There may not be a hotel group as iconic in Canada as Fairmont. From Quebec and Whistler, to Lake Louise and Vancouver, the defining locations of this inspiring country are almost always accompanied by one of Fairmont’s historic properties. The group boasts an enviable claim on location, thanks to its history and position in Canada’s hospitality scene, and Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is certainly no exception.
The Grande Dame of Van City
Out of the four Fairmont properties in Vancouver, this one is quite obviously the grande dame. Over the 11 years it took to complete the hotel, various craftsmen and architects the world over contributed to the project, which easily surpassed a bill of $12 million by the time it was ready for the public in 1939. It was then opened by King George IV and Queen Elizabeth during their Royal Tour of Canada, blessing the hotel with a royal reputation that continues to welcome dignitaries, celebrities, Kings and Queens to this day.
Defined by its slanted green copper rooftop and meticulous carvings of gargoyles, griffins and Greek gods, the chateau-style building is a fine example of the type of railway hotels built throughout the country by the Canadian National Railway during that time. The relationship between railway travel and luxury hotels has a deep history in Canada, and one need only look upwards to preview what kind of grand, ostentatious lifestyle it was.
Positioned in the precise centre of Vancouver’s CBD, the hotel has plenty to offer those visiting Vancouver on short-stays. Other landmarks, like the Christ Church Cathedral, sit in the hotel’s doorstep, as well as the mammoth Vancouver Art Gallery and high-end Robson Street shopping. Burrard rapid transit station is only a two minute walk away, next to the Hyatt Regency, where easy connection to YVR airport can be found, as well as free shuttles to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and paid buses to adventure destinations like Whistler.
Walking from anywhere in the CBD back to the hotel’s address at 900 W Georgia St is a great way to get a sense of the majestic scale on which this property stands. Mostly modern glass buildings and luxury boutiques surround the 17-storey building, which looks like it has been torn from the pages of a European history book; jarring in the most remarkable way possible.
Look close enough and you might also spot the elusive “Lady in Red”, the ghost of a socialite that used to frequent the hotel’s lush ballrooms, staring out one of the windows. The apparition is behind one of Canada’s most well-known ghost stories, and the very fact that such a reputation exists should tell you plenty about what kind of juicy anecdotes have been soaked up by these aging walls.
Interiors are imbued with the benefit of a recent refurbishment, stretching a modern touch throughout the 507-room hotel with a preference for creamy gold walls and elegant chandeliers. A small selection of high-end shops call the building’s street-level home, including Dior and Louis Vuitton boutiques.
The hotel’s primary restaurant, Notch8 – named for a train’s top speed – is also located here, conceptually linked to Fairmont’s history with its chic design nods to train travel. Its relaxed atmosphere is touched up with glamorous statement chandeliers that look like exploding stars, guiding a path up to the very well stocked bar that’s most valuable as a social connection for after-work suits and ritzy locals.
A buffet breakfast and a la carte menu is featured, and on my visit was valuable enough to keep in-line with the hotel’s reputation. As expected, the price tags are on the higher end, like the $28 ask for Steak Benny, or a full breakfast buffet admission set at $34. I wasn’t able to try the breakfast on my two-night stay but dishes like a $47 Birch Lacquered Wild Boar Chop with smoked pork hock and mixed bean cassoulet, and a $43 West Coast Seafood hotpot full of Vancouver’s most prized produce, sounds promising.
A 15th floor High Tea session should be booked ahead if you’re travelling with family. I’ve been told it takes full advantage of such a striking view over Vancouver. And given the quality of produce available in British Columbia, and the hotel’s reach, there’s no reason to believe this wouldn’t be worthy.
While the Fourteenth Floor Heritage Suites and Fairmont Gold rooms are the most highly sought, the various other categories are still great expressions of the building’s character. As with many historic hotels, there’s plenty of variation even within each category, as different rooms have been built for different sizes and lifestyles.
My Junior Suite benefited from its length, featuring both a lounge room and bedroom that take an equal share in the 51 sqm total. A tiny bathroom made up the rest of the space, too small for its luxury tag but well equipped with Fairmont’s standard Le Labo Rose 31 amenities, which are cleverly personalised to give the guest experience a little detail.
There’s no master switch which means you’ll be running around switching off lamps before its time to sink into the King bed, which is most certainly something to look forward to. Fairmont’s linens are all of a super high standard, and the b are gorgeously soft.
Despite the refurbishment that has lifted some of the guest rooms, the hotel’s old age was clearly marked by the suite’s décor. The dark wood and muted colours helped finesse the elegant aesthetic, but the small windows barely pulled in enough natural light to highlight any detail. Oddly enough, the suite also lacked a sufficient closet, so those in for a longer stay might want to choose a different room.
Large glass panels fill the pool room and Health Club, located on the hotel’s second floor, with plenty of natural light. A 24-hour gym is packed with modern machines, and the Absolute Spa is often referred to one of the city’s best. Completing the contained lifestyle at Fairmont is a Sitka Physio Wellness space, which offers physiotherapy, yoga and pilates. Longer term guests are well taken care of as far as amenities go, and unlike other heritage listed buildings which have to work with limited space, these are all large and generous offerings.
Helpful and informative staff that know when to offer assistance and when to just leave you to your own devices. There’s an earnest, old-school heart here at the Fairmont; no personalised app controlling everything, nor curated online guides. Ask for help and you’ll be sure to get it almost immediately. Plus, the turn-down service is comprehensive and reworks even the messiest room (remember, no closet) to immaculate condition.
The average nightly rate here starts from AU $267, which is quite reasonable for a hotel of this repute. That puts it as the most affordable Fairmont in Vancouver as well, so there’s certainly plenty of value offered.
Though the full experience at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver remains elusive to me, there’s enough there in the more standard guest experience to show me why this property enjoys the reputation it does. Celebrities and royal family may have more insight into just why there’s such an illustrious list of regulars (it must have something to do with those swish looking heritage suites), there’s no reason for me to doubt that this hotel is surely one of Vancouver’s proudest packages of professional, vintage hospitality.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Feature image supplied.