We arrived early evening on the Rocky Mountaineer into Banff Railway station. After negotiating the crowd we picked up a hire car – a somewhat noisy, pushy and fraught process, but we made it in the end. Time to brave driving on the other side of the road (Australians drive on the left hand side) and drive to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. With the package from Rocky Mountaineer came a Gypsy Guide – a system that tells you where you are and provides commentary on what you are seeing. All very where but the drawback is – it does not tell you how to get somewhere! So not only am I driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time in my life, we are zen navigating to the hotel! After some wrong turns we find the hotel and its a Castle!
Banff springs hotel was the brainchild of William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway, who maintained tourism was an intricate ingredient in getting people to ride railway ‘Since we can’t export the scenery,’ he said, ‘ we’ll have to import the tourists.’ To enhance traffic on the railway, Van Horne envisioned a succession of lavish resort hotels along the railway line through the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains. One of those was Banff, although the bones of the current building are the result of rebuilding after a fire in 1926 and a series of renovations and add ons. The building was styled on a Scottish castle. Check-in was easy, we seemed to be between rushes and the staff were really helpful. We chose to valet our car (paying the extra was just so much less stressful, really worth it). Our room was nice, not big, but comfortable with a good view.
Once we deposited the gear and inspected our room we headed out for food. Rundle Lounge is open late, the price of the food is ok for a Fairmont and on the first night the food and service was great (not so good the second night when they were busy and our section waiter not so attentive). Beer was pretty good as well
The Rundle Lounge offers an all day dining menu and is open daily from 11:00am to 1:00 am (subject to change). The food was good and the menu interesting (much better than its equivalent at the Lake Louise Fairmont).
In front of Rundle Lounge is a balcony area that overlooks the river and mountains – an amazing vista!
Canada is wonderful about its attitude to dogs – here we are in the poshest hotel around and dogs are welcome! On our way back to our room there is a bowl and dog bed waiting outside one of the rooms.
The decor in the hall ways is dark and a little reminiscent of the hotel in Dr Who with the minator.
Our room is much nicer than the halls would lead you to think.
After a good night sleep and breakfast (expensive, but the coffee was great because of the waiter), we headed out for a walk and to photograph the local Bow Falls (well, more like rapids, but scenic nevertheless).
The walk from the basin area near the rapids is very steep, but smooths out after a while. We spot a squirrel while we walk – while I’m sure this is passé to the locals, squirrels are as exciting to us as someone meeting their first Kangaroo (I drive to work each day past paddocks with horses, sheep and kangaroos). We manage to find our way back to the hotel and in the afternoon decide to walk into town and see what Banff has to offer. The scary thing about Banff in summer is that there are more people per metre than in Vancouver, and this is in stark context to the incredible mountain scenery. The shops were fun, and we picked up some maps at tourist information (given the Gypsy guide doesn’t tell you how to get anywhere – Charlie ultimately bought a GPS app for his iPad) but once the tourist numbers build up its time to hide and have a late lunch.
Its time to pack up and move on to Lake Louise. Banff is a lovely place, and I would visit again (when there is snow and maybe not in high season), but the large number of visitors can detract from the experience. I’ve travelled extensively for work, and stayed in hundreds of hotels – the only time at a hotel I have every been told I had to wait 30 minutes for breakfast is in the Banff Springs Hotel. In addition, you can’t book for breakfast! As we wanted to be out and about sooner rather than later we went back upstairs and packed, while I pleaded with Guest services for someone to reserve us a table – which they did in the end, which was great.
The next lesson of the day was – get to the Banff Gondala before the tourist buses – a 30 minute wait to be allowed to join the line, and then a 25 minute wait to get on the Gondala was not our idea of good use of time. We wandered around the carpark area and up to the Banff Springs for a look, then hit the road.
So we say goodbye to spectacular Banff and head for Lake Louise.