Take a Vacation in Ottawa at the Fairmont Château Laurier
You see that valiant, politely imposing, castle-like building in the photo up above? Well that’s the world famous Fairmont Château Laurier, and, just recently, Bri and I had the pleasure of resting our weary heads there for a few nights.
I’m quite sure I’ve mentioned this somewhere else at some point, but Bri and I actually met in Ottawa as tour guides. We would lead school groups to Ottawa from Toronto, and, as you might imagine, we spent a fair bit of time in downtown Ottawa. If you’ve been to Ottawa, you’ll know that if you’re in central Ottawa, it’d be hard to miss the Château Laurier. And so, as curious 19 year olds, we’d wander by the Château Laurier day in and day out, and wonder what it might be like to stay there.
Fast forward about ten years, and we were walking through the front doors about to answer that very question. For us, it was very much a full-circle moment. I noted this in a previous article about creating a perfect weekend itinerary for Ottawa, but, for us, Ottawa has always been a place imbued with memories. Those memories felt especially pronounced on this visit, seeing as this is the first time we were back in Ottawa as a married couple. It’s a blessing, really - every time we go to Ottawa we get to think about the beginning of our story, while watching Ottawa create its own.
All that to say, the chance to stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier and take a little vacation in Ottawa was one that we jumped on. We’re both a huge fan of the Fairmont brand and, quite frankly, the Château Laurier is one of the most historic hotels in Canada, so we had high expectations. Those aforementioned expectations were more than met, and thus, today I’d like to focus on what a weekend at the Château Laurier is all about.
From high tea to regal lower-level swimming pools, this place had it all.
A Brief History of the Fairmont Château Laurier, A Staple of Downtown Ottawa
At the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, you’ll find the Château Laurier, a hotel that is over 650,000 square feet, with over 425 rooms, and an imposing facade that rivals that of the neighbouring Parliament Hill. It’s not just one of the most famous hotels in Ottawa, it’s one of the most photographed tourist sites in the city, period.
The Château Laurier was commissioned by Charles Melville Hays, who was, at the time, the President of the Grand Trunk Railway. This Gothic Revival Châteauesque masterpiece was created between 1909-1912, with the aim of being Ottawa’s premiere hotel. Part of the lore of this hotel is the stories associated with it and one of those stories, sadly, is that Charles Melville Hays perished aboard the TItanic as he was trying to make it back for the hotel’s opening.
The Grand Trunk Railway eventually became a part of the Canadian National Railway, which meant that the Château Laurier, situated right across from the central train station in downtown Ottawa, quickly became one of Canada’s foremost hotels.
Over the years, the hotel thrived, and hosted the who’s who of visitors to Canada’s capital. Eventually, in 1981, the hotel was designated rightfully as a National Historic Site of Canada. Finally in 1999, the Château Laurier was renamed the Fairmont Château Laurier when it was purchased by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
The future looks bright for one of the most notable luxury hotels in Canada’s as they continue to focus on maintaining old world charm while simultaneously providing first class modern amenities.
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Our Stay in the River Suite, An Executive Suite at the Fairmont Château Laurier
When Bri and I opened up the door to the “River Suite,” an Executive Suite on the illustrious third floor of the Fairmont Château Laurier, we were just enthused. Both of us have a thing for old world elegance - the high ceilings, the stately furniture, the allure of a sturdy wooden desk, the understated light fixtures, and, of course, the tastefull art adorning all the appropriate walls.
The room was roughly 850 square feet, so it was spacious, but my personal favourite part of the River Suite was the large windows which looked out onto some Ottawa’s most prized sites. For one, we had an ideal view of Major’s Hill Park, but also much more than that. We looked out onto the Ottawa River, and if you know Ottawa, you’ll know that on one side of the Ottawa River is the National Gallery of Canada, while directly across is the Canadian Museum of History. Well, we had a perfect view of both, along with the Connaught Building, and just a bit of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.
One of the major perks of staying in the River Suite was access to Fairmont Gold. In short, Fairmont Gold gives you the chance to have a private check-in, access to food and refreshments between 5-7 (and a private lounge to enjoy it in), access to newspapers, high speed internet, and really whatever you could hope for. To me, it was another level of service altogether, and one that Bri and I very much appreciated. Throughout our stay, we felt extraordinarily well taken care of, and knew that we could make one phone call to solve whatever problem we needed.
What’s Worth Noting if You’re Staying at the Fairmont Château Laurier for Your Vacation in Ottawa?
If you’ve gone through the effort to stay here, you ought to make the most of your experience. It’s my job to provide some insight on just that, and ensure that you make the most of your time at the Fairmont Château Laurier, one of the best hotels in Ottawa, hands down.
Take the Self-Guided Historical iPad Tour
If you’re anything like Bri and I, you love history, but you like exploring places on your own terms at your own pace. It’s safe to say that the Château Laurier understands that, as you can now borrow an iPad from the front desk to take a self-guided interactive historical tour. As a storyteller, I appreciated the narrative walk which told stories and shared images of years passed.
To understand the present moment, we need to contextualize it, and that’s what this tour did for us. You can imagine that we felt even more privileged to be heading back to our River Suite after the tour when we had an even greater grasp on the hotel’s story, and how we fit into that.
Fairmont Only Hires the Best of the Best
Bri and I felt as if our experience at the hotel was defined by the staff. The front desk welcomed us with a smile, the concierge had all the time in the world for us to plan our day, the server at Wilfrid’s gave us the perfect wine suggestion, the cleaning staff were pleasant as can be, and the list goes on and on.
Perhaps most notably, we met several times with the Director of Public Relations, Deneen Perrin, and she helped us have the ideal stay. Within moments of meeting her, I could swear we felt like we were family, that’s the level of kindness and warmth she showed. We met at breakfast, chatted over a beverage in the evening at Zoe’s Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant, and she checked in regularly to ensure our stay was everything it could be. There are certain people in this life who are balancing a million different things, and somehow manage to do it with grace, and she’s one of them. If there’s one thing I want to do with this article, it’s acknowledge her efforts, as she deserves all the applause I can give.
You Can Borrow Bikes to Explore Ottawa
Remember, the Château Laurier is situated in the heart of downtown Ottawa, which means you’re surrounded by tourist sites that are well within biking distance. I’d personally recommend, however, that you cross the street and walk down to the Rideau Canal, and simply bike down the Rideau Canal. If I lived in Ottawa, that’s something I’d do everyday (though I’d skate in winter as opposed to biking), as it’s a great excuse to be active, but also take advantage of a brilliant city project like that. The way that Ottawa has made the Rideau Canal so community facing is admirable. Bri and I were biking down the Rideau Canal as people kayaked down the canal, and other citizens enjoyed their lunch in nearby parks or benches.
Toronto is taking steps to try to make our waterfront more community friendly, and I’d like to think that the Rideau Canal serves as a fairly good example of what can happen when you put forth infrastructure that benefits the community and, by proxy, tourism at large.
Make Use of the Hotel Amenities
The experience of staying at the Fairmont Château Laurier is much more than just staying in your room. Spend some time in the lobby, and just observe the comings and goings of guests and the city at large. Go for a wander on the first floor to take a peak at the different shops and their offerings. Get lost a little bit, you’ll rarely find a corridor or area that isn’t gorgeous and stately.
Though, I’d strongly recommend that you take the time to really soak in the majesty of the art-deco swimming pool (notice that double entendre?). All that aside, it is probably my favourite spot in the whole hotel. I’ve stayed in innumerable high-caliber hotels in my day, but never have I seen a pool like this. It honestly looks like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, and I mean that as a hearty compliment.
Don’t Miss the Chance to Relish in the Offerings of High Tea at the Château Laurier
There’s high tea, and then there’s high tea at Zoe’s in the Château Laurier.
We put on some fine garments and headed downstairs and were seated near the window, with natural light pouring in. If you don’t know, I’m a huge fan of tea, as I don’t drink coffee. I typically drink about a pot of looseleaf tea a day, so when I saw their selection, I was in heaven. In honour of my time in Turkey, I ordered the “Grand Bazaar Spice” tea, which was filled with bold notes of cinnamon, anise, and some light fruit flavouring. Later, I also tried the “Long Island Strawberry,” which was a fruity green tea that I adored so much that I bought 100 grams of it to take home with me. Bri was thrilled with the “Market Fresh” tea, which was described as “summer in a cup,” and had notes of watermelon, cucumber, and other summery flavours.
As excited as I was about the offerings of tea, the menu itself also had my eyes nice and wide with anticipation. Bri and I each got an afternoon tea tower with a healthy portion of sweet and savoury that left the impression that they weren’t leaving much to chance - it was clear that everybody who orders the tower is going to find something they love.
Some of what we enjoyed included the mushrooms on toast, the moroccan curried egg, the homemade cherry and buttermilk scone which came with mascarpone cream and Fairmont Château Laurier jam, a blood orange cheesecake tartlet, almond and rum jalousie, and pomegranate tea macaroons. Honestly, that’s only a fraction of what was on offer.
The high tea at Zoe’s is what you do when you want to be all kinds of spoiled and guarantee yourself a satisfying and luxurious occasion that is worth every penny. High tea at Zoe’s runs from 1-4pm Monday to Friday and 11am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday.
When is the Best Time to Stay at the Château Laurier?
Quite honestly, I don’t think there’s a bad time to be there. We happened to time our stay with the Ottawa Tulip Festival, which I’ll talk more about in an upcoming article, but I can’t see anyone being disappointed. If it’s too cold out, use it as an excuse to explore the hotel and swim in the art-deco pool. If it’s nice and warm out, go outside and get a view of the hotel from all sorts of angles - it’s a hard hotel to miss if you’re in downtown Ottawa.
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Why Now the is the Time to Visit Ottawa
I’ve been watching Ottawa from a tourism perspective for at least fifteen or so years now, and I can tell you that Ottawa is the place to be right now in Canadian tourism. Toronto is going through a cultural renaissance of its own, it’s true, but I mostly want to note that Ottawa seems to have really come into its own. It very much feels like the capital of our country these days with everything going on, which might sound obvious to some, but coming from a Torontonian, that’s a big statement, trust me!
This may sound a touch lame, but staying at the Château Laurier filled me pride for my country, as well as nation’s capital. Everybody makes this wrong assumption that Canada is too young to have a history worth knowing about, but I’d urge you to take the self-guided iPad tour and see whether you could still say that afterwards.
For me, staying at the Fairmont Château Laurier was something that I’d wanted to do for as long as I remember. I’d imagined myself in that hotel more times than I could count, and visualized what it might be like to stay in a fanciful room replete with all the amenities I could hope for.
I had high hopes for our stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier, and still, my expectations were surpassed and exceeded. If I had pride for the Château Laurier before staying there, it’s safe to say that, as a Canadian, my heart it swelling with pride after having stayed there. It is, in short, an institution, and I, for one, am humbled to have a heartfelt understanding of it all.
Now I can close my eyes and still imagine myself in the hotel, and know that the dreams I once had are no less extraordinary than the reality.
I want to humbly thank the Fairmont Château Laurier and Ottawa Tourism for hosting me as media. All opinions are completely my own. Below, I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve stayed at the Château Laurier or been to Ottawa and your thoughts! I respond to each and every comment.