s an avid hiker, I was excited by the
prospect of visiting the Canadian Rockies, where Banff, Lake Louise
and Jasper, Alberta, are said to contain some of the most scenic
hiking trails in North America.
I also didn't balk at the chance to explore the luxurious
Fairmont properties in each destination while I was there.
Lake Louise was my first stop. It was May, the shoulder season,
and the lake still was frozen. A heavy snowstorm had buried the
region the week before, and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise at the
foot of the frosty lake was the only hotel in sight.
The Chateau offers a variety of activities for the adventurous.
I opted for a guided heritage hike, which can be booked through the
concierge. Mountaineering programs also are available, as are
The trek to the top of the trail, where we were treated to views
of miles of alpine forest and snow-capped peaks, took three
We returned in time for late afternoon tea in the lobby bar,
which, with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake, was
my favorite room at the property.
Lest the idea of tea time causes you to conjure up a guest list
of stuffed shirts, let it be known that dress was casual,
surprisingly so in light of the luxurious surroundings and the
price tag for rooms.
The hotel offers an array of restaurants, ranging from the
high-end Walliser Stube, featuring Swiss dishes and fondue, to the
casual Poppy Brassiere. There also is a heated indoor swimming pool
and a Jacuzzi.
The next day, I moved on to Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs
Hotel, which was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888 to
bring tourism to the area.
The hotel is dubbed the "Castle in the Rockies," and it
resembles just that. While the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has
one-of-a-kind views, Banff Springs has it beat in terms of
In the last 10 years, $175 million has been spent in renovations
and restorations, especially to the spa. I discovered the spa after
a day of hiking, but more on that later.
Once again, I booked a heritage hike through the concierge desk.
Fortified by the promise of gourmet box lunches prepared for us by
the Pantry, the hotel's 24-hour dining venue, we set off through
the snow to a point above the tree line.
There we were treated to expansive views of the Canadian
Rockies, and I had to keep reminding myself it was almost June. We
ate our lunches at the base of a mountain popular with rock
Returning to Banff Springs, I headed straight to the Willow
Spring Spa, a signature Fairmont addition built in 1995.
Everyone has his or her idea of a slice of heaven. Spending the
day hiking and the evening in the world-class spa might very well
I signed up for a sports massage and a deep-tissue, full-body
treatment that eased the muscle tension in my back.
Then it was time to try out the facilities. In the locker room
alone there is a steam room, a sauna, a Jacuzzi and a relaxation
room where guests are treated to hot tea with cookies and a
terrific view of the outdoors.
The common area (for men and women) boasts a trio of saunas
complete with waterfalls -- one hot, one warm, one cold.
There's also an indoor pool and, my favorite, a heated outdoor
pool on a balcony that showcases the mountains. Steam rising from
the pool attracts deer, and a few kept me company at pool's
Another top amenity for the hotel is its golf course. Playing at
the foot of the Rockies is hard to beat -- where else in the world
are there elk on the greens?
Banff Springs offers a range of restaurants, with the Banffshire
Club being the most exclusive. The prix fixe, four- and five-course
menu will set you back a bit, but the food and the service are
worth the cost.
Although Banff Springs and the Chateaux Lake Louise are not new
names for most travel agents, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, three
hours north of Banff, might be.
To get there, I drove on the Icefields Parkway, arguably one of
the most scenic highways in the Americas. Along the way, I spotted
deer, elk, moose and a black bear.
Although it is technically a three-hour drive, I took closer to
five, after stopping to take photos and side jaunts that led to
waterfalls and glaciers.
Jasper Park Lodge, often in the shadow of its world-famous
sisters, is just as worthy of the Fairmont moniker.
To me, it was a first-class, luxury camp for adults. The cabins
are not cheap, and it's easy to see why after stepping inside.
Rooms are spacious, with fireplaces, large beds, great views and a
Jasper, also on the banks of the lake, sits at a lower elevation
than Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise, so the lake was not
I took full advantage and went canoeing and kayaking. At water's
edge, I spotted an elk with her newborn calf. It was calving
season, and during my stay I saw dozens of the animals with their
The Fairmont Jasper Park does not have the formal feel of its
larger sisters, which is part of its attraction, but the service
was just as good.
Canadian Rockies Experience vacation packages are available
through mid-April. Prices average about $644 per room, per night,
double, and vary depending on resort and activities.
Prices include accommodations, three meals daily, equipment
rentals, parking, gratuities and a menu of outdoor activities.
Fairmont pays 10% commission. For more information, contact
(800) 441-1414 or visit www.fairmont.com.