I have finally found a greater gift than travel and it’s currently the fastest-growing global lifestyle trend.
Covid created the perfect storm that birthed the freedom of hybrid working combined with destinations and hoteliers willing to reinvent themselves to attract a new breed of traveller. Travellers with a new agenda for longer and deeper exploration. Welcome to the digital nomads.
This new tribe of traveller has an intense desire to immerse themselves in a place, to get a sense of its space and its people. To unearth the roots of its way of life and discover its heartbeat. Only then, can they feel like they are part of its landscape rather than just a visitor to it.
All at the same time as spinning the usual plates of life and work. This is not about taking a break from life; it’s about taking your life with you.
READ THE FEATURE IN THE ALICIA AGNESON EDITION HERE
So as we kick start 2023, I set off to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada – a UNESCO world heritage site and the birthplace of Canada’s National Parks – to get to grips with what it feels like to be a digital nomad.
As a quick credibility check for my digital nomad status, I am not only Global Travel Editor for The Review, but also I am currently launching a series of wellbeing retreats in Greece, studying a counselling course online and running an AirBnB in the UK. As such, I am truly ‘walking the talk’ and immersing myself in Banff with a desire to live like a local, whilst also nurturing and nudging my life along on its path.
After tussling for what felt like days of packing for a long stay at -20c temperatures, we finally arrived into the calm oasis of Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge at Heathrow. For me, it’s one of the most important moments preflight to be able to take a breath, enjoy a graze, gather your thoughts before boarding what was the effortless nine-hour direct flight to Calgary. The next win was discovering the Banff Airporter service; a handy extra that does all the heavy lifting on the two hour road trip through some spectacular scenery from Calgary to Banff .
Lesson number one: Packing, as a digital nomad, is a skill I have not yet cracked. Note to self: capsule wardrobe training needed.
Spending a month in one destination definitely creates a languid, richer experience; one in which there’s time to ‘take a knee’ and really breathe in the essence of a place.
So as I sit and write this feature, looking out over the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, I am humbled and mesmerised by their scale and beauty. I am reminded of the impact that they have had on the generations of first and second nations that choose to live within their powerful presence.
Lesson number two: being a digital nomad takes oodles of self-discipline to ensure that the work gets done before the exploring begins.
Downtown Banff is a compact low-rise mountain town that has an instant feel of its historic roots. The town, the highest in Canada at an elevation of 1383 metres, was born out of the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1800’s, when Canada’s vision was to link East and West. Three inquisitive railroad workers, when they smelled what they thought was sulphur, stumbled across the natural hot springs near ‘Siding 29’ in the Bow Valley. With that, Banff was born. Initially it attracted wealthy European and Americans in search of mountaineering adventures and the healing properties of pure mountain air and the hot springs.
The vibrant lakes, majestic mountains and abundant wildlife led to Banff National Park being created in 1885 in a bid to protect it all. Today, the boundaries of the National Park stretch across 6641 square kilometres. It was the trailblazer for all the magnificent National Parks that Canada is now rightly honoured for.
As a winter destination, Banff National Park has it all for the adrenaline seeker, history hunter, wellness warrior or outdoor adventurer. The Big3 ski resorts of Lake Louise, Mount Norquay and Sunshine Village are all easily accessed from downtown Banff and together offer a staggering 7748 acres of skiable terrain, two gondolas, 26 chairlifts and 357 runs. Perfectly manicured and managed, the ski areas, backcountry and winter sports tuition are arguably some of the best in the world and attract a savvy international crowd.
But with more time as a digital nomad to rest and digest, there is so much more on offer in this breathtaking destination. Once you have ridden the corduroy pistes, chased the powder and the adrenalin rush recedes, travellers can try snowshoeing, ice skating, tubing, stargazing, cross-country skiing, dog sledging ice climbing and hiking not to mention visits to some outstanding natural phenomenon like Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, Lake Minnewanka (Lake of the Spirits) and The Columbia Parkway, the largest mass of glacial ice in the Canadian Rockies.
As a digital nomad clearly it’s vital to stay where all your work life needs are met. However, it’s just as important to find places that reflect the destination and are part of its essence. In fact, our chosen hotels are perhaps as famous as the area itself.
Farimont Banff Springs
The first is the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs, the “Castle in The Rockies”. An imposing resort designed to emulate a baronial Scottish castle, it sits majestically above downtown Banff yet it seems to perfectly blend into the contours of the mountains and the Bow Valley.
This landmark hotel has been providing legendary hospitality for over 130 years and boasts a glitterati of guests such as Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Queen Elizabeth II and King George VI, Clint Eastwood and Brad Pitt.
The VIP treatment is on tap to all who walk through the heavy brass and glass spinning doors. Whilst there is a sense of stepping back into a more glamour-soaked era, the hotel has managed to blend its rich heritage and baronial-style architecture with some beautiful contemporary additions and renovations.
Our two-bedroomed Mountain Bluebell Suite, with its central feature fireplace, was immaculate in every way for a long stay guest. The room felt chic and sumptuous with every last detail considered with spectacular sweeping views of Sulphur Mountain, yet none of its grandeur stole from the feeling of being relaxed and homely.
The imposing castle has 739 guest rooms and suites, as well as world class amenities including its own bowling alley and a world-renowned golf course. However, there are many cosy corners and tucked-away areas that allow you to sink into the space and hunker down. One of my favourite spots was the secret speakeasy within Rundles Bar that is masked behind an extraordinarily lofty floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. It’s a welcome spot to cuddle up after a finger numbing campfire S’mores session under the stars.
Reminiscent of the hot springs that enticed travellers over 100 years ago, guests have the pleasure of stepping into Willow Stream Spa: a place where three varied temperature waterfalls await with a central mineral pool imbued with 24 activated minerals, a large outdoor pool and hot tub from which you can gaze up at the elemental giants that surround the hotel. The impressive spa treatment menu draws from the area’s rich local natural ingredients and caters for piste-bashed bodies as well as those seeking the perfect pamper.
Dinner was at the simple yet authentic Castello Italiana, an intimate Italian restaurant with an interesting wine list sourced predominantly from Canada, the US and Australia. Jet lag sadly stole something from the experience, but the service was welcoming and friendly, the menu simple and enticing. One of the best gluten free coated calamari I have ever tasted and a stunning cauliflower steak.
This resort is perfect for long stay digital nomads, as it places everything at your fingertips from the quiet spaces to work, great places to eat and relax, a plethora of activities and an army of attentive staff who are genuinely devoted to deliver the very highest standards at this grand dame of a resort. You’re also in the heart of Banff National Park with over 6,000 square kilometres to discover.
Whilst it was the first hotel that defined luxury in this rugged outdoors, in my opinion Fairmont Banff Springs is still delivering the ultimate luxury in this winter wilderness.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The next landmark destination is the stunning Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. A short drive from Banff but still in the National Park, this hotel has an equally impressive history and location yet offers a slightly different experience; one perhaps more suited for those seeking a little more solitude and a closer connection to the landscape.
This area is steeped in First Nation history as it has been a place of healing for generations. There are so many rich stories of this place offering a deep connection to the gods and the spirits. And when you step into the resort and drink in the view of the soaring mountain peaks, the majestic Victoria Glacier and the monumental frozen Lake Louise this historic provenance is palatable .
The view is totally intoxicating and not surprisingly is one of the most photographed spots in Canada, if not the world. Over 15,000 people visit every day during the summer.
Lake Louise sits at an elevation of 5,679 ft (1,731 m) making it Canada’s highest permanent settlement.
Lesson number three: High altitudes can cause nosebleeds, challenges with usual exercise and early onset of inebriation!
Our elegant one-bedroom suite had a 180-degree view of the lake and the valley that stretched into the distance. Ice skaters below looked like animated Lowry matchstick men and women, spinning on the hand-crafted ice rink that sits on the 2 metre thick ice. Romantic sleigh rides also navigate the lakeside with passengers wrapped up in warm blankets, weaving their way through the snow-covered pines to the end of the lake to see the frozen waterfalls and glacier. If all that doesn’t sound like you have arrived in the ultimate winter paradise, there’s even a Parks Distillery Ice Bar perfectly serving hot toddies and mulled wine; ideal whilst guests drink in the magnitude of the landscape.
Lesson number four: Being a digital nomad sucks when all you want to do is get outside and be part of it all.
The hotel has a choice of restaurant styles on offer. However, our treat was the recently renovated Fairview Bar & Restaurant, a sophisticated yet relaxed art deco styled space, complete with high ceilings and magnificent arched windows that look out over Lake Louise and the namesake Fairview peak just across the lake.
We enjoyed some of the best flavours we have ever experienced here. Champagne Butter Prawns, Salmon Lettuce Wraps and Pacific Hailbut that were cooked to perfection, all washed down with a light Vin de Savoie, Domaine La Rosiere 2019. It was evident how much love and passion had been invested in celebrating the region and its local producers, and all in all,n outstanding meal enjoyed whilst sitting looking out over the lake and the mountains.
The resort runs a regular shuttle to the Lake Louise Ski Resort and its incredible 4 mountain faces, over 4200 acres of diverse terrain and 164 runs. In addition there is snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice climbing, hiking as well as dog sledding and, of course, there is a wonderful spa to soak away any aches and pains.
Historic, elegant,polished and yet relaxed and inviting, this 539-room luxury resort continues to live up to the natural wonder with which she shares her name. Once the new wellbeing wing is opened in 2024, it will make Chateau Lake Louise a world-class wellness destination with a powerful provenance.
Having been in Banff for nearly a month, I’m an absolute digital nomad fan. In fact, I am resisting the whole idea of heading home.
I’ve had the opportunity to slow down and really immerse myself in the town, the park’s natural wild beauty, its history and to make authentic connections to the people. I am more than a visitor; I am a devoted digital nomad.