It's a glorious pile, built to host guests visiting the mountain town for its thermal waters. More than a century later, Canada's Fairmont Banff Springs is just as splendid. But today's tourists come for the snow

It's impossible to miss the vast baronial splendour of the Fairmont Banff Springs when you arrive in the small mountain town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. Rising like a giant Scottish castle from the rugged Rocky Mountains, it makes a magnificent, if surprising, impression. It's rare that a mountain town is defined by such grand and imposing architecture. But when the hotel opened in 1888, it was a symbol of the Canadian Pacific Railway's march west and the beginnings of tourism in the area. It lies near the hot springs which first brought visitors to this part of Canada, though skiing has long since taken over as the main attraction. At the time, the general manager of the railway, William Van Horne, was quoted as saying: "If we can't export the scenery, we will import the tourists."

The location

In the middle of Banff National Park, so development has been limited and the scenery is stunning. The town centre is only a brisk walk or short bus ride away. People come to Banff all year round for the activities and the wildlife. In winter skiing is, of course, the main draw; in summer the big attractions are hiking, golf and fishing. But if you have ever fancied playing lord of the manor - strolling through vast wood-panelled rooms with roaring fires and gazing out into the wintry wilderness - then this is the place to stay.

The comfort factor

With a whopping 770 rooms and suites available, you should find something that balances your baronial inclinations with your budget. Interiors are traditional, with deep-pile carpet, heavy curtains, agreeably over-stuffed armchairs and big beds. Choose from basic rooms in cosy corners, "junior suites" with mountain views or the "presidential suite", with grand piano, library, split-level living room and private lift.

The bathrooms

All rooms have spacious ensuite bathrooms with bath and shower, big mirrors, toiletries and robes. Decor is kept neutral. At the top end expect a marble finish and whirlpool bath.

The food and drink

Standards are high. There are numerous options for eating without leaving the hotel, such as the Bow Valley Bar and Grill which does impressive breakfast and lunch buffets, and hearty à la carte dinners of Alberta steaks and Rocky Mountain rainbow trout. You can opt for Italian food at the Castello Ristorante or drink scotch in the Ramsay Lounge.

The people

While it is mainly skiers who come in winter, the Willow Stream spa, which was given an extensive makeover in 2003, draws in non-skiing partners too. It is one of the best spas in Canada - try the Ultimate Ascent, with dry brush exfoliation and massage.

The area

You are only a short bus ride away from the slopes. Choose from Banff's Mount Norquay ski area (20 minutes), Sunshine Village (25 minutes) and Lake Louise (45 minutes). With 30 feet of snow, these resorts have the longest ski season in Canada - November to May. Or you can go cross-country or heli-skiing.

The access

The hotel has 10 wheelchair- accessible rooms. You can bring your pet, but it will cost you extra and you are limited to two. Babysitting is available for up to two children.

The damage

Double rooms start at C$319 (£150) per night b&b.

The address

The Fairmont Banff Springs, 405 Spray Avenue, Banff, Alberta, Canada (001 403 762 2211;


* Set in a forest just outside St Moritz, The Suvretta House is one of this Swiss ski resort's landmark places to stay (00 41 81 836 3636;

* Originally opened in 1903, the Hameau Albert 1er in the French resort of Chamonix has spectacular views of Mont Blanc (00 33 4 50 53 05 09;

PEAK OF PERFECTION: the Fairmont Banff Springs, a grand hotel