Few things compare with driving to Canmore and witnessing the sheer vastness of its sky-high, jaw-dropping mountain backdrop. My husband and I are regular mountain goers, and we take in this scene with a sense of awe, every time. It's what makes Canmore and the Canadian Rockies a must-see-to-believe kind of experience.
On this visit, we're heading to Paintbox Lodge, owned by Olympic medallist Sara Renner and World Cup Champion Thomas Grandi. No strangers to mountain life, the two have competed around the globe in cross-country and alpine skiing, respectively. The couple has since transferred their passion for racing into hospitality, showcasing what Canmore has to offer.
Hidden Gem, Locally Sourced
Not far from the main drag, Paintbox Lodge is a boutique B & B with five unique suites decorated with Canadian regalia such as Hudson's Bay blankets and retro Rockies ski posters. Renner greets us when we arrive with her welcoming smile, and that friendly vibe resonates throughout the lodge. I feel instantly at home in the classic chalet style – lofty ceilings, exposed wood beams and natural stone fireplaces – balanced with modern conveniences like Wi-Fi, soaker tubs and a fancy cappuccino/latte machine. The lodge also features all things local. Its walls are swathed in artwork and photography by regional artists. It's powered by local green energy. And every meal is made with organic and community-supported food, including fresh herbs grown in the permaculture-inspired wicking garden. You may even luck out on your stay and have Grandi as guest chef to whip you up a delicious breakfast frittata.
Come for the Cooking
And speaking of food, that's why we're here. We've signed up for a Cooking @ the Box class – one of the lodge’s most popular offerings. We head into the one part of Paintbox that's ultra-modern: the professional grade, glossy red and white Miele-kitted kitchen. Here's where Paintbox delivers harvest table dinners, tapas parties and cooking classes with local chefs, including Paintbox's private chef George Bayne, owner of Canmore Organic. Classes include various food genres like Greek, Indian or vegetarian, and depending on the chef, can also feature signature dishes at the restaurants they hail from.
Tonight we're polishing up our knife skills, demonstration-style, with the chef first showing us how to hold and use a knife properly, then each of us trying our hand at it. On top of the satisfaction derived from successfully slicing and dicing every vegetable imaginable, I'm also getting the inside scoop about Canmore from a few friendly locals. More often than not, lodge guests and Canmore locals rub shoulders at Box cooking classes, and this one is no different. As I concentrate on practicing my newly-learned technique on an unsuspecting shallot (aided, or not, by simultaneously enjoying a frosty glass of prosecco), Canmore's unbeaten path is revealed to me: which trails the locals walk, which café has the best coffee, what restaurants are local favourites. All in all, it's a fun evening of eating, cooking, laughing and learning.