Calgary: A Big City With Easygoing Western Charm

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The easiest connection to Banff is through Calgary, a vibrant city of more than a million, set along the Bow River where the prairie meets the low foothills of the Rockies. The main range can be seen about 50 miles to the west. The city celebrates its heritage every July with its best-known visitor event, the Calgary Stampede, and not everyone puts away the cowboy boots and hats when the party’s over. Although gas and oil still drive the economy and Alberta beef is on every menu, the city has a thriving music and arts community, galleries and museums — notably the Glenbow Museum of art and history — attractive parks, and along the lively Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, scores of boutiques and restaurants that bump up against glittering high-rises.

Le Germain Hotel Calgary

Le Germain Hotel Calgary sits on a downtown corner directly across the street from the landmark 626-foot Calgary Tower, which offers 360-degree views of the city and the distant mountains. (Ask the concierge for a free guest pass). The hotel is a 12-story structure, built from the ground up five years ago, clad with wood laminate panels and attached to an office and residential high-rise. Outside and in, everything is thoroughly modern. Gray felt covers the back wall of the glass-fronted lobby lounge, where a purple free-form couch rests on a multi-hued deep-pile rug.

In our fourth-floor Prestige corner room, the same purple appeared on a chaise longue, contrasting with two white-leatherette and chrome club chairs. A contemporary cityscape mural hung above the king bed. The large bath was hidden behind a multi-purpose wood wall running the full length of the suite. (It could also be exposed to the bedroom by opening large sliding doors, a feature that adds design interest but at some expense to privacy.) At one end, a pane of translucent glass admitted light into the large walk-in rainfall shower. A wood laminate vanity topped with two vessel sinks ran the length of the room, and matching wood encased a tub that filled from a ceiling fixture.

Le Germain Hotel Calgary - © Group Germain Hotels
Lobby lounge at Le Germain Hotel Calgary - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Main dining room in <i>CHARCUT Roast House Restaurant </i>at Le Germain Hotel Calgary - © Pierre Belanger/Architect Lemay Michaud
Bedroom in our Prestige corner room at Le Germain Hotel Calgary - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Bath in our Prestige corner room at Le Germain Hotel Calgary - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

The hotel’s acclaimed CHARCUT Roast House Restaurant is just next door, an energetic place with exposed ductwork and rafters, reclaimed barnwood, Mason-jar chandeliers, a large open kitchen, a communal table and cozy booths. We enjoyed red snapper on a bed of creamy whipped potatoes, and superbly cooked prime rib with rosemary jus. The hotel has a 24-hour fitness room and a sauna, and on the 12th floor, a full-service spa with three treatment rooms and a couple’s suite.

- Hotel at a Glance -

Le Germain Hotel Calgary 92Andrew Harper Bird

Like

Excellent downtown location near shopping, restaurants, galleries.

Dislike

Modern décor sometimes puts style before comfort.

Good to Know

Ask concierge for VIP pass to 626-foot Calgary Tower for best views of the city and Canadian Rockies to the west.


Rates: Signature Room, $200; Prestige Room, $285.
Address: 899 Centre Street S.W., Calgary, Alberta.
Telephone: (403) 264-8990.


The Fairmont Palliser

The Fairmont Palliser is just about a block from Le Germain, but it’s on the opposite end of the design spectrum. Representing traditional Calgary, the Palliser opened in 1914 as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. Its three towers recall grain elevators that appear alongside railroad tracks across Alberta’s prairies. Inside, public areas include an ornate marble-columned lobby, a Louis XIV-style ballroom and a formal restaurant with barrel-vaulted ceilings and a massive stone fireplace. A day spa, 40-foot pool, large whirlpool, steam room and fitness center occupy the hotel’s lower level.

More than 300 of the Palliser’s 407 guestrooms have been renovated since 2011, including ours on the 10th floor, high enough above the railway tracks to mask the sound of passing trains. We liked the room’s classic good looks, the light from multiple windows and the comfortable furniture. But during the renovation, not enough thought was given to upgrading the old hotel’s plumbing, and there’s no word to describe our bath but tiny — so tiny, in fact, that there was no room in it for hand soap, hand towels, a box of tissues or a drinking glass, all of which had to be placed on a chrome stand outside its door. We were told at the desk that some rooms do indeed have more reasonably sized baths, and that we could add that preference to our guest profile.

Guestroom interior at Fairmont Palliser - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Bedroom at Fairmont Palliser - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

North of the Bow River and about 10 minutes from downtown, Kensington is a thriving, pedestrian-friendly community of coffee shops, cafés, pubs, salons and boutiques, as well as one of the city’s top restaurants, Chef’s Table. The modern French-influenced menu changes seasonally to take advantage of local fare, prepared in an open kitchen and served in a white-linen dining room or, in warm weather, on the patio overlooking the river.

Kensington Riverside Inn
Kensington Riverside Inn - © John Gaucher

The restaurant is part of the Kensington Riverside Inn, a 19-room boutique hotel on Calgary’s Memorial Drive — busy, busy Memorial Drive — and therein lay the problem. Outside, the hotel is attractive, with a gray-and-white exterior and two columned porches. The public spaces inside were inviting, and the innkeeper was welcoming and gracious. Our second-floor corner Riverview Suite had high ceilings and was tastefully decorated with blue-striped wall-to-wall carpeting, contemporary furnishings and a gas fireplace. A handsome bath with slate-gray walls included a soaking tub and separate walk-in shower. The windows offered good views of the Bow River pathway and the urban landscape beyond, and French doors led to a private balcony. But the busy street lay right below that balcony and our room, and the traffic noise, barely muffled, lasted long into the night.

- Hotel at a Glance -

Fairmont Palliser    88Andrew Harper Bird

Like

Convenient downtown location near shopping, restaurants, galleries.

Dislike

Tired public spaces.

Good to Know

Although rooms have been remodeled recently, many have tiny bathrooms; make requirements known when booking.


Rates: Deluxe Room, $190; Junior Suite, $235.
Address:133 9th Avenue S.W., Calgary, Alberta.
Telephone: (403) 262-1234.
By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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