Monday, 29 June 2015

Favourite hotels: lost in paradise at the Banff Springs

Number 10 in an occasional series on special hotels

A striking image, taken by a photographer at the Banff Springs Hotel, shows the Hollywood star Ginger Rogers, perched on a rock, sketching a native American of the Stony tribe – in his full feathered headdress. It sums up at a glance the extraordinary history of this Scottish baronial-style pile in the Canadian Rockies, which has played host to a list of celebrities from entertainers to Kings and Queens. They have included bandleader Benny Goodman, Mickey Rooney, Marilyn Monroe, the Queen and her father, King George VI.

 I doubt they would have reacted as my wife and I did on one visit. The Banff Springs is possibly the only hotel in the world where you can have a marital just trying to find your room. It is a hugely confusing warren of corridors, sweeping stairways and little alcoves. We’d arrived late from London, where it was already about 3am. It was never going to take much to spark the flames. We had been given directions at the front desk but she couldn’t remember and I hadn’t paid attention. But we got there in the end and any residual irritation was quickly soothed by the gracious understanding of the staff when we retraced out steps to start all over again – and the comfort of the accommodation. Even if we had woken grumpy next morning we would have been cheered by what must be the finest buffet breakfast I have encountered in a lifetime of travelling - from cereals and fresh fruit to pancakes with maple syrup and crispy Canadian bacon, it groaned with just about anything that took your fancy. The Banff Springs is in Alberta, in the Banff National Park. It was conceived originally as a way to attract passengers to the Canadian Pacific railroad. It's so huge that it has no fewer than 12 place to eat – or 13 if you count the ice cream counter. They include the Waldhaus, which serves Bavarian style food, the 1888 Chop House (that being the year the original hotel opened), a sushi bar and an Italian Restaurant. And there’s the spa. I’m not a great spa fan. Usually I have to be dragged to them by my wife – but I must concede that I wouldn’t need to be coerced into spending more time in this one. Besides the usual opportunities to breathe cleansing air, lose gallons of sweat and be massaged, there are all manner of pools and waterfalls of different temperatures. For some years the hotel has been part of the Fairmont luxury stable. Its has its own golf course. You need never leave it in the evenings. You’re unlikely to feel you’re missing out on the action – and given its extraordinary pedigree, it is remarkably unstuffy. Though it has 770 rooms it seems to swallow them easily. It's A good place, after all, in which to get comfortably lost.

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