As the numerous languages and accents overheard on a recent visit testify, people from around the world flock to Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains to experience the grandeur of some of Canada’s most spectacular scenery. And the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, perched on the shore opposite the Mount Victoria Glacier, gives visitors a front-row seat to wilderness wonders.
The palatial hotel is built of ivory-hued stone in the style of a grand French château. Alpine- costumed bell captains welcome guests in a number of languages, directing them to the lobby, shops, spa, activity center or one of the many restaurants on the property.
Spectacular scenery beckons
Our lavishly appointed lake-view room on the Gold Floor was perfect to ogle the scenery and watch the effects of the capricious high-mountain weather on the lake, originally named Emerald Lake. Striking turquoise ripples on a fine day can change in minutes to a roiling mass of foamy gray, warning of an impending storm. At other times, the lake’s calm surface mirrors the clear blue stillness of the early-morning peaks and sky or, turned glossy black, reflects the milky sliver of a midnight moon hanging over the valley.
Canoes dot the surface of the lake all day long, while other visitors stroll along the shoreline paths, cameras clicking madly. Mountain Heritage Guides conduct longer, more strenuous hikes and climbing excursions that usually include wildlife sightings.
Wildlife sightings surprise and delight
Out for a morning walk around the lake, we were initially startled then intrigued by the sharp cracking sounds that echoed across the lake. As we watched in awe, a portion of the lower face of the glacier broke away, careening down the slope. The avalanche continued for a few minutes, gradually narrowing then ending in a trickle, to the applause of hundreds of spectators.
The 2½-mile (4 km) uphill trek back to the hotel, plus my healthy respect for in-season mama bears with cubs, precluded any walking to the nearby Village of Lake Louise. Grizzlies had been spotted just off the highway and along the road leading from town to the lake, with the most excited buzz coming from a family who looked down from their stopped gondola car to see four bears’ faces upturned, returning their intent gazes. Piñata, anyone?
A soothing facial to counteract dry mountain air
Moving to indoor pursuits, the recently re-branded Fairmont Spa at the Chateau Lake Louise is a cozy, intimate refuge on the lower level of the hotel. Soft music, muted lighting, curved surfaces, natural earth tones and materials: all combine to create a soothing ambience. Typical of Fairmont spas, staff members are consummate professionals, attentive, expert and nurturing.
My deep-cleansing facial at the gentle yet effective hands of Sabrina was exactly what my skin craved after experiencing the very dry high-altitude air for several days. Her soothing touch and personalized selection of products for my skin produced a firm and glowing complexion, generating spontaneous compliments from my husband. The shoulder and scalp massage was both relaxing and invigorating—the perfect finale.
While I was enjoying a signature Fairmont Tea and cookie in the lounge, spa guests from Texas were enthusiastically praising their recent massages as far superior to previous experiences. Made aware of my massage booking for the following day, one woman exclaimed, “Y’all are in for a big treat!” How right she turned out to be.
Relaxation massage from an expert
Following a herbal-infused steam, I had a marvelous relaxation massage performed by Debra, whose expertise stems in part from world travels. Her enjoyment of her job and love of people were evident in the treatment she delivered with a deft, intuitive touch.
Seemingly effortless, pressure-perfect strokes and swirls melted my muscles, relieving tight spots I didn’t even know I had. When encouraged, her soothing voice, describing her experiences in the mountains, painted pictures that allowed me to drift away in blissful imaginings.
Back on earth again, after tea and a house-made muffin, I reluctantly made my way out of the spa. The services I received and my conversation with the spa’s new director, Graeme Harper, leave no doubt in my mind as to the future of this spa, already a delightful little haven. The proud standards he maintains and the planned improvements will propel the sustained growth and success of this spa.
~ Dagmar White, Healthy Living + Travel