Fairmont Banff Springs
Storybook enchantment can be found in this grand castle perched in the Rocky Mountains.
If you build it, they will come. Few places offer better proof of this than The Fairmont Banff Springs. Although the hotel — which rises out of its hypnotic mountain setting like a Scottish baronial Oz — is a landmark in its own right, it in fact started life as a byproduct. When William Van Horne, General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, saw potential in the hot springs, he envisioned a hotel that would be a destination to itself … and that could only be reached by his train. The railway went on to build a series of luxury hotels along the line; as a result, The Fairmont Banff Springs, which opened its doors in 1888, inaugurated tourism in the Banff area and played an integral role in the expansion of the Canadian West. The hotel was officially completed in 1928 after a fire damaged the property and it had to be rebuilt, but enhancements continued into the 21st century.
While the architecture is awe-inspiring, most impressive is the way this massive hotel takes advantage of its location. It sits at the intersection of three glacial valleys, at the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers, overlooking Bow Valley and Bow River Falls (hence the Spray Avenue address). Because of this, the 764 guestrooms — which range from cozy corner rooms to split-level honeymoon suites — all share one common trait. Windows that open onto fresh air and views of mountains, meadows or valleys. The overall style is classic European, and the colors are warm and buttery, with lots of leather, natural wood and foliage. Signature rooms in the main wing reflect the hotel's castle-like architecture, and the Presidential Suite features a split-level living room with a wood-burning fireplace, grand piano and library.
Given the mountain location, it's hard to believe that this hotel served only summer guests until 1969. Banff is a playground of winter pursuits — canyon ice walks, dog sledding, ice fishing, ice skating, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. This is not to forget skiing at the area ski resorts — Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise — which are among the world's finest, and a ski school to match. As for summer activities, golf is at the top of the list. The original 18-hole Banff Springs Golf Course was designed by the country's master golf architect, Stanley Thompson, in 1928, and an additional nine holes were later added. The course winds along the Bow River and is a marvel, both for its layout and its Rocky Mountain setting, certainly one of a kind.
While the hotel may be far from so-called civilization, there is no roughing it when it comes to dining. The hotel has almost a dozen restaurants and bars, serving everything from sushi to steaks. For a quintessential Fairmont experience, make reservations at the 1888 Chop House, where a Scottish atmosphere is enhanced with Malcolm tartan drapery, antique reproduction tables from the Stuart period, harp music and single malt scotch. The hotel's kitchens are under the direction of Executive Chef JW Foster and he's created a menu highlighting prime cuts of Alberta beef, sustainably sourced wild game and Ocean Wise Seafood.
You can also sip on a cocktail at the lounges or bar, or sample regional cuisine at the Bow Valley Grill, where sculptures and furniture showcase the work of local artisans. Other restaurant choices offer Italian, Japanese and Alpine cuisine, a relaxed pub atmosphere or delicate pastries and finger sandwiches at an Afternoon Tea that mingles English tradition with matcha martinis.
Also on the property is Willow Stream Spa, offering thorough pampering, from treatments designed to reduce the effects of jet lag and massages that relieve joint inflammation, aches and pains to the decadent anti-aging caviar facial. Lavishly decorated meeting rooms offer a sophisticated setting for business events, weddings and banquets. Take note of the small fees required to access certain areas, from the daily resort fee to the fee for use of the fitness center.
Although The Fairmont Banff Springs can now be reached by car — on the gorgeous Trans-Canada Highway — it is no less secluded than when it opened over 100 years ago. And its location in Banff National Park means that the crush of modern life won't be encroaching anytime soon. Complete with grizzlies, elk and bighorn sheep, this hotel is a true retreat.