The Fairmont Banff Springs has been serving guests and ghosts since 1888. (Courtesy: Fairmont Banff Springs)
Some hotels make you want to extend your stay – some, like the Fairmont Banff Springs, take that a step further into the afterlife.
The 764-room luxury hotel – a lovely piece of Scottish Baronial architecture set in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Banff, Alberta – has been around since 1888, and it isn’t shy about celebrating its famous ghost residents: “A lot of people have died here,” I was told on my tour through the property. There’s the ghost bride who legend says died a fiery death on a stairway (more on that later), a ghost bellman named Sam known to deliver pillows to guests, and as one of my travel companions learned in hair-raising fashion, there’s also a ghost baby.
While I felt some heeby-jeebies walking through the hotel, with its Shining-esque carpet and a hallway with coffin-shaped guest doors, I slept without incident. Which is more than I can say for my colleague, a totally level-headed professional who travels all the time. She stayed alone in a separate room and felt strange vibes the entire night. Then, at 4 a.m., she was awakened by the sound of a crying baby in the hallway. When she put a pillow over her head, the sound immediately went away.
The ghost bride perished down these stairs … we suggest holding the hand rail and not letting your clothes catch on fire. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
It wasn’t until later, when I told her the Fairmont is known to have an actual crying ghost baby who was murdered along with her mother many years ago in the now-sealed Room 873, that she realized what she heard: “This is SO creepy. After reflecting on this more, I am now 100 percent convinced it was a ghost baby.”
Hauntings aside, this is a worthwhile place to stay in one of the world’s most beautiful settings, Banff National Park. Here’s a deeper look:
The vibe: More European castle than Canadian hotel. The walls are made of grey stone, with decorative turrets and pointed roofs. There’s a large patio in the back with views of the surrounding mountains, Bow River, and the hotel’s golf course.
Outside the hotel’s front. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
The retro theme abounds inside as well, from the stone-walled grand lobby to the swords hanging on the walls to the elevators, which still have analog displays.
Don’t miss this: You mean other than Sam Macaulay, the friendly ghost bellman who vowed he would return to haunt the hotel before his death in 1975, and has been a common sight on the ninth floor? There’s also a historical room with outstanding high-society photos from the 1920s through the 50s, including a photo of Marilyn Monroe golfing. You’ll also want to poke your head into the ornate Cascade Ballroom and its gold-accented turquoise ceilings – there are several reports of the Ghost Bride dancing there in her gown.
The ghost bride is known to dance here in the Cascade Ballroom. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Creepy stories to find here: The Ghost Bride (her name isn’t known) is such a big deal here, she has a plaque marking the spiral staircase where she died on her wedding day sometime in the late 1920s. There were candles lining the stairway, and when one of them lit her dress afire, she tumbled in panic and died of a broken neck. I’m a bit incredulous considering how short the staircase is, but maybe she was that clumsy.
There are more stories: employees have felt sudden bursts of cold wind in the office even with the windows shut, and the smell of flowers even in the dead of winter. Also, a ghost girl is said to haunt one of the ladies’ restrooms.
Creepy design detail: We couldn’t get confirmation that Vincent Price designed one corner of the hotel with coffin-shaped guestroom doors. But it’s the only logical explanation. And yes, I’d stay in one of those rooms.
Rest in peace behind these coffin-shaped doors. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
How to party with the ghosts: Stay here on Halloween, when the Fairmont throws a Haunted Halloween Gala, complete with a live séance and a ghost tour.
The rooms: Unlike much of the hotel, they’re quite modern and could look like any other Fairmont. I’m always pleased to see Le Labo toiletries, as I found here. I stayed in a Mountain View Room, which is a step up from the standard room and included an expansive view that included the Bow River. It ranges from $400 to $600 per night, depending on season.
The view from my Mountain View Room. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Room for improvement: On more than one occasion, the hotel’s elderly elevators struggled to open – one of us had to squeeze her way out of it. Or could that be the ghosts at work?
What to eat: There are 13 dining options at the Fairmont, and I tried two of them: the Bavarian-themed Waldhaus Restaurant was decent, with a beef carpaccio you heat yourself in a broth. But I was surprisingly impressed by the cheese-and-charcuterie dinner I had at Grapes Wine Bar. The Chef’s Choice boards here, assembled by 25-year-old Tyler Thompson, are the way to go, and my favorite bites included elk salami, duck-and-chicken pate, and pretty much every cheese I tried.
The charcuterie and cheese at Grapes Wine Bar won’t disappoint. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Day trips worth taking: No stay in Banff is complete without a visit to Lake Louise, about a 30-minute drive from the hotel – it’s a natural marvel with turquoise waters that are fed by rock flour, and it’s overlooked by another Fairmont hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise. Should you visit during the five months when the lake isn’t frozen, you can explore it on a canoe or admire it from above with a hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
A getaway to Lake Louise is required when visiting Banff. (Photo: Greg Keraghosian)
Where to recharge: Put on your robe and head down to the hotel’s spa, which includes waterfall-treatment whirlpools, an indoor mineral pool, massages, facials, and more.
The hotel’s mineral pool. (Courtesy: Fairmont Banff Springs)
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