Most people come to Banff, Canada, in the Rocky Mountains near Calgary, to take in the fresh mountain air, ski, hike, boat, raft, golf, study at one of its famous institutes, or simply to experience the sheer beauty of the place.
Others come specifically to stay at one of the world’s great luxury resort hotels, the Banff Springs Hotel, currently a part of the Fairmont Hotel chain.
Situated on a high point in Banff, the hotel has an absolutely fantastic mountain view, even when compared to the generally extraordinary views all around Banff.
The Fairmont was originally built in 1887 and opened in 1888 as part of the westward expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was envisioned as a destination hotel to attract tourists to the as yet unknown beauty of Banff and to use the railroad to get there. Built with wood, the hotel burned to the ground in 1926 and was subsequently rebuilt as an even larger and grander hotel. Since that time the hotel has undergone almost continuous expansion, adding a conference center and a dormitory to house its five hundred person staff, which today is imported from around the world.
The Fairmont encourages tourists to wander its halls, unlike other snooty hotels around the world where doormen only let in guests. For those that enjoy old photographs and history, a museum-style photo gallery at the hotel has old black and white photos that document the development of the hotel.
Many famous people have stayed at the hotel. Benny Goodman entertained here. Today as many as a half-dozen weddings take place on a weekend day in the numerous ballrooms scattered throughout the massive structure. On the day I wandered the hotel, I nearly ran into several brides in full wedding gowns getting ready to be wed.
The building itself is architecturally interesting, built in Victorian style that makes it look, inside and out, like a castle. Period pieces of furniture make for a treasure trove for antique fanatics. Of course, the hotel has guestrooms galore, around 1000 total.
All the typical hotel services are offered, such as an onsite spa. But, of interest is the Olympic size indoor swimming pool that accompanies the not-quite-so-large outside pool where guests gather to swim, sunbathe, and enjoy the full-service bar.
The property has so many restaurants you could eat in a different one each day for a week and still have choices. Banff is known for its chefs, as are the Fairmount Hotels, so you can imagine that the restaurants on property serve delicious food. Since Banff is located in the middle of Alberta Province, Canada’s famous premier beef-producing area, you can enjoy some of the finest cuts of beef that will make even Texas palates water.
The hotel is large enough that it is a small city in its own right, and many guests never leave. If you want to explore Banff, city buses run directly to downtown, or it’s a half-hour walk. Mountain hiking paths ranging from easy to difficult also lead downtown.
Direct flights leave from Dallas to Calgary. From Calgary several companies run shuttle services to Banff (around $60 per person). The trip is about one and one-half hour, road conditions permitting. The hotel is open year-round. Most winter visitors to Banff come to enjoy the cold and the snow with a luxurious place to sleep and eat.
Banff is a paradise year-round. During the summer, rivers running full of melting mountain snow runoff cause the many waterfalls to be particularly majestic.
Whether in Banff for the Fairmont or other reasons, the Fairmont is a wonder to enjoy.