has a whimsical, Alice in Wonderland-feel with delightful, typically yellow, surprises incorporated into its décor; whereas Raw Bar projects an atmosphere that is contemporary and cool.
Such perks as its peppermint-scented Skoah bath amenities (so popular, the products are available for purchase), seasonal poolside yoga and the complimentary use of Brooklyn Cruiser Bikes for downtown exploration simply sweeten the package.
6:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. A girl’s got to eat, right? You’ll walk across a bridge from the bustle of the city to the solitude of Prince’s Island to reach the River Café.
Photos by Cynthia DialA noted pioneer of the Calgary’s farm-to-table food scene, it sits on the shores of the Bow River with a backdrop of the skyline. Complete with a long wooden bar, fly fishing artifact décor and a roaring fieldstone fireplace, its cozy vibe evokes that of a Rocky Mountain fishing lodge. Noted as the only prairie-region restaurant to be named one of the 1001 Restaurants to Experience Before You Die, Chef Andrew Winfield is known for his commitment to seasonal Canadian products, showcased in such menu items as wood grilled Pacific octopus and Mountain Creek bison.
As all good things must come to an end, it seem much too soon that my airplane’s wheels leave the ground and I depart Alberta, but not without having been introduced to its gateway city. Goodbye, Calgary. Glad to have met you.
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