Banff Springs Hotel is renowned around the world as
"Canada's castle in the Rockies."
Solace Spa soothes and heartens the weary soul
By Toby Saltzman
The sky was moody over Alberta's Rocky Mountains when the early-bird
stretch'n'flex class swung into action. By the time we were limbered
up, fast-tracking up a forest trail, the sun was peeking through
the pines. We froze in step when a horned elk suddenly emerged,
followed by his fawn. If our hearts skipped beats, the elk were
oblivious: after all, the wildlife in Banff National Park is accustomed
to human intruders. Eyeing us casually, they crossed the trail,
meandered downhill, the fawn nibbling berries along the way, before
they splashed into the Bow River to feed.
gardens grace the Banff Springs Hotel all summer long.
Later, we soaked our weary bodies in the tingling mineral waters
at Solace, the rejuvenated spa at the Banff Springs Hotel. Outside,
snow-capped peaks glistening in sunshine one minute are hugged by
clouds, misted by rain or powdered by snow the next. Inside, conditions
evolve from the soothing to the sublime. If "spa" is the acronym
for the Latin "solus per aqua" - health by water - solace is the
perfect name for this bastion of heaven among the clouds.
Therapeutic waters spring naturally in the Rockies. When William
Cornelius Van Horne, builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, installed
the "finest bathing establishment on the continent" - with Turkish,
Russian and sulphur baths - at the first French chateau-style Banff
Springs Hotel in 1888, it became more than a whistle-stop along
the trans-continental route. By 1911, when the hotel proved too
small for its burgeoning clientele, it was replaced by a larger,
Scottish baronial-style edifice, which was again enlarged in the
1920's. When the seemingly self-indulgent allure of the baths evaporated
during the depression and they closed, visitors flocked to the natural,
albeit malodorous, hot springs at nearby Sulphur Mountain. Its steaming
Upper Hot Springs is popular to this day.
Spa, a mask shows the optimum points of acupressure
for a facial massage.
Without compromising integrity of architecture, design and service,
and without franchising service functions, Canadian Pacific Hotels
(now called Fairmont Hotels) lavished $12 million on the spa at
the Banff Springs Hotel (icing on the cake was another $80 million
on renovations and a conference center).
The spa's design pays homage to the landscape, the expansive windows
reverence to the view. Additions and reconstructions (including
new terraces and a multi-arched enclosure for the indoor swimming
pool) are built of grey stone cut from Rundle Mountain, the massive
behemoth of rock that rambles from its snub-nose face in the Bow
River Valley behind Banff Springs to tyrannosaurus-like peeks in
leads the morning stretch'n'flex class on a terrace overlooking
In the spa foyer and intimate fireplace lounges (separate lounges
for the sexes), oak details gleam amid hues of coniferous forests
and glacial lakes, with original art from the CP archives.
The piece de resistance - the Solace mineral pool - is a stunning
composition. Its main pool, formed like an undulating circle with
a floor of pale mosaics depicting a Scottish thistle, is distinguished
by eight rough-hewn Rundle stone columns and three whirlpools tucked
beneath waterfalls that cascade like silvery sheets of glass. It
is capped by a soaring, peaked skylight allowing views of the skies
and stars. Outdoors, a shell-shaped whirlpool pumps steamy mineral
waters in all seasons. Indoors, lap pool, inhalation pool and whirlpool
areas sparkle in pristine palettes.
Solace is premised on the finest European spas (first and foremost
pampering, therapeutic retreats) and enhanced by technicians, equipment
and activity programs the likes of the most popular North American
spas. The staff boasts impressive credits. One physical-programs
director has a degree in exercise physiology and is on Alberta's
Olympic Nordic ski team; another was a rehabilitation trainer at
Edmonton's Rick Hansen Center; the beauty salon manager was an instructor
for Redden; the nutritionist, a registered dietitian at the University
of Calgary Sport Medicine Centre and the National Sport Centre in
Calgary, was on the Canadian Olympic cycling team in 1982. Clients
seeking major lifestyle changes may be introduced to local medical
specialists in psychology, psychiatry, cosmetic surgery and sports
and terrace overlooks
the beautiful mountain scenery
At solace, sybaritic indulgence is plain and simple: just bring
your birthday suit; Solace supplies the slippers and robe. By the
time you let it all happen - the exercising, bathing, massages and
aesthetic treatments - your skin glows, your limbs feel energized,
your psyche approaches euphoria. Therapies range from firm, tension-sedating
shiatsu massages that delve into your strategic median acupressure
points, to luxurious, spirulina seaweed algae body wraps that commence
with a loofah body scrub and end with a sensual bath in bubbling
sea water. Facials for men and women, which include oriental acupressure
exercises on your face along with marvelous neck and shoulder massages,
are done with deep cleansing Italian fango mud and rejuvenating
cellular repair treatments.
Louise is a short drive from the Banff Springs Hotel
You feel so good, soigné even, it matters little that beauty is
only skin deep. So you barely suffer at the Solace Spa Café, which
is abundant with salads and delectable treats.
Though the spa ethic can be totally embracing, Banff National Park
is too gorgeous in any season to ignore. For golfers, the 27-hole
Banff Springs Golf Course, which ribbons between banks of evergreens
and along two rivers, is a challenging test of accuracy and stamina,
not to mention concentration. The optical illusions created by the
mountains, sunlight and shadows is deceptive, and then you must
contend with the majestic elk, who stroll on the fairways at will,
without blinking an eye at your errant shots. The summit of Sulphur
Mountain, easier to reach by gondola than on foot, where you're
likely to pass nimble mountain goats, gives a stunning panoramic
view. The scenery is awesome at glassy, blue Vermillion Lake, turquoise
Moraine Lake and more so at green Lake Louise, where, from spring
to fall, you can hike to a teahouse near the mountain peak or paddle
a canoe toward the glacier, and in winter, snowshoe across the lake
or schuss down nearby slopes.
Banff is about 1 ½ hour's drive from Calgary.
Banff Springs Hotel, P.O.Box 960, Banff Alberta, TOL OCO
Phone: 403-762-2211 / 1-800-441-1414