The majestic Banff Springs Hotel is renowned around the world as
"Canada's castle in the Rockies."

Banff Springs Hotel
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.

Flowering 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.

At Solace 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 the distance.

An instructor leads the morning stretch'n'flex class on a terrace overlooking the mountains.

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 medicine.

The pool 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.

Chateau Lake 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
Website: and



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