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SOME of us are fortunate to have memorable days which provide a warm glow when later brought to mind. The one recorded here stretched over two days, comprising two 12-hour journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer train in Canada, travelling the 700 miles between Whistler and Jasper with an overnight stop at Quesnel.

It is called the Fraser Discovery Route, one of three journeys offered by Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, who describe them as the "Most Spectacular Train Trips in the World". I doubt even Michael Palin would argue for long against that.

From the luxurious comfort of the double-decker Gold Leaf dome coach, the panorama of stunning scenery began from the moment the train pulled out of Whistler. We were instantly on wildlife watch, having met at the station a young New Zealand graduate whose job it was to wander the area – a radio aerial in hand – monitoring the movement of a tagged black bear. Unfortunately, no sightings of bears followed but over the two days, thanks to the vigilance of our attendants, we were alerted to the trackside presence of deer, elk, one moose and several bald eagles. Watching the latter silhouetted against the sky as they glided effortlessly and majestically above the shores of Lac la Hache, is a moment seared into my brain.

As well taking it in turns to provide a historical, geographical and geological backdrop to the areas we passed through, the attendants also offered a constant stream of refreshments. And what food they provided. At my window seat in the dining area during lunch on day one, my attention was divided.  I did not know whether to feel guilty for paying insufficient attention to the spectacular Fraser River or angst at being so distracted by the scenery that I did not fully savour the Alberta Beef Shortribs.

The train does not stop mid-journey but travels at a leisurely pace – an average of somewhere just under 30mph – and slows to what is described as  "Kodak speed" at points of spectacular interest to enable photographs to be taken.

Highlights included making our way across the Fraser River Bridge, a construction some 190ft high and 800ft long offering stunning views down a valley, and the Rockies’ highest peak, the much-heralded Mount Robson, hoving into view. It appears towards the end of the second day's journey and fills the onlooker with a mixture of awe and serenity. It stands at 12,972ft and was visible for a 10-mile stretch of our journey.

So comfortable is the coach, and so copious the complimentary drinks on offer, that many passengers occasionally succumbed to the soporific ambience and part-slept their way through the beguiling Rockies scenery.

When tiredness threatened, I stood out on the rear vestibule, an open area at the back of the train. Watching the passing landscape and the receding track as the air rushed by was both invigorating and calming. It bordered on the spiritual.

Brief visits to Vancouver and Whistler on one side and Jasper and Banff on the other were the bookends to my journey on the Rocky Mountaineer, and in Whistler I was  treated to another exhilarating form of travel.

Where the two-legged train journey took 24 hours, the five-stage zip trekking experience probably took little more than five minutes – but when each segment of the journey involves being suspended a couple of hundred feet above craggy rocks and a fast-flowing river connected to a wire by only a couple of steel hawsers, you can imagine the buzz. So safe did my group's young female instructors make me feel that I was emboldened to do the fifth and final leg hanging upside down.

In between the adrenaline rush of each zip, there is plenty of time to take in the beauty of Whistler's ancient rainforest.

The trek takes around two-and-a half to three hours and the lines are suspended between observational platforms which afford a wonderful view of the green canopy of trees crowding this valley dividing the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

Many of Canada's residents are striving to be as green as their scenery and lay a heavy emphasis on sustainability.

In Vancouver, I stayed at the superb Fairmont Waterfront Hotel which has its own herb garden and apiary to help provide ingredients for its chefs. It is also a member of the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise conservation program, which involves presenting guests with seafood choices of species which are  "abundant and resilient to fishing pressures".

The Raincity Grill in the city's West End is similarly dedicated and also themes its menus on the basis of local produce.

A whirlwind tour of Vancouver followed lunch at the Grill, courtesy of North Van Green Tours in a vehicle powered by vegetable oil – another example of the city's focus on sustainability as it counts down to becoming the focus itself of mass media coverage when Vancouver and Whistler stage the 2010 Olympic and ParalympicWinter Games.

The final two days of my trip included a walk around Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, and a gondola ride some 3,000ft up into the Rockies overlooking Banff, where there are breathtaking views.

Even walking down the sidewalks in Banff you get an eye-popping glimpse of the Rockies. They look benignly down on this vibrant town and can be seen with every stride.

The first sight of Lake Louise literally made me stop in my tracks, so overwhelming is its beauty. We spotted deer, elk, woodpeckers and also big-horn sheep. The latter was particularly intriguing. Our Fairmont Banff Springs host declared she had never seen them before.

Which goes to prove this is a spectacular land with surprises for everyone.

Rocky Mountaineer

Published: March 14, 2009

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