A May 2006 trip
to Banff by jenandfrank
Quote: Words can not describe the natural beauty that awaits you in the Canadian Rockies.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 2, 2006
Maple Leaf Grill
137 Banff ave
Banff, Alberta T1L
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on July 2, 2006
221 Bear St
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - 405 Spray Avenue, Banff. Alberta, Canada (403) 762-2211Wow! Driving up to this historical landmark is nothing short of amazing. The Fairmont is located in Banff National Park, about an hour and a half (80 miles) from Calgary airport. This hotel has a Scottish-castle appearance and is certainly an incredible sight. I am not sure what kind of building constitutes a castle but the Fairmont Banff Springs sure looks like one. Every guide book refers to it as a "Castle-like" structure; as far as I’m concerned - it’s a castle! Built in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the hotel’s construction basically marked the beginning of "tourism" in Banff. Now add to this the backdrop of snow capped mountains and a river running through a beautiful valley and you truly have a spectacular setting.Consistent with all the Fairmonts I have stayed at, the service here is first rate. I mean really good. Every employee we spoke to was more than courteous and greeted us with a smile and a "hello Mr./Mrs..." No question was deemed silly and everything we needed was dealt with immediately. Valet parking was 29 CAD/per day or 22 CAD/self – no gratuities accepted. The valet staff had to be at least a staff of 5 at any given time and they always knew us by name. The lobby is set up like a long foyer within the castle. The front desk and guest services can be found here – although not the concierge.
The Concierge desk, located on Mezzanine 1 was staffed with 2 people and they were very helpful. They booked reservations for us in advance, had excellent dining recommendations and always remembered us by name. No request was treated as a hassle, which we have encountered with other concierge staff at hotels in the past. The hotel's ceilings were cathedral height with many extravagant chandeliers, paintings and tapestries around. The main elevators were around the corner and down the hall from the front lobby. The hallways were done in new and very pretty beige wallpaper. There were paisley carpets, dark wood accents and paintings throughout. Basically, the Fairmont was built over 100 years ago but looks brand new. Our room was 603, which was at the end of a long hallway, facing Bow Valley. We were told in advanced that the valley was the "preferred" side to stay on and therefore more expensive. The valley side has a view of the mountains and the Bow River. Absolutely beautiful. We were surprised that the rooms and bathroom (especially) were on the small side. I wondered if it was just our room, but as we walked around during the next few days and peaked past a few housekeeping carts we saw that our room size was pretty standard. The rooms, 770 in all, have the trademark Fairmont "green" carpeting and the walls had the same paper/design as the hallways. Overall the room was understated (borderline bare-bones), tiny TV, no mini bar, free coffee, iron, safe, 2 nightstands and a small 3 drawer armoire. Not what we expected from a Fairmont, especially after coming from a beautiful Fairmont on the Big Island in Hawaii.
The bathroom was so small you could be on the toilet, wash your hands in the sink and turn the water on in the shower – all at the same time. Needless to say this was a one person bathroom. This was a major disappointment. The bathroom had a floral shower curtain that matched the bed spread, and minimal toiletries; shampoo, conditioner, bash wash and lotion only - Miller Harris from London. Robes and a furry bath mat were given to president's club members only. Although this hotel exudes old world charm, there are shortcomings; walls are thin, rooms are small and the doors are so heavy they slam. It was impossible to nap midday and we were often woken early in the morning by neighbors leaving their rooms. I have read that rooms here are in need of refurbishment. I disagree. Our room was in very good shape, just a tad bit small and of course - the noise.The Fairmont Banff Springs is a huge convention hotel and large groups of people congregate everywhere. Although we were not exposed too much of this, it might annoy some people. On the far side of the property there is the convention center, a small super market (Keller's) and liquor store. There is also a wine shop near the spa with a decent selection. (However, totally overpriced.) The Spa is award winning and the prices reflect that distinction. Make reservations far in advance or you will be shut out. We were disappointed when we were unable to book much of anything. Yet another downfall to a convention hotel. Rates for a Swedish massage were 119 CAD for 50 min and 149 CAD for a 60 minute stone massage. Of course many other options such as facials, manicures and wraps were available as well as an indoor pool. The outdoor, heated pool was located past the spa on Mezzanine Level 1. This pool afforded views of the valley and was popular in the evening. Dining options are too many to list but include; many restaurants, lounges, wine bars, a deli, a grill, and a pub. The Pub deserves special mention. The Waldhaus Pub, located underneath the restaurant of the same name, in a Swiss chalet-type building, was a great place to grab a drink. Here you will find ½ dozen televisions, a few dart boards, a pool table and tons of people enjoying themselves. Great fun! The restaurants offer everything from; Sunday brunch to afternoon tea, wine tasting to fresh sushi. Wine tasting can be arranged through the concierge and are held at the wine shop on-site.There are many easy hikes that can be taken from the back of the hotel (Bow Valley). The Concierge desk had maps with color coded trails which were simple to follow. Also, at sundown a walk through the golf course practically guarantees a glimpse of some wild life. (Those elk are B-I-G!!!!)Overall the service here is great – truly second to none .The castle atmosphere was exciting, sometimes at night even a little spooky. Of course, Bow Valley is absolutely extraordinary. However, I would say if you don't get a discounted rate, I would consider other options; the room was rather small and the bathroom - tiny. Not worth over $400 CAD at all. Recommended.
Athena Pizza & Spaghetti House – 110 Banff Avenue, Banff – (403) 762-4022Since we spent the day sightseeing we wanted to go somewhere that was casual and had good pizza for dinner. We had heard about Giorgio's but when we asked the concierge he insisted Athena's. We asked two of the valet staff and they agreed, so Athena's it was. It's about a 2 minute drive from the Fairmont, serving deep dish, "Chicago-Style" pizza. Located right on Banff Ave, on the right side, upper level of the mall near the clock tower. With a diner-esq atmosphere; plastic table clothes, old wood chairs with plastic covered cushions, carnations on the table, etc. Low-budget, local place, some people might call it a dive. The "come-as-you-are" kind of place. They offer a simple menu with mostly pizza and a handful of salads, sandwich and pasta options. The menu also had a steak, fish and chips and fried shrimp which ranged from 9.95-19.95 CAD. Pizzas are sold in three sizes, 10, 12 and 14 inch and ranged in price from 12.95- 23.50 CAD. The wine/beer menu is larger than the food menu. Our bill was 36 CAD and that was for 2 – 10" pies and one draft beer. We ordered one plain and one house special (loaded pizza) which took almost a half hour to serve; we were only one of six tables seated, four of which were already served. The bottom line is that this pizza was O.K. Very similar to what you would find at a Pizzeria Uno's in the states. The service was fine, two waiters in all. He definitely made us feel as though we were bothering him when we had questions. Super casual atmosphere, no reservations needed, huge table turn over. Somewhat recommended if you are in the mood for a fast and casual meal. Accepts all major credit cards. Free delivery anywhere in Banff (if you don't feel like leaving your hotel room). Limited on the street parking.Coyote's - 206 Caribou Street, Banff – (403) 762-3963Located 2 minutes from the Fairmont on the corner of Caribou and Buffalo Street. Coyote's is a local eatery that refers to itself as a deli & grill, serving southwestern cuisine with a Mediterranean influence – I wouldn't go that far. Small, bright, light-interior establishment. One waitress for about 15 tables and counter seating, with lots of locals and one chef . The menu was fairly small and the waitress didn't appreciate many questions or allowed for any substitutions. The breakfast menu had omelets, frittatas and a section for "sides" which was where you'd find items like individual eggs, a side of bacon or a multi grain bagel with cream cheese for 2.50 CAD. The bread was multi grain, unless you requested otherwise and even then your only other choice was sourdough. 7.95 CAD got you two eggs, sausage or bacon with potatoes and toast. We were charged 2.50 CAD for 2 pieces of sourdough bread after I tried to return seeded multi grain bread that came with the eggs. The bacon was Canadian bacon (obviously) which is basically ham to people from the states and the sausage was a Chorizo which was very spicy but also very good. The orange juice was fresh-squeezed. Our bill was 21 CAD. Limited on the street parking. The lunch/dinner menu includes items such as; soups, salads, quesadillas, pizza, pasta and grilled entrees. No reservations for breakfast but they say reservations are recommended for dinner, another come as you are kind of place. Food was good (hard to mess up eggs), with some interesting breakfast options but the service was borderline rude. Open for breakfast from 7:30 -11 am, Lunch 11:00 am - 4pm and dinner from 5 pm. Accepts all major credit cards, children welcome. I read on a website somewhere "jacket and tie optional" - if that isn't the biggest joke I have ever heard. Would you wear a tie to your local diner/TGIF's? Somewhat Recommended.Melissa's Missteaks Restaurant & Bar – 218 Lynx Street, Banff – (403) 762-5511 We went to Melissa's for breakfast after we decided that there had to be somewhere with friendlier service than Coyote’s. A log-cabin like place with dark wood tables and chairs – no frills. Ceiling to floor windows that face the street and the Banff Park Lodge. It seemed like the kind of place where there was always a crowd. Eggs, steaks, omelets, rancheros, waffles, french toast and cereal were the bulk of the menu. They offer many combos and omelet options. Prices ranged from 3.95-18.95 CAD for (breakfast) steaks.Another place where multi-grain bread is the standard bread served, other options are sourdough muffins and plain bagels. The waitresses walk around with pitchers of fresh squeezed juice which I found hilarious – as someone who does not drink juice myself, I was convinced to get a glass because it smelled so good. Open from 7 am to 10 pm daily, breakfast until 11:30 am. Casual dress code, local place, accepts all major credit cards. The staff was large and pleasant and the restaurant was very large with plenty of seating. The dinner menu included 8-20 oz steaks (15.95-25.95 CAD), salmon (18.95), trout, lobster (22.95), pork, chicken (18.95), burgers (8.50), pizza and one pasta dish (13.95). Good place for kids and groups. Weather permitting they have patio seating as well. Limited on the street parking. Recommended for breakfast.The Grizzly House – 207 Banff Avenue, Banff – (403) 762-4055Known for their fondues and hot stones, with a log-cabin setting and an overwhelming smell of oil from the minute you walk in. A very dark atmosphere with wood furniture. The (lunch) appetizer fondues/hot rocks are 16-23.95 CAD and soups and salads range from 5-11.95 CAD. The "hot rock" meals are what we ordered for lunch. It’s an extremely hot piece of slate that is served with raw and marinated meats. The waiter brings the rock, slathers it with garlic butter, provides some guidance and leaves you to cook your meal. A cute gimmick that could be either fun or annoying depending on your point of view. I will say though - kids will love it! We ordered the sea and land (15.95 CAD) and the chicken (13.95). The lobster and steak were cooked almost immediately but I found the chicken to take much longer. I didn't realize how fast the rock cooled and towards the end of my meal I had to wait what felt like forever to cook my chicken. The waiter said he would come back with another rock – which he neglected to do. I also found it interesting that with four tables seated it took almost 20 minutes to have our essentially raw meals served in the first place.
The plates included the raw meat, salad, veggie of the day and rosti which was basically hash browns. Other entrée choices were steak, meatloaf, burgers, smoked buffalo, eggs benedict and sausage of the day, ranging from 9 - 24.95 CAD. Dessert didn't interest me; I was annoyed at how long it took to cook my meal and the overwhelming smell of old oil which I equate with the place being dirty. Dessert options however included; cheesecake, fondue (of course) and parfait. The dinner menu includes "complete fondue dinners", 35.95-54.95 CAD which comes with soup or salad, cheese or veggie fondue, one main course and one chocolate fondue for dessert. The main course options are beef, chicken, ostrich, lobster, the "hunter" (buffalo, wild board and venison) or the "exotic fondue" (shark, alligator, rattlesnake, ostrich, frog legs, buffalo and venison). A minimum of two orders per table is required for the fondue. Overall the service was fine but slow, which for four tables, I can not understand. There are phones at every table which I still am confused about. Wine list includes about 100 choices and outdoor (street-side) seating is available in warmer months. Large seating inside, no reservations needed for lunch although the restaurant does recommend them for dinner. Very casual, family dining. Accepts all major credit cards. Limited on the street parking, located two minutes from the Fairmont. Overall, I thought a fine choice for lunch, but seemed a bit expensive for dinner. Recommended.
Eden - Rimrock Resort Hotel, 100 Mountain Avenue, Banff – 403-762-1865 or www.rimrockresort.comLocated on the same street as the Banff Gondola is the Rimrock Resort, a quaint, understated hotel. The Rimrock is part of the Leading Hotels of the World and judging by Eden - deservedly so. Upon arrival, we were escorted to the restaurant by the valet and referred to by last name all evening long. Very relaxed atmosphere within a very quiet hotel - we even saw a Caribou grazing on the property. The elegant lobby has a fire place, some plush sofas, coffee tables, chairs, etc; basically a living room. The restaurant has heavy velvet draperies with large gold silk accents, dark furniture and walls, and lots of European art. The tables had crisp white linens, with a small glass bowl and an orchid floating inside of it. Our napkins were changed every time we got up – I mean God forbid we have to use the same napkin after using the facilities. Fresh (large) floral pieces were everywhere. The large wine cellar was viewable upon entering and exiting the restaurant. The bathroom had linen towels, small bottles of Listerine, Aveda lotion, Neutrogena chapstick and shoe mitts – all for the taking/use. We had a great table, next to the window that faced the back of the property and surrounding mountains. There were five people waiting on us at once to serve our every request. Immediately after being seated we were kindly asked to please turn all cell phones to vibrate as not to disturb other guests. Yes – this is that kind of place…I mean the bathroom has amenities. Come on! Bottled water was complimentary and we were given a choice of Pellegrino or Evian. I will say this, all of the attention and the general atmosphere of the restaurant made it slightly overwhelming at first. I mean just so much pomp and circumstance. But we quickly got used to all of the attention.The menu is French cuisine with regional accents and changes every season. It has received the 5 diamond AAA award, and many other awards including one from Wine Spectator. Eden offers 4 dinner options; 3 courses for 90 CAD, 4 courses for 100 and 5 courses for 110. We were warned that all portions were small - almost like tastings and they weren't kidding. The fourth option was a tasting menu for 150 CAD with 8 courses. I found it fascinating that all menus are interchangeable. That's not common in a restaurant such as this. In any event, we ordered and were greeted by the bread waiter who offered us a choice of four breads; lemon zing, multigrain, sourdough and rye – all delicious of course and served with salted or unsalted butter and some sort of whipped cheese spread.First course, compliments of the chef, was a cinnamon-ginger (sweet) drink with a frozen "essence" (which was a cinnamon burst), served in a champagne glass. Hard to describe but refreshing, which was the point, and very tasty. The second course, also compliments of the chef, was a parsnip puree with a ground squab center and pistachio oil drizzle. Sounds a little too eclectic to be good but it was. In fact, it was incredibly delicious and was perfect to peak our interest in what was to come. Our third course was whatever we chose as our first course (so in layman's terms, the appetizer). We had the truffle risotto with Parmesan crisp and king oyster mushrooms and the buffalo tartar with carpaccio soaked in sambuca. (See picture of carpaccio below). Served with such care, the presentation was almost too beautiful to touch.
The fourth course was an intermezzo which we were told was served because the chef was unhappy with how our entrees came out. If that isn’t the most hilarious thing you have ever heard, I don't know what is. Entrees options included; Alberta beef, tenderloin with truffle oil, sea bream, buffalo ribeye, veal, venison, quail and squab. We chose the Alberta beef and the sea bream (see pictures of both below). Again, presented beautifully and extremely delicious. My husband had an extra course of quail. At that point I was truly too stuffed to even consider another course. Dessert options were mascarpone with raspberry ice cream and a chocolate cake. We chose the mascarpone (see picture) and the cheese plate (which was on the appetizer menu). The cheese plate included grapes, candied pecans and a wide selection of cheese but no bread or bread flats. After the dessert we ordered was gone, we were served yet another "compliments of the chef" course. It was a two-tier silver dish that had pieces of milk and white chocolate, white chocolate covered leece nuts, bonbons and shortbread cookies. And of course, it goes without saying that each piece was carefully decorated and carefully placed on this tray. Service was truly incredible, friendly - suggesting wines, telling us about the local area, explaining all aspects of meal. We received constant attention. Sounds intrusive? – somehow it wasn’t. Before ordering wine we were served tasting options by the cellar master, Quinn. He was extremely knowledgeable; he explained every aspect of the extensive wine menu. We learned a great deal especially concerning Canadian wine. He even was unhappy with the temperature of the wine my husband ordered and insisted on giving him only a tasting while he cooled the wine a "degree or two". Are you kidding?!! Really, I can not say enough about this guy. He was great.We were given two pieces of banana bread dipped in chocolate and wrapped in a beautiful gift bag, as a parting gift from the matre'd. Incredible! The cellar master, Quinn, walked us out to the car and waited for us to pull away. We were the last to leave that evening. Expect to spend at least 2 hours dinning. We were there almost three. Complimentary valet parking. The restaurant serves dinner only. Dressy attire required, no children. Reservations are a must. Accepts all major credit cards. If you think about it, 90 Cad a person (about $82) is nothing compared to the quality and amount of food – not to mention the level of service – you get. It was an incredible meal, one of our best ever. A romantic evening, a great place for a special occasion – Very, Very Highly Recommended
Banff Gondola – 403-762-2523 or http://www.banffgondola.comThe gondola is something we felt we had to do if for nothing else but to get a bird's eye view of the park. We were not disappointed. The views atop Sulfur Mountain are absolutely gorgeous. Definitely a photo op. Located 5 minutes from the center of Banff on the cusp of Sulphur Mountain. The charge is 23.50 CAD/adult and 11.75 CAD/children 6-15 and the ride takes about 10 minutes each way. Yes, I agree- very expensive for such a short ride but really a must do. Each "car" holds 4 people safely but if you go off season, like we did, they send you up in couples. It's a pretty steep ride up and I was more than thankful we didn't have to stop for any reason.
Once up top there is a gift shop and bathroom facilities. There is also a boardwalk with about 300 steps that takes you to another viewing point. It is not handicap equipped and not safe for children in carriages (not really practical either with all of the steps). That walk takes about 20 minutes each way and gets higher in elevation. Lots of snow and ice on the "boardwalk" even in May, so walking can become slightly dangerous if you are careless. The staff are all very nice and kept asking us if we had an enjoyable time. At the end you are directed through the gift shop (ala Disney) where you are able to purchase a photo of yourself that was taken at the top of Sulfur Mountain. That is $15 for a 5X7. The Banff Gondola is less than a 5 minute drive from the Fairmount. Depending on the time of year the attraction is open from 7:30 am to 9 pm. Recommended. Bo Valley Parkway – 1AThis is the alternate route to the Trans-Canada Parkway, Route 1. People usually take this route, which is considered the more scenic route; to take pictures, see wildlife and enjoy the atmosphere. We saw several caribou and one young male elk along the way, but heard that many people saw plenty of other animals as well. It was a nice drive, 30 miles - very easy, but once was enough; we chose to take the faster Route 1 for the remainder of our trip. There are five main trails that branch off of this parkway, one of which is the Johnston Canyon which I will definitely suggest hiking. RecommendedJohnston CanyonLocated off of the Bow Valley Parkway, ½ way between Banff and Lake Louise. This is essentially another beautiful hike. It took us about 45 minutes each way – 3 miles round trip. The canyon was created by a small stream. There are two waterfalls to see, first (lower falls - the smaller of the two) is after ½ mile, second (upper) is 1 ½ miles (1 mile from small one). To be honest the smaller one was easier to view and much prettier. The second waterfall required you to walk out on this platform (to the end) and lean over to get a good picture. The hike has steps, uneven ground, narrow walkways and the temperature (May) is cold, then warm, so dressing in layers would not be a bad idea.
The water is beautiful and it actually gets colder (the air) as you get closer to each waterfall. There is no entrance fee or parking fee – wow! - you mean the 9 CAD per day, per person we paid to get into Banff covers this too???? At certain points you feel like you are walking through caves. There were tons of trees, many which had fallen and as silly as it sounds the air just smells so wonderful. We saw one small chipmunk on our hike that was it. Not a place for carriages (although one couple was actually trying to push one) or handicapped people. Definitely recommended; an easy hike with great scenery. Recommended.Lake MinnewankaLocated about 5 kilometers northeast of the Banff town site. The lake is 15 miles long and over 400 ft deep, making it the longest lake in the Banff National Park (the result of a power dam at the west end). The lake is fed by the Cascade River, flowing east of Cascade Mountain, and runs south through Stewart Canyon as it empties into the westen end of the lake. Minnewanka means "water of the spirits" in the Stoney Indian language. I`ll admit there is something spiritual about this place. Beauty lends itself to this effect. The Minnewanka Loop is an absolutely gorgeous drive; very easy to navigate with incredible views of the lake , valley and surrounding mountains. It seems that spring comes early to this part of Banff. In May the lake was completely thawed, emerald green and stunning. This area is also great for wildlife viewing; especially bighorn sheep. We saw many by the side of the road and even in the middle of the road; so be careful while driving. This area is a must see. Recommended.Cave & Basin – Cave Avenue, Banff – 403-762-1557This is the site where the very first mineral hot spring was found, thereby facilitating the creation of Canada's first National Park. Once you enter the lobby there are signs and a few photographs and charts. Just past the lobby is the cave. For 7 CAD/pp you get to view the Hot Springs (which is so fetid it's hard to put into words), you get to see a movie (that extols the beauty of Banff) and walk a few yards through a tunnel that ends at a small cave. There is also a few hiking trails, one of which is a short jaunt through a wetland type area along a wooden boardwalk. The Hot Springs is home to a rare snail, the Physella Johnsoni. To be honest, if you ran out of time and couldn't make it here – no big loss. Not Recommended.Fairmount Lake Louise Hotel LoungeLocated about an hour away from the Fairmont in Banff is this very pretty hotel. Very different from the castle-like structure of Banff, this hotel does not disappoint. A huge lobby with high ceilings and medieval paraphernalia around. Lots of tourist walking around and a harpist playing in the lobby. Unlike the Fairmont Banff Springs there is plenty of free parking here in addition to valet. We ate at the lobby lounge which offered incredible views of Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains. In early May the lake was still completely frozen over. The lounge had a large bar but a limited menu. We ordered the brushetta, a burger and pasta. The brushetta was 5 pieces of toast with goat cheese and a small salad.
A delicious appetizer (11 CAD). The burger came with mushrooms, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion (15 CAD) – fries were half the plate and a mountain of them – salty and delicious. The baked penne pasta came with pieces of zucchini and was a huge bowl covered with asiago cheese. Surprisingly good. Other menu options were salads, including a Cesar salad with shrimp, chicken or liver and a chicken club sandwich. The service was very good, and friendly. The harpist was excellent and provided for a very relaxing atmosphere. All of the seating is living room-esq with large upholstered chairs and couches. We initially planned on going to one of the hotel's restaurants but were shut out as they close for lunch at 2 pm. This was a great alternative. Accepts all major credit cards. Recommended to see the hotel and lake.
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