The Love Story: In the gay community, “a gym is the equivalent of a bar with weights,” jokes Keith, manager of the the Physician Learning Program at the University of Alberta and president of Team Edmonton, a sports association serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Unsurprisingly then, Keith first spotted Alex, a civil engineer, at the Kinsmen fitness room. The two struck up an immediate friendship and soon became running partners, and then common-law partners. “We started jogging together and he ran away with my heart,” says Keith.
Believe it or not, when you’re gay, checking into a hotel can often be a tricky, clandestine affair. On one occasion, Keith found himself skulking in a corner while his then-partner checked in alone to avoid the “stink eye” from hotel staff.
At the Matrix Hotel, that’s not the case. The staff doesn’t flinch when same-sex couples, like Alex and Keith, are handed their room cards.
Aside from cheerful service, the boutique-style hotel scores high marks for its design. The colour palette in the guest rooms and throughout consists of subdued neutrals – walnut furnishings, granite and chrome surfaces – with splashes of red or orange.
For a luxurious getaway, consider the Onyx suite ($1,500//night), which has a fireplace and lounge-sized balcony complete with barbecue. And, oenophiles in any suite can enjoy the hotel’s complimentary wine tasting in the late afternoon.
The Matrix is across from the Alberta Legislature Building, so couples can stroll the verdant government grounds or join a free tour of the building led by green-vested interpretive guides.
Though the downtown environs empty at night, there’s still life in many of the nearby restaurants.
Perfect service, brilliant food and a beautiful room sets the standard for a new generation of diners at The Marc (runner-up, Edmonton’s Best Restaurant of 2012), where they rediscover French classics pt, steak tartare and confit.
Adjacent to the hotel, Wildflower Grill is packed in the evenings with diners who salivate at the mention of braised short ribs drizzled with port demi glaze and white balsamic reduction.
Rates start at $120 per night; 866-465-8150
The Couple: Kendall Barber & Ross McKenzie
Years Together: 4
The Love Story: Kendall, a marketing consultant and founder of online magazine City and Dale, met her fiancé at the Big Rock Eddies festival. Kendall was selling beer tickets. Ross, an optometrist and co-owner of Eye-bar in Sherwood Park, was dressed in a three-piece orange suit. Smitten by Kendall, Ross kept returning to the wicket to strike up a conversation, which continued well after Kendall’s shift was over. In July, Ross will trade in his orange suit for a tuxedo when the couple wed on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
The Romantic Getaway: Village Creek Country Inn, The Village at Pigeon Lake
About 100 kilometres south of Edmonton, the Village Creek Country Inn is a convenient draw for urbanites who balk at planning. “Because it’s so close, we can make last-minute plans and be there within an hour or so,” says Kendall.
The first thing to do as soon you settle in your room is to throw open the French double doors that lead to the balcony and take in the view of the woods. Only then do guests realize how secluded the property is. Wood furniture, fireplaces and crisp cotton linens add to the country atmosphere.
For guests who want even more privacy, a 1,200-square-foot condo is available for rent ($309//night).
Only a few metres away from the inn’s doorsteps, guests can dine at EcoCaf, where chef and owner Timothy Wood is committed to cooking with regional ingredients.
The menu reads like an agri-tour of the province: Beef from Onoway, bison raised near Thorsby, Bluffton-raised free-range chickens. The signature dish, game-meat pie prepared with duck, pork and elk, has a dedicated following.
In addition to the predictable assortment of shops, the village boasts Backstreet antiques, one of the area’s best places to find rare finds and curiosities. As the sun sets, stroll the walking trails that work their way around the inn and towards Pigeon Lake.
Rates start from $129 per night; 877-688-0006
The Couple: Bill Ritchie & Heather Ritchie
Years Together: 27
The Love Story: Long before Dancing with the Stars was a pop culture phenomenon, the U of A Dance Club was the place to watch fox trotters, rumba dancers and waltzers. It’s also where Heather left an impressionable memory on Bill. “I can still remember what she was wearing the day we met – tan pants and a white shirt,” says Bill, an interventional radiologist. (However, Heather says it was a red blouse, not white.) Bill offered to drive the “girl with the nice smile” home after the dance, and the married couple have been life partners ever since.
If hiking up a mountain with a 14-kilogram bag is what’s stopping you from discovering Alberta’s backcountry, a little penance is in order because there are lodges you can access sans hiking boots.
Located about a 60-minute drive south of Canmore along the Smith Dorrien Trail, guests can drive their SUVs right up to the doorsteps of Mount Engadine. “Being able to drive up to the lodge, and not having to hike there, is very appealing,” says Bill. Once inside, they swap their footwear for the lodge’s knitted slippers.
Mount Engadine pitches itself as a backcountry lodge, but that’s just code for “secluded place to unwind,” which means no Wi-Fi in rooms, cell-phone service or TVs to spoil the vibe.
It also means cushy beds in the six suites in the main lodge and three in a smaller chalet, splendid meals by the in-house chef, Carol Peerless, and great conversation with innkeepers Chris and Shari-Lynn Williams.
With 153 km of hiking trails only minutes away from the lodge (which technically lies in Kananaskis Country) it’s hard to imagine why anyone would stick around in the afternoon. But for those who do, the lodge offers afternoon tea, included in the price of the stay. But the pack-your-own-lunch buffet is best enjoyed on the shores of Rummel, Tryst or Chester Lakes, following moderate hikes.
After hiking, fishing or an arranged heli-hike of the area, find a seat on the wraparound balcony. Overlooking an alpine meadow, the outdoor space is the prime spot to view moose, coyotes and deer.
Double occupancy rates from $420 per night (includes three meals); 403-678-4080