As a Torontonian, staying at a high-end hotel in the city is about getting away without going away. The three I’ve selected for an urban girlfriend getaway offer something special: the rooms make you feel at home, even when “home” is not nearly so luxurious or glamorous or, well, tidy. These hotels stand out not just because of the stunning view of the skyline from your suite or the 400 thread count sheets or the delicious meal you had for dinner, but because the people that work there make you feel welcome, and because they cater to your needs – for rest, comfort, quiet and indulgence.
The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto
This five-diamond hotel on Wellington Street in downtown Toronto has all the elements you could want in a hotel: an award-winning spa, fabulous upscale dining at TOCA, panoramic rooms from its suites and a styly bar for pre-dinner drinks.
Our room on the 18th floor had a stunning view of the lake, although admittedly, our bed was so comfy that, nestled under our 400-thread count Italian frette sheets, it was hard to keep my eyes open long enough to enjoy it. Rooms are expansive, ranging in size from 465 to 2,400 square feet.
With an upgrade to Club Level, like we had – for an additional $100 to $150 per day per adult ($50 for children) – you get full access to the Club Lounge on the 20th floor, a small price to pay for a stunning view of the water and Toronto skyline, and free rein to alcoholic drinks and light meals and snacks that you can help yourselves to throughout the day. The place is so relaxed, it really has the feel of a living room you could entertain in at home, except you don’t have to cook and everything you might want is there for the taking. I supped on smoked salmon and scrambled eggs at breakfast, sampled more than a couple lobster and ceviche appetizers as a pre-dinner snack, and battled a couple of pre-teens (don’t know who was more excited) at the chocolate fountain after dinner.
Over the course of the day, guests wander in and out of the lounge. Some come up to the 20th floor to check into their rooms or consult with the concierge dedicated exclusively for Club guests. Others stop by for a cappuccino, a snack or to meet a friend over a glass of scotch. One woman sits at a table working on her lap top, while her two well-behaved children watched TV quietly on the flat screen at the far end of the room.
That evening, we eat at the styly Ritz Bar, Hapa Izakaya, on the main floor. We sit at the bar, watching as Sous-chef Sho Otsuki serves up delicious tapas and sushi, accompanied by a chilled 40% polished Honjozo sake. The stand-out dishes are the edamame, which is marinated in fish broth for a day, a tuna avocado salsa dip with plantain chips, and BBQ rolls made with kobe beef, asparagus, jalapeno and crispy fried onions.
For more upscale (and read expensive) dining, you can try out the beautiful four-diamond TOCA, on the second floor. Front and centre of the restaurant is its cheese cave, which houses 40 to 45 cheeses, and where you can enter for a taste and a tour. They also have a separate glassed-in wine cave, which includes a huge variety of fine wines, including their own TOCA label. Their famous Sunday brunch is $79 per person (including a Mimosa and Belini bar) and a light pre-theatre meal is available at 5:30 pm for $35.
The other dining option at the Ritz is DEC Terrace and Lounge, also on the main floor, serving drinks and light meals throughout the day and afternoon tea on weekends ($40 to $88 per person).
Of course, the spa at the Ritz is perfect for a girls’ getaway. Last year, it was ranked #1 hotel spa in the world by Travel & Leisure. See our story on Toronto’s Top 5 Luxury Hotel Spas.
Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto
At Trump Toronto, black and white reflect a caviar and champagne design —and feel—to this exclusive hotel that stands tall, 900 feet above the city. This high-end hotel is about making you feel like you belong to a special a club where the membership is restricted to those who appreciate the finest in style, décor and dining.
As well as being rated #1 of 140 Toronto hotels on Trip Advisor for the last 18 months, the Trump—along with Four Seasons Toronto—is also one of only two Toronto hotels to have ever earned Forbes Travel’s coveted five-star designation.
Nothing about the Trump is understated. A glimmering cherry blossom branch sculpture made of 300 pounds of quartz crystal is the focal point of the lobby, while elements of luxury and glamour permeate the hotel. Dangling chandeliers glimmer. Granite floors shine. Marble and lacquer stand polished and sleek. And the Italian antique mirrored ceiling next to the lobby is arresting. At the entrance to the underground parking stands a 69-foot long, 13.5-foot high mosaic mural made of 500,000 small pieces of stone (including some antique gold, mother of pearl, onyx and ebony). Subtlety enters the scene in accents of colour — the aubergine chandeliers in the spa, the pink orchid in each guest room, and “the colour brought to the space by the customer,” says General Manager Mickael Damelincourt. We are speaking over lunch at the superb Stock restaurant on the 31st floor of the hotel, where – true to his words—a brightly coloured cashmere sweater of one guest, and elegant women dressed in bold colours of satin and silk contrast to a white accent walk with floral piping and black lacquer tables.
When I ask Mickael what sets standard of Trump above other luxe Toronto hotels, he says “it’s about creating a relationship with your customer.” “If someone leaves and there’s no memory, you haven’t done your job,” he says, referencing interactions with the concierge, the server at breakfast, the housekeeper or woman in the change rooms of the spa as all equally important.
I have to admit that I agree with him. From the moment I walk in the door of the hotel, I am greeted by concierge Genevieve Moir who introduces herself – not from behind a desk, but right at the entrance. No barriers divide us. None of the staff wear name tags. They speak to you warmly, and remember your name once you’ve told them. Every possible need I could ever have is catered to, beginning even before I arrived at the hotel, when I was e-mailed an extensive questionnaire about my every preference, from the newspaper I want to find outside my door in the morning (I get the Sunday New York Times), to what type of pillow I like to my desired room temperature.
The lobby of this grand hotel is small. Within moments, you can start enjoying what the hotel has to offer – the spa, the pool, the restaurant and of course the guest rooms – the Trump has the largest guest rooms in the city (they start at 550 sq feet). Each suite and room has a doorbell, like you’re in your own home, the view from on high is stellar, and Italian Bellino linen on the beds is so comfortable it’s hard to have a bad sleep.
Their Sunday brunch is also out of this world. Stock restaurant is a place to eat and be seen. When we arrive, after a workout and sauna, we find ourselves quickly surrounded by women in sleek black dresses and high heels, men in business casual and kids in their Sunday best. (For $49/person ($24.50 for kids aged four to 12), the spread is massive. Linger over everything from the classic scrambled eggs and bacon and Belgian waffles to raw oysters, Tomahawk prime rib roast, a decadently buttery quiche Lorraine and of course a vast assortment of chocolate. With their own Chocolate Lab, a 10th floor kitchen designated solely to making chocolate, you can sample everything from cupcakes to chocolate tarts oozing salted caramel to classic chocolate chip cookie and a homemade chocolate-covered Oreo cookie sprinkled with edible gold dust.
Feeling in need of exercise to work off any of the extra poundage? You can swim laps in their salt water infinity pool on the 32nd floor that looks less like a hotel pool than a pool fit for a multi-millionaire’s home. Or do a workout in the fitness centre, with the same great view of Lake Ontario. Or if this seems too tiring, simply sweat off some calories in their stunning cedar sauna in the change room. And combine this with a spa treatment.
Not much can trump this!
Trump Toronto is the only Trump hotel in Canada. There are nine worldwide, with plans to open four more by 2016, including one in Vancouver.
Hôtel le Germain Maple Leaf Square
Not a five-star luxury brand hotel like the others featured here, Le Germain Maple Leaf Square nevertheless is rated very highly by Trip Advisor readers – second, in fact, of 140 listings. With all the fabulous luxe hotels in Toronto, I was curious to find out what made this boutique hotel stand above so many others.
On first impression, Le Germain Maple Leaf Square clearly doesn’t have some of the features that make a hotel alluring for girls getting away – that is, there’s no spa, their fitness centre is modest and the hotel restaurant, PLAY Lounge, is more of a sports bar than a fine cuisine restaurant. But the hotel does have a laid-back friendly feel to the place that makes it both unassuming and inviting, with engaging personalities, like the charming and knowledgeable concierge Gregory Flynn and PLAY Lounge bartender Michael Guenther.
And the sports theme at this hotel (clearly established for sports fans drawn to the Air Canada Centre next door) is featured in an artistic way. Black and white photos hang over the beds in each of the 167 guest rooms, depicting cropped [muscular] body parts, in nude, of Raptors, Maple Leaf and Toronto FC players. A stark black and white theme, with pale anigre wood, permeates the hotel, with an unfinished concrete wall stained black in most of the guest rooms. (While black and white are also in abundance at the Trump, here the effect is modern and low key.) Green is the accent colour—with granny apples on display (including on a lit glass wall shelf next to the elevator, and a green wall in the fitness centre.
Many of the rooms have a two-sided glass shower, so you can look in at your roommate performing morning cleansing ritual, or shut the blind (as we did). The rooms feel spacious, in part because of natural light, but also because of its practical use of space, with a built-in TV, armoire and iron, and a large countertop across base of window. (If you want to snuggle in for the evening, you don’t have to go outside: there is an LCBO and grocery store selling single-serving meals in the Maple Leaf Square complex, of which le Germain is a part.
At the PLAY Lounge, where we have dinner, the charming head bartender Michael Guenther agrees to change the channel on two of the six (!) TV screens (it’s a quiet night): he sets one to the image of a fireplace and another to an aquarium. His recommendations are bang on: we enjoyed the bison sliders on the “to share” side of the menu and the chicken with jalapeno cheddar pancake and blueberry cinnamon molé, pan seared Arctic char and Haloumi salad on the “not to share” side.
In the front lobby, I was captivated by “the knot,” a chandelier/art piece made up of knotted mechanical industrial cables with LED lighting that hangs from the ceiling. On the floor, strips of light change colour throughout the day, except when sports team playing, when the colour is “locked” —red for Raptors, blue for the Leafs.
The Group Germain originally began in the restaurant business in Quebec in the 50s, but then fell in love with the concept of the boutique hotel, and opened the first Le Germain hotel in Quebec in 1988. From the beginning, they focused on personalized service.
“There wasn’t much traditional advertising. They let their reputation grow organically,” says Hotel le Germain Maple Leaf Square General Manager Paul de La Durantaye.
Group Germain also has lower end ALT Hotels, which run for $139 to $159 per room, with one rate guaranteed every night of the year.