A real-life fairy tale: My dream stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
On many trips, a hotel is just a place to sleep, shower and rest between adventures. Other times, a hotel is the destination itself, at least in part. Unquestionably, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise falls into the latter category.
Overlooking the mesmerizingly blue-green waters of Alberta's Lake Louise, this Fairmont Hotels & Resorts outpost is in a league of its own.
Even well before the days of Instagram, word of this awe-inspiring property's beauty and appeal spread far and wide, prompting a number of expansions over the years that transformed the original lakefront log cabin into the sprawling resort it is today.
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The hotel has long been on my radar, so when I found myself planning a multigenerational trip to the region, I knew I had to check out this 19th-century resort. Here's what my one-night stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was like.
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Originally dreamed up in the late 1800s by Cornelius Van Horne, the then-general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the hotel (or, more accurately, the chateau) and several other nearby properties — including its sister resort, the Fairmont Banff Springs — were created with the goal of drawing wealthy travelers to the region for a multiday rail adventure through the Canadian Rockies.
While many travelers no longer arrive by train, the 539-room property continues to attract luxury-seeking guests keen on getting an eyeful of stunning Lake Louise. Its plethora of amenities, including multiple food and beverage outlets, a spa, and outdoor activities like canoeing and snowshoeing make it an ideal spot for an upscale getaway in nature.
Still, the resort is not without its downsides. Rooms here are pricey and often sell out, and the service was hit or miss during our stay. However, if you are not expecting consistent five-star perfection and can find a way to swing the cost, even for only one night, you'll enjoy quite the treat.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is in the Canadian province of Alberta. The closest major airport is Calgary International Airport (YYC), which is approximately 125 miles east of Lake Louise.
You are probably going to want — and need — to rent a car to reach the area from the airport and explore. However, there is technically a shuttle company that does this route from the airport, should you want to avoid renting your own set of wheels. Shuttle services for the more than three-and-a-half-hour journey cost 111 Canadian dollars (about $86) each way.
Given how stunning the area is, I recommend renting a car. That way, you can also see Banff and maybe even Jasper and/or Kananaskis (and you'll find a Marriott Autograph Collection property).
Just be sure to factor in the resort's location when planning your budget. Because it sits within Banff National Park, you'll need to pay the park entrance fees — CA$10.50 (roughly $8) per adult or CA$21 (approximately $16) per family — to visit.
Related: Vaccinated travelers can now enter Canada without a COVID-19 test
A stay here does not come cheap, whether you pay with cash or points. However, you can book in a way that adds in extra perks or keeps some money in your wallet.
During off-peak times, entry-level rooms (which are tiny, at 230 square feet) at this Accor Hotels-affiliated property start at about CA$500 (less than $390) per night, while the busy summer season sees rates twice as expensive.
Since we were enjoying an epic journey across this part of Canada with kids and grandparents in tow, we needed two regular rooms or a two-bedroom suite. Because we were only staying one night, we decided to splurge on the latter.
The two-bedroom suite was more than twice as much as the price of a standard room for our June visit, costing about CA$2,000 (roughly $1,553). It was, without question, an incredibly high price but ultimately ended up being a better deal than booking two relatively standard rooms, as we also had access to living space (which we frequently used) and received complimentary benefits like breakfast, valet parking and some in-suite treats.
Since we didn't need to book through a third-party site like the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts to get those additional perks, we also were able to get a 5% discount as ALL - Accor Live Limitless members who booked directly with the resort.
If you have enough Accor points, you can use them to book a stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Know, though, that you will need a lot of them, as they are worth a fixed cash rate. You'll need 2,000 points for every 40 euros (about $42) you wish to deduct from the cost of your room.
You can transfer miles from cards such as the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to Accor at a rate of 2:1, meaning if you transfer 1,000 Capital One miles to Accor, you'll have 500 Accor points. Or, you can reserve your room through popular credit card booking sites like Chase Ultimate Rewards or the Capital One Travel portal so you can apply credit card points at a fixed value.
For example, it would cost about 62,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Chase Sapphire Reserve to cover the cost of a deluxe room for one night that sells for $938.
Book through a credit card site
Another way to book the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is through a credit card's hotel program, such as the Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts program, which is available with The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
If you are spending cash booking a room that doesn't come with breakfast and other perks, this is a good way to reserve your room since it will give you a number of extras, including free daily breakfast for two, a $100 food and beverage credit, guaranteed checkout at 4 p.m. and a room upgrade (if available).
- The views here (especially from the property's cocktail lounge) are breathtaking, offering a front-row look at one of the most beautiful lakes on Earth and the awe-inspiring mountains beyond it.
- On-site activities are plentiful, with everything from hiking and canoeing to lakeside s'mores and evening movies. You can even borrow bear spray and basic hiking equipment from the concierge for free.
- The hotel's accommodations (at least, the ones in higher room categories) are very high-end.
- Every hotel employee we encountered was friendly.
- This hotel gets very, very busy and at times can become a real service bottleneck. The afternoon check-in line stretched throughout the lobby during our visit, and it can take a long time for someone to answer the phone to order room service or get seated for dinner at the on-site restaurants without a reservation.
- While our suite was fantastic, I have read that some of the standard rooms do not have air conditioning, which could make a stay here uncomfortable on warmer summer days.
- Rates here are expensive, even when using points.
- The hotel has a unique design that makes it hard to find everything, and some of the facilities, such as the gym, feel like an afterthought compared to other parts of the property.
From the moment you step foot on the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's grounds, you'll feel as if you've been transported to a far-off castle. The atmosphere is old-school and luxurious, with multiple chandeliers hanging from tall ceilings, curved staircases with wooden banisters and oversized windows offering prime views of the resort's stunning surroundings.
While I noticed many types of vacationers during my visit, one thing was apparent: Pretty much everyone had money to spend. As a result, most guests were older, resembling the same crowd you'd find on the famous Rocky Mountaineer train that weaves its way through this part of Canada or perhaps on an upscale cruise.
The large number of on-site shops and restaurants reinforced this refined cruise ship vibe, as well as the notion that people come to this resort for more than just a place to lay their heads at night. Clearly, this is a property you plan part of your trip around.
While some of the common areas were a little traditional for our personal style, our suite was gorgeous. It was like a modern-day slice of palatial paradise in a classic castle, looking like it belonged in a design magazine.
Measuring a little more than 1,000 square feet, the suite featured a living room with a half-bath, a primary bedroom with a king-size bed and en suite bathroom, and a secondary bedroom with two queen-size beds and another en suite bath. We were in heaven.
The bedrooms were comfortable and lovely, but the highlights were the living room and the view. You don't have to spend extra for a lake view here, but I doubt you'll regret it if you do.
The only thing I'd change about the room is that it would have really benefited from a balcony so you could enjoy the view and breeze from outside, too. But seriously, it was one of my favorite hotel suites I've ever been in — and it was hard to tear myself away from the windows.
Food and drink
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has a variety of food and beverage options, but unfortunately, we didn't have the time (or reservations) to try most of them. When we attempted to get a reservation after arriving, the available times at the on-site restaurants weren't until after 9 p.m., which wasn't very practical with kids. So, we decided to head to the Lakeview Lounge — where dramatic lake views await you — early so we could enjoy drinks and a snack at a reasonable hour.
While we weren't able to snag a table next to a window, we still enjoyed our time at the restaurant. The service was very friendly and attentive, and we had no complaints about the drinks or dessert we ordered. Most drinks and cocktails — including our hot chocolate, mulled wine and margarita — were in the CA$15 to CA$21 (or about $12 to $16) price range.
Unable to secure a sit-down meal for dinner, we decided to put room service to the test.
While it took some time to reach someone by phone to place our order, the food was quite solid once it arrived. Although the dishes we ordered (which included starters like chicken wings and entrees like fried rice and spaghetti) weren't cheap, they were reasonably priced for room service in a high-end hotel. In total, we paid CA$220 (about $171, with gratuity and fees included) for meals for four adults and three children.
Because we had booked a suite, breakfast in Lago (the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant) was covered for every member of the family. If the full buffet breakfast was not included, we would have spent around CA$147 (roughly $114, without tip), so we were thrilled with the savings.
Our favorite dishes were the French toast, crispy bacon and baked beans, which were just what we needed to fill our tummies before a busy day of outdoor exploration.
Should you find yourself craving an indulgent snack at some point during your stay, we can also vouch for The Guide's Pantry. The grab-and-go eatery's decadent chocolate pudding was exactly what we needed — OK, wanted — late at night.
Amenities and service
My favorite amenities at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise were the ones that made it easy to enjoy the great outdoors from your literal backyard.
The canoeing was expensive, at CA$94 (about $73) per 30-minute rental, but the experience was absolutely magical. The weather on the day of our visit wasn't great and the lake had some waves, so 30 minutes was plenty of time for us, but on a nice day, I would have loved to explore more and stay out there longer.
If you can safely get out on the lake, I 100% recommend it, as its ice-blue water is jaw-droppingly beautiful when it is all around you.
Another perk we really appreciated was the ability to borrow bear spray, hiking poles and more from the concierge for hikes around the property.
We decided to hike up to the lookout that starts near the boathouse, which was a nice workout. Although it got a bit challenging toward the top because of the snow that was still on the ground in mid-June, it was relatively manageable to do even if you aren't an avid hiker.
There's also an indoor pool open until 11 p.m. that's tucked away on the resort grounds for those who want to cool off after spending time outdoors.
While we didn't use the pool, we did visit the fire pit by the lake for some complimentary s'mores. The daylight hours are long in this part of Canada in summer, so you might as well head outside and take advantage of this amenity.
A spa is available on-site, too, should you want to pamper yourself during your visit. It's not as big as the one at the Fairmont Banff Springs, but prices for its services are reasonable, with 60-minute massages costing less than CA$200 (about $155) each. Remember that if you have an ALL - Accor Live Limitless account, you'll receive a 10% discount for spa services.
Other fee-based amenities available here include guided canoeing excursions at sunset, shuttle services to and from Moraine Lake, fitness classes and a summer kids adventure camp.
Out and about
The Lake Louise area is known for its stunning scenery, so expect to spend the bulk of your time outdoors.
During the warmer months, you can take a quick 10-minute drive to Lake Louise's sightseeing gondola, which is reportedly a fantastic (and safe) way to see bears in the wild. Be sure to grab a $10 off coupon from the resort's lobby before you go to save some money on the ride. Without the coupon, you'll pay CA$54.99 (roughly $43) per adult.
Also check out Moraine Lake, which is just a few minutes away from the property. You can drive there, but know that parking fills up fast, so arrive early or late in the day. You can also take the Moraine Lake shuttle from the resort, though it is pricey at CA$20 (about $16) per person.
And, of course, you won't want to miss all that Banff has to offer. In fact, I'd recommend staying in both spots while visiting the area.
Related: Planning a family trip to Banff
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise website states that there are partially and fully accessible rooms available. Amenities in these rooms include roll-in showers, grab bars, accessible sinks and power-assisted entrance doors.
I did not notice a lift at the pool during our visit. Additionally, the resort's layout across multiple levels can make it tricky for those with disabilities to maneuver. That said, there are elevators large enough to accommodate a wheelchair on-site.
Like a lot of other aspects of travel right now, at times, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise seemed a little bit understaffed and overstuffed. However, those moments were fleeting.
What will stick with me forever is the scenery. The views from every corner of the property, including our suite and our canoe while out on the lake, were breathtaking.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise isn't perfect, but it is both special and unforgettable. It's a dream destination that lived up to the hype I'd created for it in my own mind. I hope to one day make the trip back, but even if I never get that chance, I'm thrilled to have this one in my memory bank.