When it comes to the subject of great settings for afternoon tea, it doesn’t get much more spectacular than the snow-capped vistas outside the tea room windows of Canada’s pristine Banff National Park.
Tea has been an important part of the daily ritual in this mountaintop wonderland since 1883 when the transcontinental railway reached the formidable Rocky Mountains. The discovery of natural hot springs bubbling from the base of Sulphur Mountain led to the establishment of Canada’s first national park, Rocky Mountain Park. Early park rangers would stash their tea and tea equipage in bear-proof tins along the rugged trails in order to enjoy a hot cup of tea when working on the coldest of days. Today, Banff National Park is one of four adjoining mountain parks comprising more than 5,200 square miles of spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountain landscape. Each year, four million international visitors soak in the warm water of those springs and the uninterrupted natural beauty of this World Heritage site.
Chateau Lake Louise
Afternoon Tea Sweets
Chateau Lake Louise sits on the shore of the azure blue Lake Louise, only 50 minutes from Banff. The postcard setting is perfectly framed with emerald green forests and snowcapped mountains that glisten under a dramatic Canadian sky. This was once a hideaway for Fairbanks and Barrymore, Monroe and Hitchcock. The architecture was influenced by the villa designs of the Italian Renaissance. Residents may spend the day skiing, fly-fishing, hiking, canoeing or simply reading a book while tucked away in one of the second-floor alcoves.
The highlight of the day for tea lovers is afternoon tea in the Lakeview Lounge. The preferred tables for two are each framed by a Palladian window allowing an uninterrupted alpine-like view of the lake and mountains. The only temptations that draw your attention from this stunning natural vista are the beautiful savories and sweets designed by the hotel’s chefs. Afternoon tea begins with a colorful compote of fresh fruit. The tiered server soon appears bearing a creative array of tea sandwiches such as cucumber, smoked salmon, egg on wheat and chicken with mango pinwheels. Perfect English scones are served with a bountiful supply of clotted cream and preserves. The tantalizing sweets include miniature éclairs, custard tarts, handmade chocolates and shortbreads crowned with whole strawberries. The selection of teas is highlighted by the Fairmont Blend and other traditional teas. An optional flute of champagne tops the afternoon off with one more bit of sparkle. The only problem here is that you don’t want to leave this sunny setting where staring out the window is relaxing and, thankfully, encouraged. This fabulous setting is featured in The Great Tea Rooms of America, 4th edition.
Lake Agnes Teahouse
Lake Agnes Teahouse
The mountains framing Lake Louise are crisscrossed with hiking trails. One of the favorite routes is the Lake Agnes Trail that begins at the rear of the hotel and climbs a thousand feet to the glacier-fed Lake Agnes. A 90-minute walk will bring you to a glorious tea respite, unlike any you have seen.
Built around 1900, the log chalet Lake Agnes Teahouse hugs the shore of this emerald lake. Be warned! This is not a tea room for red hats and lace gloves. There is no electricity. The chalet is warmed by a wood stove and lit by kerosene lamps. In fact, this may be the only tea room you have visited that has an outhouse. Owner Cynthia Magee rebuilt the teahouse after purchasing it from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1981. It is so remote that supplies are brought in by helicopters or horseback and her hardworking staff lives onsite in another small cabin.
Tea List at Lake Agnes Teahouse
The simple menu includes soup, sandwiches, tea biscuits, and homemade pastries. What’s most amazing about this sanctuary is an amazing assortment of 50 loose teas from all over the world. Tea water is heated in six huge kettles that continually simmer on a mammoth gas stove in the kitchen. It takes a lot of heat to boil water at an elevation of 8000 feet. And tea has never tasted as good as when drunk here on a cold and snowy day in late September. The trek to Lake Agnes can be exhausting and more than a few out-of-breath adventurers turn back to the comfort of their hotel room. How sad to think that they missed the reward that lies at the end of their journey. Good things come to those who persevere. Just think about the incredible story – and photographs – you will have to share with your tea friends when you return home!
This travel feature by Bruce Richardson was first published in TeaTime magazine.