William and Kate hide away in Canadian Rockies

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After a whirlwind week charming the Canadian public, Prince William and Catherine escaped Thursday to a secret romantic hideaway in the stunning Rocky Mountains far from the madding crowds.

The young newlyweds left Slave Lake in northern Alberta Wednesday after touring the devastation caused by forest fires in mid-May which razed 400 homes and businesses in Canada's second-costliest disaster.

Stealing a few precious hours alone, the royal couple were not due to reappear in public in front of the ever present media cameras and welcoming crowds until later Thursday when they arrive in Calgary.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, married just a few months ago in London, had broken with their original plan to spend a day alone to visit those hit by the forest fires.

But returning to their program, they gave their media entourage the slip late Wednesday, heading to a destination which has been kept a closely guarded secret, leaving journalists and locals guessing.

Top on the list of possible getaways is Chateau Lake Louise dubbed "the most romantic setting in Alberta" -- a castle-like hotel which has been a favorite stop for royal visitors dating as far back as 1912 when Edward, Prince of Wales, hiked the nearby peaks.

William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, has also visited the vast hotel nestled on the shores of the picturesque Rocky Mountain lake.

The lake is also named after Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of William's famous ancestor Queen Victoria.

But local residents said there had been no sign of any heightened security, and remained skeptical that the young couple, who are both 29, were in their midst.

"If they were staying here, people would have been running around like crazy, going nuts. I haven't seen any of that," Rachel, an employee at one of the retail shops at Chateau Lake Louise, told the Calgary Herald.

"It would be exciting if they were to come here, but there's no back door to this place. No secret entrance that I know of," she added.

Reports suggested that the couple landed by helicopter, after they made an unofficial stop in Calgary late Wednesday and were seen getting onto a chopper.

Other rumors suggested that William and Catherine could be snuggled up in a wooden cabin called Skoki Lodge about a dozen kilometers (seven miles) from Lake Louise.

Another favorite was Lake O'Hara Lodge, surrounded by beautiful alpine meadows and only accessible by one road, while other suggestions included Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, a 16-room retreat beside Bow Lake, and the Morraine Lake Lodge near Lake Louise.

Later Thursday, William and his new bride, the former Kate Middleton, were to resume their first official state visit as a married couple, heading for Calgary and cowboy country.

They are set to be "crowned" with traditional white, broad-rimmed cowboy hats made locally from rabbit fur.

Scores of people had already donned similar headgear on Calgary streets early Thursday, as the crowds began to gather to welcome the second in line to the British throne and his young wife.

The couple are due to take part in a traditional rodeo before leaving Canada Friday at the end of their nine-day visit.

Some royal fans have been camping out in tents and sleeping bags since Tuesday hoping for a glimpse of the couple.

Calgary has also handed out some 5,600 wristbands giving locals access to two areas which William and Catherine will visit on Thursday. Some of them could be found for sale on the Internet for hundreds of dollars.

The couple leave Canada on Friday and head for Los Angeles for a three-day visit to the US West Coast state of California.

© 2011 AFP

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