A series of majestic hotels and lodges in the Rocky Mountains sprang up in the late 19th century as the railroad brought workers and guests from all over the world. Many of these hotels, including the sprawling camp turned golf resort in Jasper and the majestic French Renaissance-style castle at Lake Louise, are under the aegis of the Fairmont brand, yet all have unique histories that trace legacies of luxury and labour across the mountains of Western Canada.
The Fairmont Banff Springs—originally the Banff Springs Hotel—was built as a railway hotel in 1886–1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It underwent a series of editions in increasing height, eventually taking form in Canadian château style, which imitates a variety of Western European styles in a colonial context. Yet the Banff Springs Hotel is unique among the Canadian château resorts in that it is influenced by Arts and Craft styles and is clad in stone from nearby Mount Rundle. It partially burnt down in 1926 and has since had a number of further modernizing additions.
Today, one can spend hours wandering the great halls and floors of this epic structure that overlooks a mountain valley crested with daily sunsets in which the beholder may want to dissolve. The old stately halls which used to host balls and dignitaries from all over the world, arriving at the hotel in horse-drawn carriages to stay the summer, are now filled with world-class bars, restaurants, art galleries, and curio shops. And while at times the knick-knacks appear to take away from the historical design like any other tourist destination, the overall grandness is not diminished. Walking along the terraced patios, sitting at the wood-lined Rundle Bar recently redesigned by Frank Architecture, and relaxing in a luxurious room while gazing through a stone-framed window adds a sense of opulence unachievable in places with less history.
Marble staircases, antique furniture, and galleries of historical photographs adorn the labyrinthine passages. Wandering around at night, one can read ghost stories, stumble upon wedding receptions, and come in contact with all sorts of different glamorously dressed people.
While the town of Banff, with plenty of shopping and restaurants, is nearby, one hardly needs to leave the château. I luxuriate in the Willow Stream Spa, where the waterfall and mineral pools channel rejuvenate in a temple-like facility. I’m not typically a heavy meat eater, but Alberta is the place for steak—try the 1888 Chop House with its transparent relationship with farms and exceptionally high-grade cuts. We recommend the gold standard wagyu filet mignon from Brant Lake Cattle Company in High River.
For a unique and highly exclusive experience, reserve the 360 Degree Dome for yourself and up to five others for a meal with a full view of the breathtaking surroundings. The five-course dinner includes Brant Lake wagyu beef carpaccio and the long bone bison short rib.
Seasonal activities are also worthwhile if you find yourself in Banff during the holidays. While the summertime views and possibilities to explore right outside the hotel are immense, there is something about wintering at a château like this one that feels cinematic, special. In the winter, the hotel is full of lights, and there are even a skating rink and firepits on the terrace you can reserve for the night. There is also a program of events called Christmas at the Castle.
The experience of staying in such opulence, such majesty man-made and natural, is timeless.The hotel has the benefit of continual reinvention, and I was most taken by the beautiful new interior design of both the Rundle Bar and Vermillion Room as well as afternoon walks down to the river through the wooded grounds where the sound of guided horseback tours can be heard.
Credits for the PARK Production photography:
Styling: @karachomistek @katrina.martinez @jessieclandry
Talent: @kimberley.marr @nyaluak_g @modemodelscom