After a two-night stay in Banff I’d originally intended to make only the short forty-five minute drive to Lake Louise for a sightseeing detour however eventually opted to convert the visit into a one-night stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to try and cram in as much that this historic hotel and scenic destination have to offer as I could.
all photos by author
In the summer of 1882 renowned Rocky Mountain guide and outfitter Thomas Wilson was surveying in advance of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) being built through the mountains and was camped with a group of Stoney Nakoda near the current site of Lake Louise Village when he heard the rumble of avalanches. Wilson learned that the noise was coming from the snow capped mountains above Ho-run-num-nay, the “Lake of Little Fishes’’ and was guided to it on horseback becoming the first white man to see what he named Emerald Lake because of its “blue and green water.’’ The snowy mountain was named for Queen Victoria while the lake (and province) would be renamed in honour of her fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta who was married to the Marquess of Lorne, Canada’s fourth Governor General.
The original Chateau Lake Louise was a one-story log cabin built in 1890 and intended as “a hotel for outdoor adventurist and alpinist” in the words of CPR president William Cornelius Van Horne. A 1924 fire destroyed the Rattenbury Wing and was replaced a year later by the current Barrot Wing. The Painter Wing built in 1913 is the oldest surviving section of the current hotel while the Mount Temple Wing, opened in 2004, is the newest. The hotel was used only seasonally in the Summer until it was winterized in 1982.
Guests checking in to the hotel are given a resort map which shows the various resort wings but an online PDF version may be found here.
To limit the traffic to the Fairmont Chateeau Lake Louise are greeted at the gates on the driveway from the main road and their names checked against a master rooming list. Typical questions about whether virus exposure or a confirmed diagnosis are asked before directions to the self-park underground parkade are given. I was advised that since valet service was suspended I could park in any of the parking spots even the ones nearest the lobby marked “valet”.
As well guests are given a plastic bag with a welcome letter from the hotel along with a short questionnaire to be completed regarding recent travel, health status and any COVID exposure or positive tests. A wellness packet with disposable face masks, hand sanitizer, gloves and wet wipes is to be handed out although I didn’t receive one. Other virus precautions being taken include rooms are left empty for forty-eight hours after check out and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before the next guest arrives with even the TV remote wiped and sealed in a plastic bag. Housekeeping is limited to every third day and room service is left at the door to avoid contact.
Curiously in the welcome letter, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise only “strongly encourages” non-medical masks be worn by guests while indoors which contrasted to my stay the previous two nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs where staff were insistent guests don face masks and had a temperature check each time they entered the lobby. As a result of the more mask optional approach, the wearing of face masks in indoor public areas in Lake Louise was far lower with a third to half the guests going without. The routine screening mentioned in the Chateau Lake Louise welcome letter of all guests each time upon entering the hotel which may include temperature checks was not in evidence that I saw.
A short walk from the parkade your emerge into the main lobby which has a stately Victorian feel, less rough rock as at the Fairmont Banff Springs and more smooth surfaces with rich wood accents on the second floor railings and grand staircase banisters.
As I arrived in the morning my room wasn’t ready so I set off on the 2.4 KM round trip hike to the Fairview Lookout which has a gentle 165 meter elevation rise. The views of Lake Louise and the hotel from the lookout on a sunny Summer day are simply spectacular and deserved to be savoured. The colour of the lake at this elevation looks more uniformly green that the greenish-blue seen from ground level.
Upon my return to the front desk I found I’d been generously upgraded to Room 582, a Junior Suite with one king bed plus a twin sofabed in the living area but this room category is also configured with two queen beds plus the sofabed. At 420 square feet, the Junior Suite fits families and couples alike.
While devoid of air conditioning an efficient and quiet ceiling fan and windows that open to allow in fresh mountain air help keep the room cool in warm Summer months.
The bathroom has a slightly dated vanity but otherwise is an outstanding oasis with a deep soaking tub and separate shower.
A collection of mini-Le Labo Rose 31 shampoo, conditioner and body wash bottles are lined up along the shelf above the sink and while completely befitting a luxury hotel recently awarded fifth place in Travel + Leisure’s 2020 “Top 10 Resort Hotels in Canada” many upscale hotel chains in recent years have switched to wall-mounted, refillable dispensers instead of the tiny, non-recyclable bottles to reduce their plastic footprint as part of environmental initiatives.
The view from the room in the Glacier Wing is of the Mount Temple Wing and circular driveway in the foreground and mountains in the background. Lake view rooms command a noticeable price premium.
The front terraces with the magnificent view of Lake Louise are a guest-only zone as the signs remind the public walking along the paved lakefront walkway.
A number of big, comfy Muskoka chairs arranged around the outdoor terraces quickly became a favorite spot to soak in the natural beauty that’s all around on a sunny July afternoon.
After a day of hikes, I thought a dip in the pool before dinner would be refreshing so called to ask whether change rooms were open and was advised that they weren’t due to COVID protocols so guests are asked to change into their swimwear in their rooms and wear a robe and slippers to the pool level. There’s also a capacity control on the number of swimmers allowed in the poll at one time and so you have to reserve a specific time for a dip from time slots available.
The indoor pool itself is a let down as it’s small, shallow with the “Deep End” only 1.5 meters, with a decor seemingly stuck in the 1980’s. I can appreciate that few if any guests come to the Chateau Lake Louise for the pool however at luxury hotel prices the expectation of a better pool is not unreasonable so perhaps an upgrade is coming in the near future.
Note the hot tub and steam room remain closed due to provincial health regulations.
The Lakeview Lounge offers both indoor and outdoor patio dining with the signature view of Lake Louise. Lunch is served Noon – 5 PM and dinner from 5 – 9:30 PM.
I opted for a flatbread with chorizo sausage and blue cheese and a pint of local beer which were both of high quality and made for a fine light dinner.
Those hotel guests aged five and under eat free off the Children’s Menu.
Tables in the upscale lobby lounge have a QR code in the corner so patrons may access online menus however printed copies are also provided.
Dining on the patio is upon request as it’s a popular scenic venue on a warm sunny day. Reservations made be made in advance to guarantee availability but table location remains upon request.
The Fairview Bar & Restaurant has an Art Deco feel with an elegant bar with dark marble and soaring arched windows to view lake Louise and the venue’s namesake peak, Fairview Mountain, just across the lake, a portion of which I’d hiked earlier in the day.
Breakfast is served from 7 AM to 11 AM while lunch & dinner service runs Noon – 9 PM. Luxury hotel dining rates apply with breakfast running $21 – $25 and dinner entrees $38 – $51 plus starters, dessert and drinks.
The Chateau Deli offers a variety of hot meals, home-made soup, fresh salads, sandwiches, baked goods, pastries and desserts to sit and enjoy or take-out.
The jumbo croissants are almost a meal unto themselves but can be had as a cold ham & cheese sandwich packed for a mountain hike or day of sightseeing. The price of $13 for a cold sandwich is a high but there’s a lack of convenient off-site options and the portion size large so it made for a hearty bag lunch.
Espresso, cappuccino or specialty coffee are brewed at the Chateau Deli which is licensed so has a good selection of beer and wine also available daily from 7 AM to 9 PM.
The Poppy Brasserie and Alpine Social remain closed however while the signature Walliser Stube is open nightly for dinner 5:30 – 9 PM offering a large dose of traditional Swiss alpine chalet warmth even in Summer with big wooden beams and reportedly the best fondue outside of Switzerland. Wine lovers will marvel at the floor-to-ceiling 500 bottles wine “library”.
PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES
There is a mix of complimentary and paid programs at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise from the complimentary wellness yoga programs to the mountain adventure hikes and canoe rental from the much photographed boat dock available at a small cost.
A Summer 2020 destination guide PDF may be found here.
A complimentary shuttle bus to nearby Moraine Lake is operating however due to COVID social distancing capacity caps runs with about a dozen passengers instead of the normal load of double that number so advance reservations are required. I confirmed my 9 AM departure and 11:45 AM return through the Concierge desk which was perfect as I was checking out upon my return and driving for home.
The weather cooperated and the short morning visit to Moraine Lake produced picture postcard perfect views of this familiar mountain lake.
Beyond a somewhat inconsistent COVID protocol application, there’s little to find fault with at this iconic luxury-by-the-lake resort as the staff is very attentive both before and after my arrival, patiently answering my questions and delivering quality service while the upgraded accommodations are spacious and well appointed and the surrounding natural beauty simply stunning. Even if it was but for one night the thrill of staying in such a landmark hotel is one I’ll not soon forget, much as I’d like to for the rest of 2020.
- Front and center location on super scenic Lake Louise
- Variety of spacious rooms and suites; most with mountain views while lake views available at a price premium
- All restaurants have kids’ menus with tikes under 5 eating free
- Many outdoor year ’round activities for all ages
- Wellness center with spa
- Complimentary shuttle to nearby Moraine Lake
- Loads of conference and event space for weddings and corporate functions
- Most rooms in historic buildings lack air conditioning
- Resort dining can be pricey with few local off-site alternatives
- Small, dated indoor pool
- $15 per room per night resort fee