Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel was the brainchild of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway. On arrival at Banff, the tourism visionary made the canny observation that "Since we can’t export the scenery, we'll have to import the tourists"—and thus set about building a string of great railway hotels across Canada. The original wooden hotel that opened in 1888 burned down in 1926, but was replaced two years later with the grander castle-meets-baronial-Scottish-hall structure that exists today. The public lobby spaces are vast, and there are countless nooks to curl up in with a book where guests will remain undisturbed. With its signature stone walls, turrets, and winding staircases, Van Horne’s gambit paid off: The Fairmont Banff Springs feels for all the world like an elegant and ancient castle, albeit one with all the modern conveniences. Rooms in the main building come with quirky period details such as chandeliers and crown molding; those in the Stanley Thompson wing (the old staff quarters) are more spacious and a solid bet for families. Foodies will not be disappointed: The hotel has 11 different restaurants, cafes, and bars. So much choice, in fact, that guests are issued with a food guide upon check-in to help them make the most of the hotel's offerings, which range from Japanese to Canadian via Italy and Germany.
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Set in a brochure-perfect Canadian mountain wilderness of soaring snow-capped peaks and majestic firs and pines, the pretty town of Banff is just a 10-minute walk from Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. In the summer, guests can enjoy all sorts of outdoor pursuits, including hiking through flowery alpine meadows, mountain biking (the hotel offers complimentary bikes), rafting down Bow River, and trout fishing. A relaxing option is to take the Banff gondola up Mount Sulphur. In winter, the popular ski resorts of Mount Norquay and Sunshine Village are just 15–20 minutes away by shuttle bus.
Need to Know
Rooms: 768 rooms, 77 suites; from $266. Check-in: 4 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Guests at Fairmont Banff Springs are spoiled for choice, with 11 restaurants, cafes, and bars. Waldhaus Restaurant serves Alpine treats such as schnitzel and fondue in a hunting-lodge setting, while Grapes Wine Bar is the place to try Canadian cheeses and house-made elk and bison charcuterie. For something light and fancy, the Rundle Lounge serves traditional English afternoon tea and has views overlooking Banff's mountain peaks. Spa and gym details: The award-winning Willow Stream Spa covers 3,000 square feet and has 23 treatment areas. Its famous mineral pool is in the heart of the spa complex, and has three cascading waterfalls set at different temperatures for a Nordic-style experience. The outdoor heated saltwater pool is open until 10 p.m., and the fitness center is open 24 hours a day.
Who's it for: Girlfriends on a spa getaway; wealthy skiers; families and couples looking for a wholesome outdoor vacation. Our favorite rooms: The Terrace Suites have private patios overlooking the mineral pool and are a short, robe-clad stroll away from the Willow Stream Spa. Club perks: Guests who join the free Fairmont President's Club enjoy perks such as free Wi-Fi, yoga, and fitness classes.