An Enduring Fondness for the Fairmont

When I returned to one of Fairmont’s Vancouver hotels last week, I got to thinking about what hotel chains represent in our minds - the worlds, even the eras in history, that they conjure up for us: romantic and grandiose or tacky and lowlife - sometimes all it takes is a name. The Fairmont’s portfolio contains two such properties of the romantic and grandiose kind: The Savoy in London and The Plaza in New York. Those legendary names  immediately evoke a more elegant, glamorous era. That’s what grand hotels give us and that’s why, on a harried city day,  when traffic noise, digital displays and shop windows filled with trashy mass-produced clothes are starting to get me down, I often wander into the foyer of a  grand hotel. Like Dr Who’s Tardis but for people with a hankering for marble halls, chandeliers, sweeping staircases, opulent bouquets and a bit of Cole Porter to accompany it all,  we step into another world once we go through their revolving doors.

 My first big commissioned trip as a travel writer came in 2000, from an idea that I had sent to “The Sunday Telegraph” about locations of Hitchcock films around San Francisco.  “Vertigo” featured beautiful footage of the city.   I got to follow in the tracks of James Stewart and Kim Novak.  And my first stop was at the Fairmont, San Francisco. This was the first ever Fairmont - and what a grand, gracious building it is, set right on top of Nob Hill where the cable car lines intersect. The management put me in a room overlooking the elegant Brocklebank apartments. This was where Kim Novak’s mysterious character, Madeleine, lived. Researching the feature evolved into spending  many happy hours gazing out at the glorious views of the city and I started a life-long love affair with elegant Fairmont hotels.

The Fairmonts also own all those grand hotels that waited at the end of great transcontinental railway journeys in the early days of Canadian travel. Once known as Canadian Pacific hotels, such romantic and legendary names as the Royal York in Toronto, the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, the Banff Springs, the Jasper Park Lodge and the Chateau Lake Louise hotel all came under the Fairmont name when the chains amalgamated a few years back and the decision was made to keep the more general “Fairmont” title.  Each of those hotel names evokes New World glamour - great castle-like structures on frozen lakes or rivers with a backdrop of vast forests and mountains that were awe-inspiring but just a little menacing in their dramatic beauty. Plush warmth and comfort guaranteed a welcome release from snow and ice and train rides that could last for days. Roaring log fires, palatial dining halls, stupendous scenery viewed from a cosy window seat were, and still are, the order of the day.  Out in the gentler climes of Victoria on Vancouver Island, at the far end of the second biggest country on earth,  is the grandest old Fairmont lady of all - the Empress Hotel.

In a complete contrast, my most recent trip took me, appropriately to one of the most recent Fairmonts. The Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver was built to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Joining the venerable Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, the glitzy Fairmont Waterfront and the Fairmont at the airport, the Pacific Rim overlooks the green grass roof of the new Vancouver convention centre. We’re a long, long way from Quebec’s Chateau, the Savoy’s Art Deco and its sedate San Franciscan ancestor.  This is a brand new 21st century hotel in soaring glass that looks out over Vancouver’s harbour, forest and mountains and takes its name from one of the world’s most dynamic regions. Over a decade after those happy days in the Fairmont on Nob Hill, I sat in my own private hot-tub, ate luxury chocolates made in-house  and gazed once again at the busy life of the worlds’s greatest ocean: Container ships from China waited in the harbour, float planes took off for the surrounding islands, joggers and cyclists headed for Stanley Park. Once again, for just a brief moment, a Fairmont had transported me to another world.