Canada & Alaska
Exploring Canada's vast and elemental wilderness is a lot more comfortable when you can rest your head each night under a Fairmont roof. Pamela Wade tried six of their distinctive luxury hotels.
THE FAIRMONT HOTEL VANCOUVER There are four Fairmonts in the city, including one at the airport, and each of them is quite different from the others: this is the grande dame.
Opened in 1939, the "castle in the city" is built in French chateau style complete with gargoyles, sculptures and green-copper turreted roof. Heritage-listed, inside it's grand and stately, with expanses of shiny marble, tall pillars and high-end shops.
A friendly welcome, though, from Labradors Beau and Mavis, the hotel's canine ambassadors, ensures no-one feels intimidated by the surroundings (doggie guests are welcome at all Fairmont hotels).
Griffins Restaurant is bright and comfortable and we're served an excellent dinner by Canada's friendliest waitress before heading upstairs, without sighting the resident ghost - a lady in red who apparently haunts one of the lift shafts - to sleep in a bed that feels like a cloud. www.fairmont.com/hotel-vancouver
THE FAIRMONT WATERFRONT HOTEL Conveniently located for cruise passengers, the Waterfront has sweeping views of the harbour, Stanley Park and the six-acre grassy roof of the Convention Centre opposite.
Our Gold Floor room has its own concierge, lounge with complimentary refreshments, and terrace with views over the rooftop pool below and its adjoining colourful bee garden.
Yes, this seriously green hotel has its own resident bee-keeper and its hives, populated by half a million New Zealand honey bees (chosen for their unaggressive nature) last summer produced over 300kg of honey.
It and the herbs and vegetables they pollinate in the garden are used in the restaurants, and we love our Afternoon 'Hive' Tea downstairs at Herons, especially the lemon cake lollipops - and cheese, with honey?
It's sensational! So, later in our room, is the view of sunset over the harbour, the hills beyond dark under a glowing saffron sky. www.fairmont.com/waterfront-vancouver
FAIRMONT PACIFIC RIM HOTEL "Can I show you how to work the room?" offers the bellhop, indicating the iPad on the desk. This hotel, sophisticated and contemporary and recently voted Canada's best, prides itself on being at the cutting edge of technology: the tablet is an in-room concierge, room service telephone and remote control all-in-one.
Even the lights and curtains can be operated with a tap. And speaking of taps, the bathroom is mind-blowing. On the corner of the building with two walls of glass, the view from the deep spa tub is straight out over the Convention Centre to the harbour where, my chin nestled into a thick blanket of scented foam, I watch cruise ships glide out towards the Lion's Gate Bridge and sea-planes skim along the water.
The glass is regular two-way but, 12 storeys up, I'm not worried about shocking the waterfront pedestrians when I climb out, thoroughly relaxed. Downstairs we dine at Oru, exploring the chef's menu of six beautifully-presented dishes of Pacific Northwest produce, each accompanied by local wines, even Granville Island sake with the sushi platter.
It all adds up to a glorious feast, so we're grateful that when we waddle back to our room, all the bedtime chores can be done with just a swipe on the iPad. www.fairmont.com/pacific-rim-vancouver
FAIRMONT CHATEAU WHISTLER A day begun with Dungeness crabcakes, poached eggs and grilled asparagus is always going to be a good one, so three cheers for Wildflower, one of Chateau Whistler's restaurants.
Another of Fairmont's grand, turreted establishments, it's tucked under the base of Blackcomb mountain, just a short stroll from the chairlift to the top for skiing, mountain biking or hiking, or down to Whistler village for more of the same, plus shopping.
A resort hotel, it has its own golf course (with a regular bear patrol) and an indoor-outdoor swimming pool with not only underwater music, but the added luxury of a heated surround - more of a necessity, I'm guessing, when the snow is thick on the ground.
Whistler is all about outdoor adventures; but when you're over that, there are big armchairs near the log fire in the lobby, and bubbling hot water and eucalyptus-scented steam rooms in the spa. www.fairmont.com/whistler
FAIRMONT JASPER PARK LODGE Quite different from the other hotels, Jasper Park was established almost 100 years ago as a tent city serving the railway, and that's how we arrive too.
Now, the tents have been replaced by pretty log cabins dotted around the extensive grounds edged by two lakes. Lac Beauvert, out in front of the main lodge, has the stunning turquoise colour of a glacier-fed lake, the crystal-clear water busy with fish.
It's a fabulous foreground for the surrounding mountains and forest, and a gift for canoeing - or for just admiring from a Cape Cod chair on one of the little jetties around its edge.
Chipmunks run along the terrace as we drink a honey beer made with the help of the lodge's own bees, wildfowl are nesting along the edges of the lake, a woodpecker taps on a tree, and when I'm woken early in the morning by an odd sound, I peep through the curtains to see an elk right outside, breakfasting on the hedge beneath the window of our cosy cabin.
We see more elk on a leisurely bike ride round the lake and past the golf course, and I wish I had the time to go trail-riding from the stables. I also wish I could be here at Christmas: it's the most perfect setting. With added sleigh rides! www.fairmont.com/jasper
FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE This has to have the most spectacular setting of any hotel, anywhere. Facing out over the sparkling summer turquoise (or dazzling winter white) of Lake Louise, the view from the soaring arched window of the lounge is framed by forested mountains either side and the backdrop is the glistening river of ice that is the Victoria Glacier.
Everyone who's anyone has come here to look at that view - royalty, movie stars, world leaders - though there's nobody famous coming down the grand staircase when I go inside for a look.
But there's a harpist tinkling away beside a huge arrangement of tulips, and ranks of mounted moose and elk heads line the walls.
Another of the Canadian Pacific Railway hotels, this impressive building was intended to be as much an attraction for tourists as somewhere for them to stay; it's certainly an unmissable stop on the Icefields Parkway drive. www.fairmont.com/lake-louise
FACTS The Fairmont hotels are all different, often in heritage buildings, and all 5-star experiences, whether in summer or winter (and especially at Christmas).
Green credentials are important and taken seriously. Join the free President's Club for complimentary wifi and internet, newspapers and priority check-in. Bring your dog!