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The conventional guidebook description of scenic only begins to capture the beauty of Banff, the national park in the guts of the Canadian Rockies. A theme of vastness echoes through the place, flanked as it is by vertiginous glaciers and peaks, set under a panoramic canopy of sky. The landscape is all towering conifers and thick rivers and imposing waterfalls. Cars are dwarfed when they drive by moose and elk and, yes, even the odd grizzly bear.
The Fairmont Banff Springs is the ideal place to stay, a majestic resort where everyone from Marilyn Monroe to the Dalai Lama has lodged. As its nickname, the Castle in the Rockies, suggests, the hotel is grand in every sense, flush with a variety of restaurants, an on-site bowling alley and an adjoining, magnificent 27-hole golf course.
Funny, that with all this ambient bigness, Banff is doggedly determined to control growth. There are no condo developments in town, no bulging buildings, no clogged streets, no sprawl. One of the world's great tourist attractions, Banff doesn't feel touristy in the least. Wake up at the Fairmont, eat a breakfast of bison sausage, head outside, and within five minutes you're rafting on the Bow River, hiking in the mountains, on your way to Lake Louise or, better still, the lesser-known Moraine Lake, a glacially fed pool tinted a shade of milky blue you'll see nowhere else in the world. It was there that we were kayaking when we spotted subtle movements near shore. We paddled closer and found a family of beavers frolicking in the water, enjoying the day and the scenery like the rest of us. One of the countless small pleasures in the Land of Big.
THE FAIRMOUNT BANFF SPRINGS
Phone: (403) 762-2211
Prices: from $299 to $659