Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
BANFF, ALBERTA — The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel operates a dozen restaurants on its property, serves up on average about 4,000 meals a day, plates some of the best dishes in Alberta, and is teeming with stories — including those of ghosts — within its majestic walls. Karen Anderson, who runs Alberta Food Tours, saw all of what the hotel featured and felt it was brimming with potential as a destination for culinary travellers.
After coordinating an itinerary with the hotel, her company launched its Eat the Castle food tour in June. It takes visitors to four restaurants within the property, giving them a variety of tastes during a period of approximately three hours. Guests not only experience flavours of Alberta, they get to savour them within one of the most iconic properties in Canada.
The hotel opened in 1888 as part of the Canadian Pacific Railways’ ambition to construct a cross-country railroad and provide travellers a luxurious place to stay. But a fire damaged much of the property in 1926 and it reopened after a two-year renovation project that created the building people are familiar with today. Like many Fairmont property’s in Canada, the Banff Springs is much more than a hotel. It features art, antiques, boutique shops, and those 12 dining establishments.
“It’s just a fabulous place to hold a food tour, because it has such grandeur and history on one hand, and also it’s so important to Alberta’s food scene,” says Anderson, who is also a nurse and author.
Anderson’s tour begins with a stop at STOCK, a lobby-level cafe with modern Scandinavian-style design. The cafe features a bank of urban cultivators that grow micro-greens for use in salads, sandwiches, and other dishes.
The second destination is Grapes Wine Bar, a popular spot that showcases the hotel’s cheese and charcuterie selection, as well as a quality wine list. The tour takes place in the bar’s cellar, amid oak walls and beautifully displayed vintage bottles.
The final two stops are to the Banff Springs’ leading restaurants — the newly renovated Vermillion Room and 1888 Chop House. The Vermillion Room is a gorgeous space with a sweeping view of the Rocky Mountains. Its menu is evocative of a French brasserie with escargots, foie gras and steak tartare among the offerings. Meanwhile, 1888 is a classic Alberta steakhouse, featuring Triple-A beef as well as bison and elk. Alberta-bred Wagyu beef is also a highlight. Its wine list is one of the best in the province.
Each restaurant serves a signature dish to Anderson’s tour guests as well as a drink. There will be opportunities to learn about the hotel’s fascinating history as well as its food programs. The ghosts reputedly are a bride who had the misfortune of falling to her death on a staircase on her wedding day and a doorman who has yet to put a close to his career at the hotel. The history includes all kinds of memorabilia including 150 fossils that are estimated to be up to 450 million years old.
More relevant for some is the fact the hotel has implemented a modern zero-waste policy, meaning its food program is committed to as much recycling and reusing of materials as possible. New hotel executive chef Robert Ash makes sure peelings from fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded are saved and used in a line of vinegars, among many initiatives.
“We do our best to make sure nothing goes to waste here. It’s out of respect for the products — the animals and the produce we use — and as recognition that we all have to be more mindful of doing our part for the environment these days,” says Ash, who arrived in Banff earlier this year after working for Omni Hotels in Orlando, Florida.
It’s Ash, the newcomer, who points out the underlying reason why anyone would want to visit Banff or participate in the Eat the Castle tour at the revered hotel. “It’s like waking up to a postcard every day here,” he says.
In these days of Instagram, those postcards can just as well include scrumptious food shots as glorious views of the Rockies.
MORE ABOUT FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS
Location: 405 Spray Avenue, Banff, AB (see map below)
Room Reservations: 1-833-762-6866 (toll free)
MORE ABOUT THE EAT THE CASTLE TOUR
Cost: $175 per person, includes 2.5-hour tour with sample food and drink at four restaurants in the hotel. Discount available for local residents.