Sometimes enlightened self-interest really does result in something special. The wild and unspoiled Canadian wilderness is a gem worth seeing, but the journey, even today, is long, from just about anywhere. Back in 1886, it was even longer, despite the brand-new Canadian Pacific Railway wending through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Hoping to boost ridership on his rail line, Cornelius Van Horne, the CPR's general manager, hit upon the idea of luring tourists to view the magnificent scenery found along the route.
Banff Springs Hotel
The result was a rather incredible bit of whimsy. Standing beside a river winding through soaring, rugged cliffs, stands a castle. At least, that's what it looks like. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel was built to look like a Scottish castle, impressive, imposing, striking awe and admiration into the hearts of the Victorian jet set it was meant to attract. "The Castle in the Rockies," today a Canadian national historic site, simply stuns with its location and its magnificent indifference to what "mountain lodges" and "wilderness hotels" are supposed to look like. All red stone and imposing magnificence, the hotel and its 770 rooms defy the logic that says you have to rough it when you want to get back to nature.

Whether you come to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, you cannot fail to appreciate the vastness of the wilderness as Van Horne intended. The first time he laid eyes on where the hotel now stands, he called it "the million dollar view," and he was right. Out every window there is a view of the surrounding mountains and the green forest of firs stretching away seemingly to infinity. The mountains dwarf even the baronial grandeur of the hotel itself, giving proper perspective to the cheekiness of putting such an edifice so far off the beaten track.

Built originally of wood in 1887-88, the hotel not only burned down and had to be rebuilt in its current configuration in the 1920s, it has had extensive renovation over the years. Aside from the addition of such luxuries as a world-class spa and golf course, only one significant difference marks the original hotel from the current rendition—the architect would be happy now with its orientation. "You built my hotel backwards!" he declared when the builders sited the entrance facing the river, which has now been corrected. There's just no pleasing some people

Located within walking distance of the small town of Banff, Alberta (named for Banffshire in Scotland), the Fairmont Banff Springs lies at the gateway to Banff National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site. The views are spectacular, the area all but untouched by mining, logging, or other unsightly activities, and visitors will quickly come to understand what Cornelius Van Horne realized over a hundred years ago—that you can have the best of both worlds, with planning, foresight, and a little bit of imagination.