The word resort can be interpreted in many ways; here in the UK it reminds me of hideous faux-independent hotels full of botox’d gym-goers nibbling salad, hen parties enjoying the on-site spa and cheap prosecco, and business men stalking the bar in the hope of some one-on-one extra-curricular fun. Or, God forbid, an all-inclusive beachside hotel where overweight tourists hover around the all-you-can-eat buffet and guests boast of having ‘done’ Africa despite never having left the confines of the hotel grounds.
As you might have gathered, ‘resort’ does not mean good things to me and so you can understand why I approached the Northern Lights Resort and Spa with trepidation.
A family run hotel, the owners were away when I visited, leaving it in the hands of husband-and-wife combo Cameron and Kaitlyn. As friendly and warm as anyone I met during my time in the Yukon, they managed the hotel as if it were their own, openly proud to play a part in its success.
My north-facing bedroom has a 180-degree view courtesy of huge windows, all the better to lie in bed and watch the Northern Lights. Cleverly, the blinds could be raised from the bottom up, giving you privacy while still allowing you to see the huge Yukon sky.
But before our late night aurora viewing, we had a three-course dinner to eat. My experience of Canadian food, and that served in the Yukon in particular, is that quantity is as important as quality; calories matter when it’s minus 40°C and so deep-fried comfort food is a staple.
Not here. Cameron, the executive chef, has been given a free hand to design a menu that reflects the region and the hotel’s ethos. He is doing a staggeringly good job.
First up was carrot soup with smoked lemon cream and tomato oil. Beautifully served, every single ingredient was discernible; in one mouthful I got lemony smoke and a slick of warm tomato, all supported by a deep carroty bass note. I am a sentimental man – “Daddy, my daddy” in The Railway Children gets me every time, for example, as does Alun Wynn Jones scoring a try for Wales, and Bruce Springsteen inviting children on stage to sing with him – and this soup brought a tear to my eye.
That’s right: the soup was so good it made me cry.
Pan-seared chicken breast with a barley pilaf and a shallot and herb jus was approached with caution; I could dismiss a single tear with a discreet wipe of my hand, but full-on sobbing would be harder to hide.
I ate it, and a pudding of a dark chocolate mousse served with spiced whipped cream, without embarrassing myself further but couldn’t suppress the odd pornographic moan of delight. To find food of this quality in a small hotel in the middle of nowhere is incredible.
Quite literally tired and emotional without having touched anything bar a very good local beer, I retired to my room to have a quick snooze, safe in the knowledge that Stephanie, our aurora guide, would wake me if and when the lights made an appearance.
Which they did almost immediately. Vertical pulses streaks of pure white light dominated the righthand sky, after which they started moving from right to left in a mesmeric dance. I dressed as fast as I could – and dressing for prolonged periods of inactivity when it’s that cold takes some time – and scurried out, camera and tripod to hand.
The next three hours passed in a blur of Northern Lights, chilled fingers, and wood smoke; the tepee has a central fire to hover around when the cold becomes too much, and there’s hot chocolate, too. Stephanie was fantastic, offering a helping hand with the tricky business of photographing in near pitch black, as well as offering to take photographs of us in increasingly ridiculous poses as the lights become more and more visible.
I called enough at midnight, driven inside by the furious cold and fierce jetlag. I fell asleep watching the lights pulsing across the sky from the comfort of my bed, which isn’t a bad way to end the day, is it?
Breakfast was as good as dinner, and I discovered the joys of a boiled egg cutter. Weirdly addictive, I polished off my breakfast while begging others to let me film their egg being opened. In other words, I was a typically irritating journalist, something Kaitlyn ignored with good grace.
The combination of world-beating food and a better-than-average chance of seeing the aurora borealis would secure the Northern Lights Resort and Spa a spot in anyone’s Top Three hotels. And yet, as always, it’s the people that made the biggest impression on me. Humble, professional and spectacularly good at what they do, Kaitlyn, Cameron, and Stephanie could not have been better hosts, or nicer people.
Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno