hotels


12
Nov 13

24 Hours in Whistler

I’m falling a bit in love with Whistler; every time I go there something new and rather lovely happens and I start to ponder how I can sort out some kind of weekend cottage there; tucked away with a view of those beautiful mountains and within easy reach of all the great bars and restaurants.

This time it was a trip up with two friends who’d come to stay from Brighton. It’s ridiculous how fast you become blasé about breath-taking scenery, I remember the first time that I made the journey from Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway and it reduced me to a state of slack-jawed, tearful nature worship. It was great to see it through fresh eyes again and be reminder that yes; this one of the most gorgeous places on earth.

Breakfast with a perfect view

Breakfast with a perfect view

I usually head to the Galileo cafe on the way up but this time tried somewhere new and definitely off the beaten track. Up in Squamish, Fergie’s cafe was tucked away at the end of a trail that left us wondering if we’d made a wrong turn off the highway. Eagles winged overhead and we could hear the rushing of a river. We found Fergie’s – a small slice of paradise in a woody grove. In the summer they have glamping and white water rafting trips: we sat outside under blazing blue skies and devoured one of the best breakfasts I can remember eating. The bacon was free-range; juicy and crisp and the eggs had the kind of golden yolk that told you the hens got to scratch and peck and run outside and my cheesy-buttery biscuits were carb-heaven on a plate. All that with a view that made me long to give everything up and just live in the woods.

Our home for the night was at the Westin; we had a two bedroom suite right in the heart of town. Whistler hotels seem to have the rather canny knack of being the exact opposite of inner-city hotels; flooded with light and space they feel like a home from home (if you’re lucky enough to live in a home that boasts a fireplace and a balcony that looks out over a mesmerising mountain range, that is). There is a small kitchenette so you can whip up a late-night snack or breakfast, in short, plenty of room to lounge and chat.

Fall in Whistler

Fall in Whistler

We headed to the village and I left them to shop while I curled up in the October sunshine in a cheerful yellow-painted Adirondack chair overlooking one of the squares and I watched the scarlet and russet leaves fall. Vancouver had been wreathed in dense fog for days and I knew the rain season would soon be here: it felt like the most precious gift of all to lie in the sunshine just a few hours away from home.

I’m a huge fan of the Scandinave spa just outside of Whistler and was excited to take my friends there for a treat. I’d never visited after dusk and the usually meditative atmosphere that comes from being able to unwind amongst stunning nature took on a magical shape at night with those mountains and trees cloaked in velvety darkness. I lay back in one of the hot pools and watched the stars twinkle through the drifts of steam. I’ve finally mastered the art of just ducking under the icy plunge pools without shrieking and learned to love the feeling of being so cold your skin pulses and tingles… then slowly warming up again as you lie curled up on a beanbag or wrapped in a towel in a solarium.

Meditative magic at night

Meditative magic at night

I’d got great plans for a night at my favourite Whistler restaurant, the Bearfoot – a session in the Belvedere Vodka Ice Room perhaps or a lesson in Champagne sabering in the basement? But we were all sleepy and just a bit too relaxed, so headed back to the hotel. I dreamed of mountains and woke to a sunrise which had turned the peaks an blushing apricot-pink. That ‘Whistler effect’ of leaving you feeling quite changed within just a short time had happened again: just 24 hours left us feeling like we’d had a few days holiday. In the months ahead through the rain and the snow and biting cold, I’ll close my eyes and think of that yellow chair and that blue, blue sky and of those wonderful eggs eaten outdoors, my appetite sharpened by the soaring peaks and the sunshine on my face. 

 I was hosted by Westin Whistler and the Scandinave Spa – but as ever – my words are 100% my own. 

Thanks also to B.C. Ford who loaned us a C-Max Energi hybrid for the trip. I’d never driven a hybrid before, it was pleasingly quiet and I genuinely loved it. I’m lucky to live by one of the charging stations and it felt ridiculously cool to just plug my car in to charge. Best of all? A trip to Whistler and back only came to just under $40 in gas. Impressive. 


15
Jul 13

Join the club: Toronto Ritz Carlton

Some names bring with them an almost-too-high expectation of luxury. Tiffany’s for example; it’s impossible to say it out loud and not imagine the gleam and glitter of diamonds. I felt the same about the Ritz, the name alone conjures up images of crisp uniforms, chauffeur-driven Bentleys purring at the kerb, silver salvers and the click of designer heels skittering across a marble floor. Romantic? Me? Well, maybe a little. But that’s the thing with big-name hotels they have a lot to live up to.

Might this be a tad too much in my flat?

Might this be a tad too much in my flat?

So, high expectations for the Ritz on my first stay, but you know what? The Ritz Carlton didn’t get to be The Ritz Carlton without delivering on the promises that its name makes. I was already delighted in the time it took me to get from the door to the reception desk – coppery maple leaves embossed on the shiny marble floor, the glittering chandelier-art that bounced light around the spacious lobby and the Canadiana art on the walls – all were lovely (I later discovered that the Ritz has some 450 Canadian works of art dotted around the hotel – better than some art galleries!). My grin got even broader as I was told that I was staying ‘in the club’ so I got escorted by an equally delighted staff member “Oh, you are in for such a treat…” up to the 20th floor to check in.

I’d been unaware of the Ritz’s ‘hotel within a hotel’ concept – but here it is: if you don’t think you’re already being spoiled silly then you can take things up a notch and book in to Club Level which gives you access to a private check-in and lounge which has an impressive food and drinks programme all day and evening, offering time-appropriate snacks, from breakfast and juices through to hors d’oeuvres, wine and sweets. It has a fabulous view of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower from its squashy sofas and comfy seats. I popped in a few times and there was always a happy buzz about the room – I loved that it was full of people who seemed to be genuinely appreciating it – there was no eye-rolling sense of entitlement here which was a really pleasant surprise.

Club level: you've arrived...

Club level: you’ve arrived…

After check in it was time to check out my room; I’m always amused when I stay in a suite that’s clearly larger than my flat at home and this had to be at least double if not triple the size with a picture-perfect view of the Tower from the floor to ceiling windows. I kept my curtains open all night – impossible to stop watching the tower glowing different colours – at one point it lit up in a kind of dreamy shimmer, for all the world like the Aurora Borealis, it was superb.

There’s a kind of fantasy bubble that the best sort of hotel makes you feel you’ve stepped into when you stay; everything is beautiful, nothing feels like too much trouble, the staff are friendly but never obsequious and you feel genuinely delighted to just be there and glide around the public areas with a slightly foolish grin on your face. I spent almost the whole time I was at the Ritz with precisely that daft grin on my face. For once, the reality is just as good as the legend – I felt more spoiled than a Kardashian when I left, but oh! so much more classy.

Love this view!

Love this view!

The Ritz Carlton are currently running a ‘Treat You‘ package which I think is a pretty good deal. It starts from $750CAN a night – BUT! that’s for two people and includes Club Level access (so that’s breakfast, mid-day meal, light snacks, hors d’oeuvres, alcoholic beverages and sweets – all included) plus roundtrip airport transfers, internet access AND – if you book for two nights you get the third for free. The perfect ‘champagne’ experience for ‘cava’ prices. Ts & Cs – of course – apply.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Toronto and stayed as a guest of the Ritz Carlton – all views are, however 100% my own. I just really, really enjoyed this!  

For more info:

Ritz Carlton.

Address: 181 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3G7

Phone: (416) 585-2500


9
Jul 13

Five Rules for Successfully Ordering Room Service

There's something rather stylish about curry accompanied by a starched tablecloth

There’s something rather stylish about curry accompanied by a starched tablecloth

Despite staying in dozens of hotels each year, I could count the times I’ve ordered room service on one hand – I’m usually whizzing around, trying to fit in as many restaurants, bars and sights in whatever city I’m visiting to spend too much time in my hotel room. That’s why I got excited when I stayed at the Four Seasons in Toronto as they invited me to check out their in-room dining programme. Really? After a long flight AND an early start I could just… relax?! Hold me back…

There’s a kind of glamour and old-world decadence to that heated cart covered in heavy, beautifully-ironed white linen trundling to your room. But I discovered that it takes a certain level of skill to successfully order from a room service menu – a skill that I, as a rookie, did not have.

Toronto is known as being a city of neighbourhoods and I thought it was a neat touch that the menu reflected this with a ‘Streets of Toronto’ section – butter chicken from Little India, a souvlaki sandwich inspired by Greektown  - I wanted to hop around town so picked the butter chicken, a maple-braised pork belly pad Thai, a starter of BC Dungeness crab popcorn and I couldn’t resist the Nanaimo Bar with Brown Butter ice cream too. When presented with ice cream as room service you order it, right? Just to see if it makes it to the room or melts on the cart.

Crunchy - and I really liked the salsa.

Crunchy – and I really liked the salsa.

About half an hour after ordering it all arrived and after taking a few photos I dived in. I eyed the ice cream with some trepidation – it looked good on its bed of ice – would it manage to not disappear into a puddle before I got to it? First up the popcorn crab; the breaded shell was still crunchy, the crab was tender  and the lemon-saffron aioli it came with just tangy enough. It was good, but not great – it was like ordering something fresh from a fryer and then leaving it for half an hour – which, to be fair – was pretty much what I had done, although, of course, the heated cabinet had kept it warm.

The noodles were prettiest so they were next; alas, they were kind of gummy. Like a teething baby, they had not travelled well. I nibbled on a few veggies before heading for the cashew and raisin-studded butter chicken, which – I can definitely say is THE thing to order. Heaven on a plate with just the right balance between that sweet, creamy buttery taste and the warm glow of spice and heat. The rice hadn’t dried up and the time in the heater hadn’t hurt the curry at all.

The ice cream was a little liquid around the edges by the time I dug in but oh! It didn’t matter at all. It was ridiculously good. I wished I’d had time during my stay to go and have some more. It was up there on the deliciousness stakes with my adventures with the Sunday Morning Ice Cream club…

So, my Five Rules for Successfully Ordering Room Service are…

* Think ‘what would be best as a take away’?

* Anything that can tolerate sitting in a warmer works – curries, soups etc.

* Anything that should be gobbled up fresh off the griddle or out of a wok does not.

* Anything that’s deep-fried probably won’t be at its best but will still be good if you’re craving stodge.

* If there is ice cream – order it anyway – even a little puddly it’s better than NOT ordering it. And slurping it up whilst dressed in a robe, flicking between channels, eating off a gorgeous crisp white tablecloth-draped table – unbeatable.

I stayed in Toronto as a guest of Toronto Tourism and the Four Seasons. However – as always – my views are 100% my own. 

 Find out more: 

Four Seasons, 60 Yorkville Ave  Toronto, ON M4W 0A4, Canada
Tel: +1 416-964-0411

Toronto Tourism

 

 


1
Jul 13

Two things I Just Remembered Which Utterly Delighted Me About the Four Seasons in Toronto

This is very silly and completely brilliant.

This is very silly and completely brilliant.

1. They have the most gloriously bonkers watering system in their garden. Really. It’s a giant – and amusingly effective – misting device. I saw it working and raced to run through it. Pleasingly refreshing, I felt as though I had plunged into an 80s music video as I was suddenly obscured from view by the clouds of mist. Fantastic! Cute design and I loved the metal cut-outs of flowers too.

I'm having serious problems trying to NOT lick the screen right now

I’m having serious problems trying to NOT lick the screen right now

2. I had breakfast at Cafe Boulud and tried the absurdly decadent duck confit hash. This is a crazy thing to eat first thing in the morning but oh, damn – it was brilliant. Just fabulous. The duck confit was as meltingly-perfect as you would ever wish a confit to be, the hash – mysteriously – not really what I’d call a hash at all. Instead eggily-yellow Yukon potatoes – that were surely part-butter – rested under the tangle of duck with two free-range eggs on top. I am drooling just thinking about how wonderful it all was when the yolk met the duck and the potatoes. If you are in Toronto you really should go and have this. It’s fabulous.

I travelled as a guest of Toronto Tourism and the Four Seasons – but as ever – my views are 100% my own. 

Find out more: 

Four Seasons, 60 Yorkville Ave  Toronto, ON M4W 0A4, Canada
Tel: +1 416-964-0411

Toronto Tourism


1
Jul 13

Toronto: Four Seasons hotel and spa

Stunning high ceiling lobby

Stunning high ceiling lobby

The first thing I did when I arrived at the Four Seasons in Toronto was get lost. Later, I did it again in the spa and – just for good measure  – I got lost on the way to my room. Usually this would have me fizzing with rage but to be honest – it’s so ridiculously pretty that I almost didn’t mind at all. I asked about the baffling lack of signage and was told that signs were a-coming – once everyone could agree on fonts and size and so on – that is.

Fingers crossed when you get there, that’s all been sorted. But I have to say – there are many, many worse places to get lost and by being a little lost I did get to find a few things I may have otherwise missed. I admired the stunning floral arrangements – not something that I ever pay too much attention to if I’m honest, but these were magnificent. I looked up at the high, high ceilings and felt their calming influence so when I finally made it to reception I was all smiles.

Adore these cool shades

Adore these cool shades

The restful feeling in the lobby spreads throughout the hotel; I loved the colour palette of creams, a pale jade-y-turquoise, moss green accents and warm peach touches. In my room I spotted that a fabric-like covering had transformed an ordinary bathroom door into something special. I like that kind of detail. I had chance to soak all this up later as when I arrived I had chance to barely hurl my case into my room and gallop back downstairs again as I had a spa appointment scheduled. I almost clapped my hands with glee when I saw the pool; I love to swim and hotel pools tend to be lost in the basement so this light-flooded dream of a pool area made me long to hurl myself in at the deep end. Gorgeous.

The spa was glitteringly clean and bright, I spent 20 minutes warming up my muscles by stretching out in the unexpectedly large steam room in the changing room. Then, I took a quick shower, wrapped myself in my robe and curled up in a comfy chair, waiting for my therapist. I like the idea of the spa massage menu here – all at the same price point for times, you just choose which style and pressure you’d like and if you want 60-minutes or 90-minutes of bliss. I liked the look of the Asian Fusion – which promised to blend techniques from across Asia into one stress-relieving, energy-restoring treatment.

A rare - and lovely - sun-lit hotel pool

A rare – and lovely – sun-lit hotel pool

I’m always so happy when I experience something completely authentic in a Western spa that I’ve previously had in its original setting. I may have been in a spiify hotel spa with soft towels, chilled music and heated massage bed, but the techniques that my therapist used could have been straight from the little hut on the river where I had dazzling Ayurvedic massages in Sri Lanka or the all-Chinese spa that I used to visit in a Paris backstreet where no one spoke a word of French. It was one of those treatments when I felt like rolling around on the floor wailing “More! Please! More!” once it was over, but I managed to control myself and instead thanked her and lay there for a while, feeling like the exhaustion of the brutally early start, the delayed plane, the hours of travel – all of it – had just melted away.

I got a bit lost trying to find my locker and – indeed – the exit, but I was so delightedly chilled that I just enjoyed my confusion and floated back up to my room to watch the city lights sparkle and catch a spot of room service…

I travelled as a guest of Toronto Tourism and the Four Seasons – but as ever – my views are 100% my own. 

Find out more: 

Four Seasons, 60 Yorkville Ave  Toronto, ON M4W 0A4, Canada
Tel: +1 416-964-0411

Toronto Tourism

 


7
May 13

Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

Before I moved to Vancouver I didn’t think I was terribly British at all, but the further away I am from England, the more I find myself ticking all those stereotypical Brit boxes. Take afternoon tea, for example, I’m no tea drinker at home – I don’t even own a kettle! It’s coffee all the way for me, but when Nancie invited over to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to see what their spread was like I jumped at the chance. Tea! Sandwiches! A three-tiered cake stand! Oh, be still my fluttering British heart…

Essentially how I'd like every Friday at 3pm to start, please.

Essentially how I’d like every Friday at 3pm to start, please.

I had a fun afternoon ‘cocktail’ tea at the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Whistler as part of the Cornucopia festival. I’d imagined this tea was going to be a traditionally sober affair, but hooray! I was wrong. We started our feast with an glass of bubbly, which is a hugely cheery thing to do on a Friday at 3pm, and I absolutely recommend it.

The most tricky task of the afternoon was picking which tea to have; the menu is pleasingly large and infuriatingly tempting with some two dozen blends to pick from. I ummed and ahed over the Maple Maple or the Empress Orange Pekoe but in the end went for the divine-sounding Versailles Lavender Earl Grey – after all, I was about to eat cake so why not go for something Marie Antoniette-ish? I’m a fan of florals, I know they’re a kind of love-them-or-hate-them flavour but I’m definitely in the ‘love’ camp. Anything with a rose, violet or lavender taste, count me in. There was just enough perfume in this blend to not overwhelm, I decided against adding milk and wondered where I could find some to have at home. Tea worth buying a kettle for? Maybe.

*Muffled sounds of greedy applause*

*Muffled sounds of greedy applause*

It was tough not to whoop when our three-tiered stand of delights arrived; scones on top, delicate patisserie in the middle and itsy-bitsy sandwiches on the bottom. The formality and utter indulgence of an afternoon tea delights me in every way. It’s always been one of my favourite things to do and the Fairmont didn’t let me down. The scones were a little too sweet, but I think this has to be a Canadian thing as everywhere I’ve had scones they are always a touch over-sugared for me, but the patisserie – one little raspberry pastry flecked with gold leaf in particular – superb and the crispy bacon on one of the sandwiches had me gurgling with delight!

Who can resist a smoked salmon pinwheel? Not I.

Who can resist a smoked salmon pinwheel? Not I.

I leaned back on the padded armchair (with wheels! so you can adjust your chair in ultimate comfort) and looked at the room; all gilt-edged and old-fashioned glamour, I was definitely in my happy place. I think I’ve found my new favourite Friday afternoon treat – now, who’s coming with me next time?

*Dribble*

*Dribble*

I was a very cheerful guest of the Fairmont Vancouver hotel for tea – but all my words, as ever, are 100% my own. Admittedly, they were mostly moans of pleasure as it was glorious, but still. 

Need to know:

Book afternoon tea at the 900 West Lounge at the Fairmont Vancouver at 1pm or 3pm here or call call (604) 443-1807 to reserve.

Afternoon tea is $39 per person, a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne an extra $20.

 

 

 


30
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 5: Hastings House, Salt Spring Island

I knew I was going to love Hastings House before I even got there – how could I not? A boutique Relais and Chateaux hotel, in a Sussex-style farmhouse overlooking the sea, on an island I’d dreamed of visiting for years. On paper it looked good, in reality it was even better. I was living in Brighton before I came to Canada and I used to love to go to the glorious old pubs out in the lush Sussex countryside for lunch. I almost clapped my hands with glee when I saw the Manor House dining room; crackling fire, leaded glass windows – it was like being back home in England – but with the promise of Canadian cuisine to come – the best of both worlds.

Wind-spun art and faux- Sussex farmhouse

Wind-spun art and faux- Sussex farmhouse

Hastings House was built in 1940, a reproduction Tudor-style manor house, it became a hotel in the 1980s with some of the old estate buildings repurposed as luxury country house-style accommodations. I stayed in the west wing of the farmhouse; a two-storey cottage which made me feel I’d stepped back into my grandma’s home, everything was pleasingly old-fashioned with just the right soft touches of luxury. From the stone fireplace with its stack of logs to the invitingly cosy sofa and feather-soft bed, here was a hotel that I could happily have moved into.

I pottered around the grounds, admiring the vegetable and herb gardens – all of which are used in the kitchen – and snapping photos of the wind-spinning sculptures dotted around the gardens. I wound up seeing these mesmerising pieces all around the island; Salt Spring is quite the artists colony and there’s a trail that you can follow, taking in the various studios around the island. That first day I took it easy; curled up on the sofa and read a PG Wodehouse novel by the fire. It was lashing with rain outside and there’s no happier feeling than listening to the rain thrum on the roof, feeling toasty-warm, as you toss another log on the fire.

Perfect Ganges Harbour view

Perfect Ganges Harbour view

As I strolled across to the Manor House that evening for dinner, I was already beaming contentedly, but the prospect of my meal tipped me over into idiot-grin territory. I’d read nothing but raves about the food here and after my meal I can see why. The most plump and perfect buttery prawns, pan-fried in Armagnac piled high on fresh-from-the garden greens. A succulent duck with the most ludicrously creamy, just-right dauphinoise potato. A swirl of watercress soup that almost had me licking the plate. A table-bangingly rich chocolate and raspberry confection to finish. There’s a reason why people wax lyrical about this place; it’s exceptionally good. Pair that with deft service, a crackling fire and wonderful room and you’ve a recipe for perfect happiness.

Wonderful desert at the Manor House restaurant by the fire

Table-bangingly good food

 

I strolled the few steps back to my farmhouse, the rain had stopped by now; the stars were coming out and I could hear the sounds of the sea from the harbour below. Tomorrow I’d explore Salt Spring Island, I’d wake to a warm pre-breakfast muffin and fresh juice delivered to my porch at 7am, but tonight I’d stoke the fire up again and listen to the wood pop and crackle as I drank herb tea feeling oddly at home, as though I were in Sussex, yet thousands of miles away from Brighton.

I stayed as a guest of Hastings House. Thank you! But – as ever – these are 100% my own words and opinions.


14
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 1: Galiano Island

My suitcase wheels crunched over the pebbles as I walked the short distance from the BC ferry dock to the Galiano Island Inn and spa, my first stop on a six-night island-hopping adventure around British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, a chain of islands inbetween the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. Just a 55-minute ferry journey from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen terminal, yet Galiano feels a world away from Vancouver city life.

Welcome....

Welcome….

It’s a small island; sparsely populated (just over 1,200 residents) short and thin (27.5km long and only 6km across at its widest) with a pleasingly quirky feeling and an abundance of natural beauty. While I was there I saw bald eagles circling overhead, spotted seals snoozing in the midday sunshine curled up like kittens in a basket and tiny quicksilver hummingbirds darting between the trees. If I’d waited a few weeks to visit, I could have gone whale watching – from the comfort of my patio – as between April and October resident pods of Orca whales make their way through Active Pass, the narrow strip of water which separates Mayne Island from Galiano island, right in front of the Galiano Inn and Spa.

This is what I meant by 'quirky'. This is apparently a hummingbird. Not a winged teddy-bear.

This is what I meant by ‘quirky’. This is apparently a hummingbird. Not a winged teddy-bear.

My suite at the Inn was bigger than my apartment at home; full kitchen, cosy lounge, the works. I’m always infuriated by hotels who have that ‘towels and wasting water’ card in their bathrooms if they have individual plastic bottles for their toiletries – it feels like the worst kind of tokenism. ‘Hey!” I always mutter when I see that. ‘If you really cared about the environment, you’d use pump dispensers, not zillions of plastic bottles and save the earth that way. Doofus.” Hurrah, then for the Inn as they did just that – filled with gorgeous-smelling locally-made products created just for them from nearby Salt Spring Island. Best of all, my waterfront terrace boasted a whirlpool bath, fireplace and a BBQ  – all of which I put to excellent use on my second night, curled up in a blanket, eating char-grilled prawns and drinking ice-cold wine by a crackling fire. I’m a sucker for any chance to laze in hot water in the outdoors; soaking in that tub, the jets bubbling away as I watched the sunset blush the sky a perfect apricot-pink, is a memory I’ll long cherish.

 

Not the Caribbean, the Gulf Islands... Perfect view from my terrace.

Not the Caribbean, the Gulf Islands… Perfect view from my terrace.

I spent my first day soaking up all the other good things the Inn had to offer; I walked on a cherry blossom-covered path to a warm wooden hut beside a pond to get a massage. I’d had a painful, stiff neck and shoulder for days and my therapist delivered a soothing, muscle-melting treatment that left me gurgling with delight. The rest of the spa is upstairs above the reception in the main building. I had a choco-therapy pedicure there, my feet scrubbed, then moisturised with chocolate-infused products while I sipped on mint-chocolate herb tea, flicking through a copy of Chocolat and scoffing a chocolate truffle.

Cross the blossom-path to the spa pavilion.

Cross the blossom-path to the spa pavilion.

Dinner that night was at the Inn’s restaurant, I started with a perfect espresso Martini, then dived into a rocket-covered, goat cheese-flecked, honey-crusted flatbread, just-right scallops and a juicy local salmon steak with sweet potato mash and a tangy lime-spiked yoghurt dressing. I sat and watched the stars come out and planned a trip back in summer when the pizza oven terrace in the garden re-opens and I could maybe sip cocktails in the summer warmth and see those Orcas cruise past. Tomorrow I’d explore the island in one of the cute smart cars that the Inn has to lend to guests, but tonight I’d just enjoy the relaxed pace of island living…

I stayed as a guest of the Galiano Inn and Spa. My views – as always – are 100% my own.

No need to bring a car - borrow theirs!

No need to bring a car – borrow theirs!

 


8
Apr 13

Feeling at home in Fairmont’s Charlevoix Chateau

Out of all the things I imagined that I’d miss about home, one thing I didn’t anticipate missing was old buildings. Vancouver is such a modern city, it celebrated its 125th birthday in 2011. Gleaming high rises are everywhere and but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in Quebec’s Charlevoix region and beamed at its stone exterior and gleaming wooden interior that I had a sudden flash of realisation; I like old buildings, they feel comforting and like ‘home’.

I could not love this more.

I could not love this more.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu certainly ticked all my Heritage Building boxes, just an hour or so drive along the stunning St Lawrence river, it was a world away from the funky modern delights of La Ferme. The original hotel was built in 1899, but burned down in 1928. I can’t imagine what dazzling riches the workers who rebuilt the hotel were offered but it was redesigned as a French Chateau and inaugurated in June 1929. Good work, chaps! I loved the huge fireplaces, the lavish lounge which looked out over the river and the spacious comfortable bedroom which came with the only hotel toiletries I ever ‘steal’ – I’m such a fan of the Fairmont’s rose-scented range.

How I wish I'd had time to laze around under the sunshine here...

How I wish I’d had time to laze around under the sunshine here…

Although the hotel has a pleasingly old-fashioned vibe, thanks to a multi-million dollar refurbishment, the facilities are bang up to date; well equipped children’s area, gorgeous outdoor hot pools and and all winter fun activities are catered for, you can hire everything from skates to tubes to go sliding. There is an Amerispa on site too which offers some interesting ice-cider treatments – I love the use of local ingredients – even in the spa.

After reading about the magnificent food that made the Charlevoix region so famous, I was excited about dinner; a tasting menu of the region created by Chef Patrick Turcot. The restaurant works with ultra-local producers, sourcing food within a 50KM radius. I ate  foie gras from a small farm, served with a brandy snap, honied fruit and a dollop of whipped cream, it came served with a glass of Le Pedneault, a local ice cider. At first taste it was syrupy sweet, but it became pleasingly dry with each forkful of foie and was easily a decadent day of calories in a few bites. I’ve found the flavours of the east coast of Canada to be so much richer and sweeter than those of the west coast. After a few days enjoying the riches of their terroir, I’m always just about ready to crawl back to Vancouver’s seafood and kale – no wonder they stock up on winter sports equipment! This is hearty food to fortify the body and soul through bitter winters – but so delicious!

Yes please.

Yes please.

I spoke with Chef in the morning, before I left, he was full of excitement that his plans to create their very own breakfast sausages with local organic suppliers was finally coming to fruition. He’d be making 20kg of sausage over the next few days and looked like a man who couldn’t wait to start. In the wake of the horsemeat scandals in Europe, it’s genuinely refreshing to spend time with a chef who can tell you the name of each and every one of his suppliers and can point to them on a local map. You could taste the care and dedication in every bite.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Charlevoix and Le Manoir Richelieu. As always, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more at Tourism Quebec.

Chef Patrick Turcot

Chef Patrick Turcot


7
Apr 13

All the fun of La Ferme

Looking around, it was hard to believe I wasn’t in in a funky hotel in a major metropolis. Airy spaces, glass and natural materials, clean lines and bold colours screamed ultra-modern design, but cheeky touches like the fabulously decorated life-size cow in the lounge or the farming tools sculpture in reception gave you a clue that Hôtel La Ferme is far from well – anything really – deep in the heart of the Charlevoix region of Quebec in Baie-saint-Paul.

Where urban cool meets painted cow...

Where urban cool meets painted country cow…

The brainchild of Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Hôtel La Ferme is the last piece in the puzzle that he’s been building in this beautiful part of the world that’s remained mostly unknown beyond Canada. Ten years ago, he bought Le Massif, a ski mountain, planning to transform it into a world-class four-season destination. The plan to link the area to Quebec City with a luxury private train stopping off at the mountain and then the hotel, offering top-notch accommodation (145 rooms ranging from the nicest dorm rooms I’ve ever seen to stylish doubles) and dining has finally come to fruition and – judging from my experience there – will put the area firmly on the radar of those looking for something new and deliciously cool.

Cool, clean lines - pastoral scenes

Cool, clean lines – pastoral scenes

Arriving by train, it’s worth noting that check-in isn’t available till the afternoon, so plan to have lunch and explore the small village of nearby Baie-saint-Paul or perhaps book a treatment in the spa. Farm touches are everywhere, tipping a nod to the 100-year old farm which used to stand here, from cow-coverlets in the spa and farm pictures in the room to the whole farm-to-table ethos of local dining in Les Labours restaurant and the Cafe du Marche where you can snack on soups, sandwiches and pastries as well as stock up on local terroir products to take home.

Quite wonderful to see the train from the spa pool

Jump in… warm up

Perfect for the ski crowd in winter and the relaxation-seekers in summer, Hôtel La Ferme also has a full-service spa. I’m a big fan of nordic style spa-ing, gently heating your body and then cooling down, but it always seems so much better when you can do it outdoors and lying back in the steamy huge outdoor hot pool at the Spa du Verger, with snow all around was heavenly. I’m getting better at the cold bit and managed not to screech as I plunged head-under in the icicle-covered cold tub. An indoor steam room and sauna add to the experience, along with a restful lounge area where you can sip herbal tea and look out over the garden.

Brilliant witty touches in the farm-friendly treatment rooms

Witty touches in the farm-friendly treatment rooms

I tried a candle massage – a deeply relaxing therapy that used the warm melted wax of a  candle as massage oil. You get to keep the candle afterwards – although they don’t provide an expert-fingered therapist to take away too. I wish I could say I remembered a lot about this treatment, but once I’d settled down from cooing compliments over the cow-cover and milk stool in the room, and relaxed into the sensation of warm wax drizzling over my back, embarrassingly enough, what I remember most is snoring through it – which, I guess is probably one of the highest accolades you could give to a relaxing massage, so let’s skate over that…

The best seats in the house...

The best seats in the house…

I woke from a post-massage snooze hungry and ready to tuck into dinner at Les Labours. I sat at the bar, the best view in the house, to watch the chefs do their thing. I had a four-hour, slow-braised shoulder of lamb, which came with the best lentils I’ve ever tasted. I should have asked how they do them, I never seem to get puy lentils right at home and these were so great, they’d be worth flying to Quebec to eat again.

I took time to explore before leaving in the morning, I watched a family ice skating in what would be the garden in the summertime and chatted with one of the staff about the impressive eco credentials of the hotel – sustainable development, geothermal energy, reusing rainwater and reducing food miles by using local suppliers. “It’s all about respecting the environment” she smiled and it makes sense – if you live somewhere as beautiful as the Charlevoix region, of course you want to protect it.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Charlevoix and Hôtel la Ferme. As always – my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: Tourism Quebec

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