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The Fairmont Banff Springs, Alberta, Canada - Hotel Review

Awe-Inspring Architecture and Rocky Mountain Majesty

Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, The Fairmont Banff Springs is a symbol of Rocky Mountain magnificence.
Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, The Fairmont Banff Springs is a symbol of Rocky Mountain magnificence.

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.

While the architecture is awe-inspiring, we were most impressed by 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 768 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.

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, most notably with an infusion of $175 million in recent years. One of the primary benefactors of this ongoing development was the 38,000-square-foot, three-story Willow Stream spa. There are solarium lounges with fireplaces, waterfall whirlpools, a Japanese soaking tub, a private couples treatment room, saunas, steam rooms and more. The lap pool is situated in a high-ceilinged, colonnaded hall with floor-to-ceiling windows, while the Hungarian mineral pool is in a stone-columned room that brings to mind the inside of a very stylish igloo. Treatments are plentiful, and many have a local angle, such as the Banff Mineral Scrub and Rockies Rehydration.

A signature room at the The Fairmont Banff Springs The Spa pool at The Fairmont Banff Springs
Fairmont Gold Deluxe View Room
The Spa Pool

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 Banffshire Club, 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 Martin Luthi. Among his signature dishes: fresh salmon marinated in whisky and baked on a cedar plank. Those with an interest in all things gourmet will also appreciate the wine and food tastings offered daily during the summer and on weekends in the winter.

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.

The Fairmont Banff Springs
405 Spray Ave.
Banff, Alberta, Canada, T1L 1J4
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