Banff is both an international bucket list destination and a backyard escape for us Calgarians. We’ll all be sticking closer to home this summer, so it makes sense to explore all that you have around you. Which is how I came upon finding great rates at Elk and Avenue hotel.
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Elk and Avenue hotel
Banff is tricky. For those of us who live nearby, it can easily be done as a day trip. And because of Banff’s international cred, many of its hotels are priced too high for locals. But not, as I discovered, Elk and Avenue hotel. They’ve got rates starting from $139 until the end of June. Never been? Here’s what to expect.
Elk and Avenue is a boutique hotel set smack dab on Banff Avenue. Its location means it’s close to all the action, plus it’s across the street from the massive outdoor ice skating rink the town puts up in winter. It’s also quite likely the hippest hotel in Banff you’ve never heard of.
Guest rooms are cool, comfortable and oh-so Instagram-able. We had a basic room that sported a super wide marble counter on top of the dresser that could fit two suitcases. This is key since anyone who’s caught bed bugs knows you don’t want to place your bag on the floor. (Note: No bed bugs at Elk + Avenue, I’m just dishing out friendly travel advice here.)
I don’t really know much about design, but I know what I like. I like a comfy bed: check. I like kitchy Canadiana: check. The red kerosene lantern, the wood panel wall, the fur pillows: it’s simple, but evocative.
There’s a mini fridge (not filled) just waiting for your leftovers, plus a real kettle in addition to a coffee bar, so we tea drinkers don’t have to drink that garbage water that comes out of coffee machines.
I especially appreciated the magnifying-mirror in the bathroom and the super deep tub. I wrote down the manufacturer’s name because now I want the same tub instilled in our home. And there were complimentary make-up remover wipes for once. We ladies like!
Farm + Fire Banff
One of the best parts about staying at this hotel is not having to venture far for dining. Newly opened inside Elk and Avenue is Farm & Fire under the helm of Chef Scott Hergott, a prominent local chef recognized for his award-winning culinary innovation at the Banff Gondola’s Sky Bistro (more on that below).
Farm & Fire was right up our alley as it features slow-roasted, wood-fired fare centred around sustainable and locally sourced ingredients. In addition to one of those amazing hella high heat Forno ovens, it sports a unique rotisserie imported from France and an urban cultivator – just a few of the signature items displayed in full view.
Our family goes gaga over rotisserie chicken and this thyme and lemon brined bird did not disappoint. But you ought to know that you’ll be getting an entire chicken. Like one that easily feeds a family of 4-6. (Thank goodness for the mini-fridge in our room!)
And we were thrilled with our fungi (wild mushroom) flatbread. I’m on a cleanse (again) and yet I could stop myself at
two OK three pieces. The next morning, I polished off the rest of the flatbread before breakfast. Sigh. #worthit.
Rounding out our meal were roasted baby potatoes that my daughter loved and a fantastic salmon tartare. Looking around at everyone else’s plates, I realized that next time I need to order both a cocktail and the whole corn on the cob with kimchi aioli – it’s just so adorable and would play well on Instagram if you’re into food porn. Also of note are the children’s meals (pasta, pizza or 1/4 rotisserie chicken with potatoes) that come with either salad or veg and an ice cream sandwich.
Fun things to do in Banff
Banff Avenue looks a lot different this year. The 100-200 block has turned into a pedestrian zone. There’s plenty of space for you to explore and browse – both from the sidewalk and the street. Good thing you’ve got underground parking at Elk & Avenue!
Hiking is what many people come to Banff for, and Sulphur Mountain is one of the closest peaks you can summit. If you’re not up for hiking Sulphur Mountain, you ought to take the Banff Gondola. It’s pretty much a rite of passage for visiting Banff, and I’m always surprised at how many locals haven’t made the trek since they were kids. The exhibits at the top went through a major renovation a few years back, so you’ll be secretly glad you sussed it out.
Going up on the gondola is touristy, yes, but also pretty fun and worth doing every few years. The interactive exhibits at Above Banff Interpretive Centre are so well done, my daughter Eve actually wanted to go through them.
We did the 10 minute walk up to Samson’s Peak and Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station – a National Historic Site of Canada. Who knew? Then the best part – feasting on the epic views and Canadiana cuisine served up at Sky Bistro.
The setting at Sky Bistro is awesome – all floor to ceiling panoramic windows looking onto the Bow Valley and Lake Louise parkway. I can heartily give a thumbs up to the kale salad served with warm lardons and a lemony vinaigrette. The truffle parm fries and steak sandwich were also winners. Expect menu changes depending on the season, but not to be disappointed.
Before heading back to Calgary, we made a pit stop at Lake Minnewanka. Every year I say I’m going to canoe and kayak in the mountains and it doesn’t happen. Not this year! Eve and I easily snagged a canoe rental and enjoyed a peaceful paddle along the lake. Weirdly, I felt suspended in time. Here I was doing something I see others doing all the time, but now it was my turn.
Returning home, I felt more refreshed than you can imagine. And I wasn’t even a bit miffed that for the foreseeable future, travel is out the window. Who cares if I can’t get to an ocean this summer when I have the beauty of the Canadian Rockies at my disposal.
When you live so close to a world class destination, you’ve got to take advantage of it. Sure the gondola and canoeing on one of Banff’s gem-hued lakes is touristy, but there’s a reason they’re famous. Too often we forget to experience what makes this area so special. And this summer, we have it all to ourselves! As a bonus, both the boat cruise and Banff Gondola are 30% off until the end of June.
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