This impressive Scottish Baronial flight of Victorian fancy is Banff’s greatest landmark. Work on the turrets and cornices and the thick nine-story granite walls below began in 1888, but things were massively rebuilt in the 1920s. All this resulted in a labyrinthine pile that both celebrates the bygone days of the genteel travel and somehow mirrors, maybe even enhances, the majesty of its natural surroundings.
The hotel was the largest in the world when it opened and one of a number of grand giant lodgings (including Chateau Lake Louise and Yoho’s Emerald Lake) built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, in the hope of using the mix of superb scenery and luxury to fill their carriages. The results were a massive hit, and still are, which ensures the 828-room hotel is always bustling.
Famously though, things didn’t start too smoothly. The hotel was
built back-to-front, with the kitchens enjoying great valley views while
guestrooms looked blankly into monotonous forest – a problem partly
fixed by tacking on a rotunda.
Sightseeing & Tours
You can still appreciate the building error from the outside, while inside you can poke around the first three floors on your own (pick up a map in reception) or ask about regular hotel tours. Attractions include a ballroom for 1600 people, a dozen or so luxury shops, and a number of restaurants where you can enjoy a drink or afternoon tea – the prices of all else are very steep – unless you don’t mind picking up a simple sandwich for $10.
One thing you won’t hear about on tours are reports of the hotel’s hauntings – the staff are sworn to secrecy. Most reports of ghostly sightings seem to lead back to two rumoured incidents: a bride’s gown catching fire, causing her to fall down the stairs and break her neck and the murder of a family in room 873. The rustle of the bride’s gown is allegedly still sometimes heard; while housekeeping was said to complain that children’s fingerprints kept reappearing on mirrors even when 873 was unoccupied.
Fictitious? Maybe, but the hotel has certainly since blocked the room off: there’s a faint outline of a door between rooms 872 and 874.
From the simplest guest room to the grandiose presidential, all rooms have a gracious period feel. Prices are generally pretty extravagant, though rates are halved in winter when bed and breakfast costs $359/double and ski packages start at $499/double and include the hotel’s ski shuttle and passes for Norquay, Sunshine and Louise.
The Banff Springs is famous for flamboyant service and high-quality amenities that include a five pin bowling centre ($6/game; $3.50 for shoe rental) and the splendid Willow Stream Spa with its outdoor saltwater hot tubs, steam rooms, lounges, fireplaces, and extensive array of therapeutic services. Rates for using the facility are steep at $69/day, but this fee is waived if you buy a treatment – say an hour’s massage for $180.
Some fifteen varied options are available; all are open to non-guests, among them:
Bow Valley Grill: The largest restaurant specialises in seafood and rotisserie-grilled meats. The Sunday brunch ($43) is legendary for its variety and value.
Banffshire Club: Top-flight gourmet luxury which calls for formal attire.
Castello Ristorante: Smart Italian.
Samurai: Smart-casual Japanese option with excellent sushi and shabu-shabu – beef, chicken or fish strips cooked in broth and served with a sauce selection.
Grapes Wine Bar: Old-fashioned lounge serving snacks including pâtés and cheese, salads and excellent fondue.
Waldhaus Pub: Quaint, neighbourhood-style pub.
Rundle Lounge: Lounge bar with valley superb views and its own pianist.