A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a great (but rainy and even snowy) stay in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, one of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas on a scale difficult to imagine. I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:
- Trip report: British Airways A380 Business Class from London to Vancouver
- Review: Post Hotel & Spa (Lake Louise village)
- Review: Emerald Lake Lodge
- Review: Moraine Lake Lodge
- Review: Mount Engaldine Lodge
- Review: Fairmont Banff Hot Springs Hotel (today)
- Review: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (to be published later)
- Trip report: British Airways B787-8 (Dreamliner) Business Class from Calgary to London
Today (October 5, 2016): Review of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Canada).
- Hotel website: Fairmont Banff Hot Springs Hotel
- Address: 405 Spray Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1J4, Canada
- Location: Google Maps
- Tip: get free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso
The world-famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel stands as a landmark in the picturesque alpine town of Banff, Alberta. Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies” has been providing legendary hospitality to its guests for more than 125 years. With 768 guest rooms and suites, this is a massive resort, but the superbly appointed accommodations and the attentive, personalized service guarantee an intimate experience. And you have a choice from cozy rooms tucked away in quiet corners of the castle to spacious suites with sweeping Alberta mountain views. The hotel’s Willow Stream Spa is the perfect spot to sooth sore muscles in the mineral bath after hiking the alpine meadows.
In this review (more info below the Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel enjoys a very convenient location in the heart of Banff National Park, just above the Bow Falls and close to thermal springs (explaining the hotel’s name). The hotel is situated at an altitude of 1414 m (4639 ft) and within walking distance of Banff village, the Rockies’ main tourist center and the community with the second highest elevation in Alberta after Lake Louise
- The journey to this Canadian vacation spot is as beautiful as the destination. If you’re coming from the Prairies, the drive through Banff and Kootenay National Parks is guaranteed to be one of the highlights of your trip. And when coming for your winter vacation, roads to British Columbia’s Powder Highway are well maintained and plowed regularly.
- The Banff Springs resort hotel is owned by the pension fund OMERS (the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System) and operated by Toronto based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. Fairmont is a leader in the global hospitality industry, with a distinctive collection and a worldwide reputation for excellence. The brand is famous in Canada for its historic hotels, but its diverse portfolio also includes iconic properties worldwide such as The Plaza (New York City), The Savoy (London) and the Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel (Mekka).
- Originally built in 1888, the Grand Dame of the Canadian Rockies was remodeled in 1928 to resemble a cross between a Scottish baronial castle and a European chateau. Consequently, the iconic property features a majestic, turret-topped facade that towers over the surrounding Bow river and endless pine forests, earning it the nickname ‘Castle of the Rokies’.
- Because the hotel is filled with history, the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel was declared a national historic site by the government of Canada in 1988. The property was built between spring 1887 and spring 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the instigation of its president, William Cornelius Van Horne, who recognized the tourism potential of the Canadian west. By the start of the twentieth century, the Banff Springs luxury Hotel had developed into North America’s top mountain getaways and Van Horne’s vision had been realized. Disaster struck in 1926 when the original wooden hotel burnt down, and since then, the hotel has been rebuilt in its present appearance, expanded and renovated.
- The high-ceilinged and light-filled grand lobby is divided in two, separate check-in areas, one on the right for members of Fairmont’s loyalty program (designated Fairmont’s President Club), and another one on the left for non-members. If you are lucky, the lobby will be filled with beautiful live music by solo harpist Deborah Nyack, who has been the resident harpist at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and its sister hotel Chateau Lake Louise for more than 20 years. Two balustraded staircases lead to the hotel’s first floor, which features an extravagant selection of lounges and bars as well as an exhibition space that depicts the hotel’s role in local history and culture.
- With 768 rooms and more than 1200 staff employed in summer, it should not come as a surprise that the hotel has gigantic dimensions. Indeed, it’s easy (and fun) to get lost in the maze of hallways, ballrooms and lounges, and the stylish boutiques, jewelry shops and art galleries that line the corridors will keep you entertained while trying the find a way out. Even when you are not staying at the hotel, you are free to wander around.
- Privately located on the 4th and 5th floors of the main building, Fairmont Gold is a hotel within the hotel and offers guests exclusive services and amenities. Upon arrival, guests are directed to the Fairmont Gold reception area on the 5th floor where they enjoy private check-in. Fairmont Gold guests also have access to the exclusive Fairmont Gold Lounge, which offers an elegant yet relaxing environment, the ideal place to unwind next to the fire with a good book or catch up on email. As a Fairmont Gold guest, you can enjoy coffee, tea and an honour bar throughout the day , as well as complimentary canapés, served between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. In the morning, a hearty and complimentary continental breakfast buffet, with cold and hot items, is displayed along the open kitchen.
- Accommodations range from cozy rooms tucked away in quiet corners of the castle to spacious suites with sweeping Alberta mountain views. During my visit, I stayed in a so-called Fairmont Gold Mountain View Room. The comfortably cozy, yet contemporary room featured two queen-sized beds (with superb bedding) and a writing desk and was decorated with rich fabrics, individually styled furniture. It offered a views of the hotel facade and the Bow Valley in the distance. The bathroom included a granite vanity, slate flooring and European-style body spray shower (with small bath tub).
- One of the coolest things about Fairmont hotels is their complimentary luxury toiletries. Le Labo Rose 31 scent was created exclusively for the Canadian hotel chain, and is used for the shampoo, conditioner, soap, and bath salt provided in the bathrooms.
- The hotels features superb aquatic facilities, which are accessible to hotel guests only. A large, 32 m (105 ft) saltwater indoor pool is complimented by an indoor whirlpool, a kid’s wading pool, and an outdoor 20 m (66 ft) pool which is filled with heated water and open year round.
- The 3,530-square-metre (38,000-square-foot) Willow Stream Spa offers first-class pampering surrounded by majestic mountain beauty. Reminiscent of the hot springs that beckoned travellers over 100 years ago, the pulsating waterfalls and the mineral pool in the heart of the spa rejuvenate tired muscles and soothe troubled spirits. The spa has no less than 23 treatment rooms and last year, it was voted no. 1 Canada hotel spa by Travel + Leisure.
- The hotel features an impressive number of restaurants, fine dining venues, and bars. Culinary highlights include 1888 Chop House (a modern twist on the authentic chop-house with a menu focused on prime cuts of Alberta beef, sustainably sourced wild game and Ocean Wise seafood), Castello Ristorante (where you can celebrate the simple pleasures of great food, wine and company with an authentic Italian meal), Waldhaus Restaurant (which features a hearty menu of authentic Alpine cuisine, including schnitzel and fondue) and Samurai Sushi Bar and Restaurant (which offers an authentic Japanese culinary experience with beautifully presented fresh sushi, sashimi, and hot-pot dinners). If you’re not very hungry, you can always visit the Grapes Wine Bar, which serves fondues, cured meats and pâtés, fine cheeses, freshly baked breads and – of course – extraordinary wines.
- The hotel is very family friendly. Families will appreciate the endless hotel activities suitable for kids of all ages – from the extensive pool area and Kids Clubto The Fairmont Banff Springs Bowling & Entertainment Centre (complete with neon blacklight bowling). In addition, children 5 and under eat free from the kids menu, and children aged 6 to 12 can order kid sized portions from the restaurant menus at 50% off.
- Renowned for its panoramic beauty and breathtaking views in every direction, the hotel’s magnificent golf course is a captivating and challenging layout set in the heart of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Stanley Thompson, Canada’s renowned golf course architect, laid out the original 18 holes in 1928 along the winding Bow River. In 1989, nine holes were added, resulting in 27 holes of championship layout, that inspire everyone from first-time players to seasoned golfers.
- One thing you will appreciate during your stay is the hotel’s text concierge. You can text them any concerns and they reply straight to your phone.
- Although I visited the hotel in summer, the property is open year round and has plenty to offer in winter. With a ski season that typically runs from mid-November to mid-May, the area offers some of the best skiing in Canada – even North America. Three of the region’s finest mountains are just a short drive away from the Banff ski hotel: Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort, and Lake Louise Ski Resort. Non-skiers can enjoy outdoor ice rinks, toboggan hills, sleigh rides, and ice walks.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the Canadian Rocky’s grandest hotel with a fabulous exterior, an imposing decor, wonderful facilities and excellent service. Nevertheless, although I heartily recommend it, it’s not perfect and you need to know the following when considering a stay here:
- Some of this historic hotel’s accommodations are a little lackluster, especially those in the Stanley Thompson wing. The bathroom in my room was a bit cramped and I noticed that sound carries easily through the hallways. And while many of the 764 guest rooms and suites offers views of the woods and mountains, some overlook the courtyards, so make sure that you do your homework and that you book the right room that fits you taste and meets your demands.
- The size of the hotel is enormous, and will impress you. However, if you are looking for a quaint, intimate place to stay in the mountains, this is not for you.
- Because this is an awesome, world-famous hotel in an amazing setting, you will be charged premium prices, although I feel the hotel is slightly overpriced for the luxury you get. Expect to pay at least $500 USD per night in high season for a not so special room. Food at the restaurants is delicious but again expensive as are the wines. Please note that on top of the room rate and taxes the hotel also charges a resort fee of $15 CAD per day, plus tax, which basically gives you permission to use all the resort’s facilities.
- The hotel is somewhat a victim of its own fame and can feel very crowded. During the day, the hotel lobby and bars are overrun with non-resident tourists visiting the Castle of the Rockies. From time to time, there’s a wait for the restaurants in the evening (so reservations are definitely a must) and there can even be a line for the breakfast buffet.
- While the spa facilities are excellent an well maintained, and the treatments are very good, the spa’s decor feels old-fashioned, and the place could use a refurbishment.
- If ghosts make you nervous, it is best to avoid the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel since the hotel is supposedly haunted. The Ghost Bride is probably the most famous of all the specters residing in the hotel. The story goes that in the late 1920s a young bride fell to her death while descending one of the hotel’s marble staircases on her wedding day. Since then, hotel staff and guests alike have reported seeing a veiled figure moving up and down the stairs, or seeing a figure in a wedding dress dancing in the ballroom upstairs.
- Location: 8/10
- Design: 8/10
- Pool (indoor): 9/10
- Resort grounds: 8/10
- Rooms: 7/10
- Food: 8/10
- Breakfast: 8/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 8/10
- Value for money: 8/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, early check-in, late check-out, daily breakfast, authentically local welcome gift, and $50 USD spa credit).
- Save money: book your room at the hotel making use of a Best Rate Guarantee. When you find a lower qualifying rate online, Fairmont will match it and give you a 10% discount when you book through Fairmont Hotels and Resorts Global Reservation Center.
- Be sure to subscribe to Fairmont President’s Club before check-in. It’s free, and you will benefit from complimentary WiFi and a 10% spa discount.
- If you want to be looked after exceptionally well, then book a room on the hotel’s 4th or 5th floor. These rooms come with Fairmont Gold service, offering guests a “hotel within a hotel,” featuring private check-in, concierge services, and complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, and canapés during cocktail hour in the private lounge.
- Some rooms are tiny and don’t come with a view, so make sure that you book the right room that best fits your taste.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
As far as hiking, scenery and warmer weather goes many, the best time to visit is from late June to mid-September. Respectively this time frame offers the best chance for good weather; however, it also has the largest crowds and highest accommodation prices. Consider a trip during a shoulder season such as June and mid-September to mid-October when there’s less crowds. The accommodation prices will be somewhat lower compared to the summer months, and your chances on spotting wildlife are much better.
Starting in early December and through March is the time for skiing, but don’t worry if you are not a skier, there’s plenty of winter activities for non-skiers like snowshoeing, ice skating and sleigh rides. Depending on the snow conditions and temperatures some of these activities continue into the month of April. Ski hills start to open some of their runs in mid-November and remain open until mid-May.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is located on the outskirts of Banff Village, approximately 148 km (92 mi) west of Calgary International Airport, which is the most convenient airport to start your holiday in the Rockies. Check the Wikipedia page of Calgary International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Calgary.