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ALBERTA VALENTINE’S DAY ESCAPES WILL WARM YOUR HEART

Author: Lisa Monforton

Lisa loves skiing, hiking, biking, kayaking and road-tripping through Alberta as much as travelling the world. Favourite spots include the Rockies, for sure, but also the Cowboy Trails' ranchlands, East Coulee's history, the David Thompson Highway, Cypress Hills and Waterton.

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Elk Island National Park - Snowshoe

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Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with the one you love and generate your own heat in the middle of an Alberta winter. No matter your budget, indulgent or frugal, here are some suggestions for romantic getaways around Alberta. 

Rekindle the magic in Edmonton

Start your escape by getting lost in a magical world of giant icicles and ice caves aglow in rainbow colours during the fabled Silver Skate Festival (February 10-20). Inside the hand-crafted frozen landscape of the Ice Castle, it feels like you’re in another world, yet you’re at Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park. Bring your skates (or rent them on site) for an arm-in-arm glide on the frozen lake. 

Later, have an adventure of the culinary kind at Range Road, where the chefs go a little wild with “untamed cuisine.” The locally-sourced menu is a carnivore’s dream: bison, grizzly gouda, duck breast. There’s also plenty to love for non-meat eaters. 

A nightcap and a snuggle at the Union Bank Inn is the best way to end the day. Choose a vintage 1920s themed room or something more contemporary at this chic boutique hotel. Warm and fuzzy bathrobes await and, if you desire, complimentary wine and cheese will be brought to your room. 

Stick to your budget in the great outdoors 

Head east from Edmonton for about half an hour on the Yellowhead Highway for an after-dark escape to Elk Island National Park. Admission is free this year, as Parks Canada helps us celebrate the country's 150th anniversary.

Strap on your snowshoes as the sun is going down and explore the winding trails. There’s a chance your selfies will be photo-bombed by a bison, elk or moose, which love to come out at dusk. But stay safe and keep your distance. Stash some snacks in your backpack, along with a warm beverage in your thermos. Far from the city lights, settle in to enjoy the starry skies and maybe you'll be treated to the dance of the northern lights. 

All that fresh night air will have you ready for bedding down at the Matrix Hotel when you return to the city. The fashionable hotel is pet friendly and your stay also includes a breakfast buffet. 

Pampered from your toes to your tastebuds in Grande Prairie

Take a mini-escape from reality with a couple’s day at the L Spa at the Podollan Inn. Choose from several treatments that pamper couples, for an hour or two, or indulge in the all-day package. The infrared sauna will make you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere tropical. Then get lulled into a state of pure bliss with a facial, massage and pedicure. All this decadence is topped off with chocolate-covered strawberries or a spa lunch. 

The mini-holiday theme continues at The Office Restaurant where global flavours with worldly dishes dominate the menu. Because it’s Valentine’s, it’s a night for sharing, so linger over the extensive small plates menu all evening, then head back to the inn and settle in for the night.  Comfy and contemporary, the inn is ideal for a romantic weekend, offering breakfast, with a custom omelet bar. There's free Wi-Fi if you can't completely unplug.  

Budget bliss in the backcountry 

Just 10 minutes south of Grande Prairie off Highway 40 is some of the best cross-country skiing in the province. Pick up a day pass at the Wapiti Nordic Ski Club and treat yourselves to more than 35 km of track-set trails. There’s even more territory to explore if you like to blaze your own. That leaves lots of room for getting purposely lost among the aspens and firs with your significant other. 

Whoever makes it back first has to buy the first round at the Grande Prairie Brew Pub. Take a tour and have a tasting before picking your pint. Stay around for a casual pub meal before sneaking out to search for the northern lights just beyond the city limits. 

Fun on a budget in central Alberta

Don’t tell your kids you’re going on a Tube and Dine date at Canyon Ski Resort because they’ll want to tag along. Leave them at home with the in-laws and head out for this fun Friday night outing that will leave you giggling like teenagers (a sight of some concern to your children). String your inner tubes together for a loopy ride or compete to see who makes it first “all the way to the straw,” where the soft landing awaits. Ride the Magic Carpet back up to the top and as the saying goes, lather, rinse, repeat!

After, take the chill off in front of a roaring fire with a drink in the lodge before sitting down for a casual meal. Make it an adult sleepover and stay at the Sheraton Hotel in Red Deer, where you can relax in the hot tub and salt water pool before turning in for the night.

Indulge in a spirit-lifting spa, dinner and cocktails in Calgary

Treat yourselves to the contemporary comforts of an urban oasis. Start by stepping into an inviting candle-lit room warmed with a fireplace at the Santé Spa at Le Germain. It’ll put you in the mood for a side-by-side massage with your partner. A glass of bubbly tops up the bliss.

Inspired by your afternoon of pampering, you’ll be ready for two of the city’s hottest new cocktail and dining experiences. Head to the Bourbon Room for a spirit-forward cocktail of your own creation (or leave it to the bartender). Dinner is at nearby Foreign Concept. Asian-infused and locally-sourced dishes are shareworthy for both of you – and your Instagram followers. The perfect way to end this splendid day is at the luxurious Kensington Riverside Inn.

Cheap and cheerful date night 

Just because you’re watching your budget doesn’t mean you can’t have some St. Valentine’s fun. Leave the everyday bustle behind for the simple joys of ice skating in pretty Prince’s Island Park in the centre of the city. Lace up your skates and glide side by side as the sun sets and reflects on the glass skyscrapers across the river. That sets the mood for a cup of hot chocolate or a plate of sushi. Planning to make it a 24-hour date? Grab a Car2Go and head for a sleepover at the urban and stylish Hotel Elan on 17th Avenue or Aloft Hotel, across from the University of Calgary. Both offer reasonable rates. 

Backcountry cat skiing and craft beer in southern Alberta

Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone until you’ve both done it first. Flying under the radar of many skiers is the fact that Castle Mountain is one of only a handful of places in western Canada where you can cat-ski in the backcountry. You’ll be transported by caterpillar to the backside of Mount Haig, where open bowls, chutes and oodles of powder is all yours, adorned with a panorama of epic scenery. It’s a full day and you’ll be eating your provided lunch in the cat to ensure valuable vertical time. At the end of the day, find the best pizza and pints at the resort’s T-Bar Pub & Grill. Stay overnight on the mountain in a romantic ski-in, ski-out cabin or condo. Fall out of bed the next morning and go on a snowshoe adventure or test your skills in the terrain park. Then it’s only an hour and a half east to Lethbridge for some fine Alberta craft beers at the Coulee Brewing Company’s Taps Grill. Be sure to indulge in the maple bacon poutine.

Solitude to suit your budget 

You and your Valentine are a welcome boost to the population of 50 or so souls who know the joys of a Waterton winter wonderland. When you arrive in the magical prairie-meets-mountain town in the heart of Waterton Lakes National Park, it’s so quiet you’ll think you’ve stumbled onto a big secret. Revel in the solitude and rugged beauty of Upper Waterton Lake because the only sounds you’re likely to hear are your sighs of contentment and the click of your camera. Stay overnight at Waterton Lakes Lodge. Warm up in front of the fireplace at Vimy’s Lounge and Grill and enjoy a good meal. Rent cross-country skis or snowshoes for a morning excursion before heading home.

Cypress Hills hideaway

Only a few of your ski and snowboarding friends may know there’s a charming ski hill tucked away in the southeast part of the province, called Hidden Valley. It’s located inside beautiful Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, far from the crowds at the big ski resorts. This is the highest elevation you can ski between the front ranges of the Rockies and Labrador. Take a romantic skate on a trail through the forest. Or rediscover the fun of tobogganing and feel like a kid again. 

Any way you spend the day, you’ll be ready for the down home cuisine from the new owners of CAMP Cookhouse and General Store in nearby Elkwater. Just about everything is made from scratch, from bread to bacon, and the burgers are massive. Wind down this idyllic winter escape at Elkwater Lake Lodge, which offers ski-and stay-packages that include breakfast and snowshoes. 

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