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by Barbara Kingstone
From the front of The Hazelton Hotel in Toronto’s Yorkville area, it’s small wonder that guests can be a bit confused which door leads to the hotel. Firstly, there’s the door to the costly condos on the 4th and 5th floor, then to the exclusive retail store and then for one of the city’s most popular restaurants, called One. Finally,in the lobby there’s a small greeting staff, waiting and ready to assist.
Once inside the lobby, it quickly becomes clear that Yabu Pushelberg, one of the most sought after interior designers world -wide, who just happen to be Torontonians, have set up a singularly stunning, subtle venue. And also added is a secret scent that is so encompassing, one can’t help being aware of the freshness of the delicate presence of lavender and jasmine in the air. After all, there is only one first impression and it may as well be the best there is to offer if you want to be considered in the highest rung of global luxury ‘digs’.
Here bronze colour velour (don’t shrug. This fabric is luscious) and seating groupings are separated from each other in quiet sections of this airy but not large area. Small gold-leaf coffee tables separate the chairs with dark grey velour. It may sound staid but to break up the traditional, there are unique designer tan leather chairs, silver mesh window coverings that take on the impression of chain mail, huge and important bronze sculptures which have a major presence. It’s in the style of a1940s Hollywood Gentlemen’s club, with a touch of black and a lot of class.
And the important art work, I soon discover, continues throughout the hotel and the rooms.
Off the lobby there is a dimly lit niche for the reception area.
One doesn’t expect Madonna and Elton John to have to register here but those lesser known, or regular clients, don’t have to be concerned about who sees them in this pricey hotel.
And yes, the celebs love The Hazelton so there’s no mistaking that this 62 room, 15 suite boutique hotel is up there on the list of where to stay in this booming city where the world’s second most important film festival- TIFF- takes place annually and yes, the stars do come and rooms are reserved months ahead of time.
The palette of ecru, cream and grey are shot throughout the entire premises. And what great suites, enough to take photos and want some of the aspects and ideas duplicated in own their home.
It was during the Toronto International Film Festival that I met with the General Manager David Mounteer and his assistance Katerina . Most rooms were occupied and Madonna and her very large entourage were about descend. But that said, I was taken to a few of the suites to see a few layouts. Stunning, large, and but with the modernistic, lucite/stainless steel edge that many of the new hotels have. It’s a softer rendition and the flow of each room, each different, all have similar textures walls, counters and floors
The larger suites like #220, have a dressing area that leads to the bedroom and the bathroom. Here the doors, looking like part of the wood paneled walls when pulled closed for privacy. The sinks and counter space is separated by the bathroom’s entrance. No cost was spared with the Galaxy marble counters, a top- end espresso machine, the finest linens, European imported modern faucets in all the bathroom, frosted glass areas where needed.
Also, important in this lively part of the city, most rooms have balconies that overlook the fashion or the residential streets.
But perhaps the most innovative is that each floor has a business centre where in this smallish area, there’s a, computer, a printer, fax, copy machine..no charge.
And there are various categories from Superior rooms which are their standard ones, but are larger than most that exist in other hotels. Deluxe, Luxury, Junior suites, an Executive suite, and The Hazelton, The Avenue, The Bellair, all one of a kind. The last three suites are named after bordering or nearby streets. Rates are expectedly high. starting in the $500 range up to a few thousand dollars a night.
What is the big surprise for this small stately building is that there is a spa. Four treatment rooms using the Swiss made creams and lotions, Valmont, have top estheticians. While waiting for my facial, in a small, candle lit niche, I was served herbal tea. Katherine only available during the TIFF week, was so very knowledgeable and also mentioned throughout the1 1/2 hour facial, which product she was about to apply and why. It’s complimentary to the VIPs at this time. I did come away looking a glossier with my now baby soft skin.
The floor below has a salt water filled lap pool. Although narrow, it’s long enough for a good swimming work-out and the gym, again not huge, is filled with the best equipment to be had.
As a New Yorker told me in the black-etched, mirrored elevators. “It may be my first time here and in Canada, but it certainly it won’t be my last. It’s a great city and the hotel is one of the most stunning, well serviced I’ve ever stayed at,” he said, his cap just perfectly placed as though a stylist may have given him some hints. And this recommendation from a jaded movie mogul, here to see the film offerings and from a man who has probably stayed at the best around the world. Toronto’s The Hazelton Hotel, is now fair competition for the world’s top rated boutique Hotels.
by John and Sandra Nowlan
James Bond would feel right at home.
To enter this secluded piece of paradise at the extreme south end of Mexico’ s Baja California peninsula, visitors must pass through a 300 metre tunnel that’s lit by chandeliers and torches. Instead of a shark tank and 007 villain, the other side of the small mountain presents a unique 66-room luxury resort built on a narrow strip of sand and arid land between the granite cliff and the pounding Pacific surf.
The Capella Pedregal was completed just three years ago on a 24 acre site surrounded by the Pacific to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east.
This area has boomed in recent years as a safe and secluded playground for travellers from the US, Canada and overseas. We’ve visited many areas of Mexico but the Capella excels in its level of luxury and sophistication.
The resort is built in a series of one to four story gold and brown-toned stone and stucco buildings that blend perfectly into the rocky landscape. Instead of lush, tropical foliage, the property is dotted with gardens of desert cacti and tall grasses with several large infinity swimming pools and lots of comfortable loungers. Service is provided by a staff of 300 (including maintenance and groundskeepers) for a maximum of 200 guests. An amazing ratio, but service is never intrusive. The beach is wide and clean (the private access to the resort assures no peddlers) but unfortunately the heavy surf and dangerous undertow make it unsafe for swimming.
The oversized rooms at Capella Pedregal are particularly stunning. Each faces the broad Pacific Ocean and has a private plunge pool, gas fireplace, showers with both a rainfall head and traditional nozzle, a giant soaker tub, a small fridge with water and juices and free WiFi. Authentic Mexican touches like hand painted dual sinks, hand-tooled leather headboards, traditional lamps with leather shades and heavy mesquite doors add to the feeling of comfort and privacy. Every afternoon an attendant leaves an ice bucket with two Mexican beers and dishes of guacamole and salsa with homemade corn chips. Especially enjoyable while relaxing in the plunge pool and watching the surf thundering against the beach.
The town of Cabo San Lucas is just a short walk away (through that amazing tunnel) with excellent shopping (bargaining expected) and some fine restaurants. But the cuisine is so good at the Capella resort that we preferred to eat all our meals at one of the three restaurants. Executive Chef Marco Bustamante (a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and formerly of Per Se in New York) brings a modern twist to traditional Mexican cuisine.
“I want our food to have local, organic and sustainable ingredients,” he told us.
“It’s rustic but refined and I’m always looking for something new.”
Breakfast at the signature Don Manuel restaurant can be a la carte (the pecan waffles are extraordinary) or buffet style from a traditional hacienda at the back of the restaurant (that’s also the room for tequila tasting and where Chef Bustamante gives Mexican cooking lessons). Lunch and dinner at Don Manuel are special treats with cuisine and service at the highest levels. The fresh sea bass with a thick macadamia nut crust was the best restaurant seafood we’ve ever enjoyed.
The El Farallon restaurant (built on a cliff at the west end of the resort, it literally and accurately means, “a rock that comes out of the ocean”) is unique in its location just above the pounding Pacific and in its format. Guests choose their seafood (or beef) from a display of fresh fillets and then they’re cooked to order along with side dishes and brought to your table. We especially enjoyed the perfectly prepared amber jack and parrot fish, two of the choices that the chef receives daily from seven local fishermen.
The third dining option is the casual Beach Club for lunch. We couldn’t resist the sea bass tacos with spicy mango margaritas. The ceviche – bass, tuna or shrimp – are also outstanding.
For a small, secluded resort the Capella Pedregal has one of the biggest and most complete spas we’ve ever seen. Including the tradition of Mexican folk healing, the 12,000 square foot Auriga spa has eight treatment “pods” floating on a private pool along with couples suites and steam, sauna and ice rooms. The spa also has four unique signature treatments based on the phases of the moon. All treatments begin with a foot scrub using sea salt and fresh herbs.
The Capella Pedregal is not cheap but none of the guests we met felt it was overpriced. For Martha and Randy Cass of Toronto, this was their third stay at a Capella property. “We love the west coast of Mexico,” they said. “The property here beautifully reflects the rough and wild nature of the landscape. The private tunnel is fantastic and the service here makes us feel very special.”
Next month (July 11-15) the Capella Pedregal will be hosting its own Food and Wine Festival with several celebrity chefs on hand. Among them will be Iron Chef winner Kent Rathbun of Dallas and Johnny Iuzzini, New York City’s top pastry chef and, according to Forbes, “one of the 10 most influential chefs in the U.S.”. Guests will enjoy cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, gourmet dining and a barbeque party on the beach.
by Barbara Kingstone
When uber fashionista, the late Diana Vreeland, told the fashion world, decades ago, that “the new black is pink”, she was referring to her colorful experience of seeing such vibrancy in India.- miles away from the black -clad style mavens of Manhattan and Paris.
This phrase has become so overused and it was my immediate reaction to emphasize my own interpretation of the recently opened Trump International Tower Hotel and Tower, in downtown Toronto. My instant reaction was “the new black is black”.
From the doorman and the rest of the staff, it’s done as though a top fashion designer had taken the reins.
From the granite floor design of most intricate interwoven squares of black mixed with shots of grey and ecru, this is a well thought out mixture of pattern and texture. It was easy to understand that the inspiration for the palette was champagne and caviar.
This is an obvious thread from the sensuous, curved black door framing to the elevators -one section for guests, the other for condo owners- and black was the ‘it’ hue. This played well against the lightest panels of white semi-precious onyx walls and the greige upholstered black framed chairs. One can’t miss the exquisite crystal sculpture, on an interruption of a dark aubergine wall that backs the reception desk. At night, when lights are dimmed to meet the outside dusk, this monumental crystal has noticeable purple which plays with the facets of the stones.
The sleek color scheme was indicative of the theme throughout the hotel. So it was no surprise when I visited a few suites that even the wide luxurious hallways had these shades. Another constantly seen theme but in a variety of colors, is cherry blossoms shown on some of the rugs, ceilings, over the bed photographs, on the filigree steel balustrade, all playing with the lighter shades which are often in damask silk panels.
So skillfully done, the palette throughout the hotel with the shots of dark and lighter shades is well thought out, and usually seen in the most modernistic decorated hotel. One has to think that this isn’t a building of the ultra modern genre of only glass and steel but sends a feeling of warmth with the stonework set off by the glass.
For me, one of the most impressive decor treeats,is a mural that greets guest at the porte cochere- the tip-off that this wasn’t just any hotel. All done in gold dotted, multi colored, mosaic tile, until you stand away from the 55,000 tile masterpiece, entitled, “A Small Part of Something Larger” by Canadian artist, Stephen Andrews, do you see that it’s a cross-section of people in seats at a sports venue. The cheers, well deserved.
Although there is a feeling of deja vu… of mid century furnishing combined with a most updated look, there are statement pieces seen in the choice of various chairs, some completely in gold leather near heavy crystal chandeliers. A plus to this eclectic mixture that works so terrifically, is the location in the Toronto’s financial area of Bay and King Streets. Every detail has been thought out and expense seemed not to be a concern. It is, after all, a perfect introduction to the wealth of this always growing city.
If, by chance, you had one too many and you didn’t know where you were except for the fact that you were in a nifty bar, you’d realize it quickly enough with the ticker over the mirrored back wall. This has to be a financial district with a very affluent crowd seated or standing along the bar which you’d probably transmit this evidence to your somewhat soused brain.
After 4PM, the small space is packed with the very upwardly mobile set of deal makers of all ages.. The name? Wait for it….SUITS. It’s the meeting place for those who have deep pockets from their investments in the good old times or those who were astute enough to know when to sell. It’s a bar that easily matches in price rates per flute, any 5 star Manhattan hotel. Decor and great service costs.
The long narrow restaurant…STOCK.. has a smoky screen of dainty lace inserted between the glass, the banquettes are theme-ready with light beige tufted velvet backs and black leather seats, the coffered ceiling, herringbone pattern wood flooring, black wood tabletops, fabric paneled walls, windows draped in light sheers and black on black velvet damask, side drapes. This creates an airy feeling but there’s also a sense of La Belle Epoque and a hint of romance at many of the tables. Who wouldn’t feel romantic?
While some are having their favored drink, many guests opt to stay in their majestic suites. The panoramic view is like a kinetic sculpture from just about every window..either a busy street scene below or Lake Ontario, where on a clear day you could make out Niagara Falls.(not the Falls but the silhouette of the city, about 2 hours from Toronto).
I’m a ‘newsy’ so having a TV in the bathroom is a plus. But here it’s not just any TV that swivels but a flat insert into the mirror.When turned off it becomes a black (of course) square set in the mirror.
And even the smallest detail is looked on as an important feature. A great example happen to be in the closet. A safety box is large enough for a lap top and there are four varieties of hangers …padded for the dainty dressed and tops, another set for heavy coats, also hangers for pants and suits.
Of course, there’s a spa. Quartz Crystal Spa has 19 treatment rooms and is on two levels. And now it seems that Trump is in the skin care business since shelves have a namesake selection of creams and lotions.
One thing is for sure, Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto may be theoretically black tones but there isn’t a dark area in this grand building. Guests depart knowing that they were well serviced by an amicable, friendly, well trained staff that happens to work in outstanding surroundings.
Black it may be, but there’s a lightness due to the quality and a definite dedication to class and comfort that trumps other Trumps.
by Jacqueline Swartz
Hotel Yountville, a luxury property in the middle of California’s Napa Valley, reopened late last year after major renovations. The hotel is country elegant, a series of stone buildings nestled in nature. The rooms are enhanced by a variety of textures: wooden floors, filmy white bed canopies, woven rugs, fireplaces. The cathedral ceilings are painted a rustic white. The bathrooms run the length of the room, with windows opening to the bedroom. The outdoor deck looks out on trees and a stream.
Step outside your room and you’re outdoors. The upstairs decks are in the midst of trees and birdsong. Close by is an elegant outdoor pool and Jacuzzi that look like something out of a dreamy symbolist painting.
Just beyond is Spa Acqua. The treatments combine techniques from around the world – the signature massage includes hot stones with Thai stretching – with Napa Valley grape seed body products.
Adjacent to the check-in area is a large lounge, with a fireplace and enough easy chairs, it seems, for every guest in the hotel. Newspapers are provided.
The restaurant, Hopper Creek, serves breakfast and lunch in a light and airy space with wrought iron chandeliers. Just about every ingredient on the menu is attributed to a local farm. The breakfasts are luscious, enough to get you through a day of wine-tasting. One choice features cured king salmon, cherry smoked ham, Mt. Tam goat cheese. and an assortment of homemade breads and croissants. The French toast is a brioche with Asian pear compote, mascarpone cheese and hot cinnamon sauce.
What makes this a destination hotel is the proximity to some of the best wineries in the valley. Hotel Yountville is geared to wine-tasting, and will provide a list of nearby wineries, many of which offer discounts to hotel guests.
The other benefit is the charming low-rise town of Yountville, barely two blocks away. There are stores with serious wine cellars, and an upscale shopping area that sells the local products: olive oil, artichoke tapenade, lilac soaps and potions.
There is a surprisingly good art gallery run by artist Steven Gordon, (www.thegordongallery.com).He paints landscapes of the area that are impressionistic, and surprisingly not kitsch.
But the real draw is this: Yountville has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other place on the planet (of course the town is tiny). The French Laundry, with three stars, tops the charts, but you have to drive, not to mention booking months ahead. Much less expensive, but definitely satisfying, are the one Michelin-starred eateries in town, a short walk from the hotel. Redd (www.reddnapavalley.com) features minimalist decor and an intensely creative menu. Bouchon Bistro (www.bouchonbistro.com), The French Laundry’s cousin, is a classic, with marble tables, an oyster bar and a menu that features bistro food that well deserves its Michelin star. The Poulet Roti($26.50) is roast chicken with caramelized sunchokes, melted leeks, black trumpet mushrooms and chicken jus. For dessert, don’t miss Bouchon’s take on Ile Flottante, a meringue with vanilla, creme anglais; here chocolate caramel sauce on the side and friend crisp almonds set off the egg whites and cream.
There are also in-town places for wine-tasting, for those who prefer to drink and walk, rather than drive. The Hill Family Estate offers free tastings for guests of Hotel Yountville. To visit nearby Domaine Chandon (www.chandon.com), you can borrow a bike from the hotel, then stroll the Domaine Chandon gardens, taste the many sparkling wines, and have a full course meal at Etoile, the on-site Michelin-starred restaurant.
Or, for a more close-to-home experience, have a drink at the Hotel Yountville bar, or take a bottle to your room, along with crusty local bread and creamy goat cheese. There are a lot of ways to experience your very own Napa Valley
By John and Sandra Nowlan
We love authentic Indian food but didn’t expect to find it at an all-inclusive resort along the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. However the five-star Excellence Riviera Cancun that hugs the soft, white sand of the eastern Yucatan peninsula was full of pleasant surprises for the palate andfor all the other senses. Their intimate Indian restaurant (called Basmati with a chef brought in from India) is just one of eight ethnic a la carte dining areas available for guests in a series of low-rise buildings on the immaculate 55,000 square metre property. In a week that passed too quickly we were able to sample them all – Mexican, Asian, French, Italian, Seafood, Steak and a Pizzeria. Reservations are never required. We expected great Mexican food but the adults-only resort clearly puts a lot of effort into creativity and authentic taste in the other venues. All the restaurants also have vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Our only complaint was with the soggy French fries at lunch. They clearly needed some input from Canada!
On arrival in the spacious modern lobby, guests are greeted with cool towels, glasses of sparkling wine and a genuine welcome from all the bilingual (English-Spanish) staff. All the 440 air-conditioned suites at Excellence Riviera Cancun are large with full marble bathrooms, a Jacuzzi tub, large-screen satellite TV with DVD player, bathrobe & slippers, a complementary mini-bar stocked with water, juice, soft drinks and beer plus a furnished balcony or patio.
We were able to enjoy even more luxury in one of the Rooftop Terrace Suites. In addition to our oceanfront room and balcony on the 4th level (with a Jacuzzi inside and out), a staircase led to a private terrace overlooking the beach and the azure Caribbean Sea. In addition to a comfortable sofa and queen-size sunbed there was a shower and an eight-foot by ten foot HydroSpa pool. It was big enough for several couples! It was a special treat to lie on the lounger at night and gaze up at the star-filled Caribbean sky.
The unique Rooftop Suites are part of the Excellence Club, several areas of the resort that offer a concierge service, daily hors d’oeuvres delivered to rooms and access to a private lounge with snacks and premium drinks. All suites in this section of the resort are also supplied with a variety of premium spirits. When we arrived we looked for a bottle of single malt scotch, our favourite for sipping. The concierge who showed us to our room said he’d be right back and returned shortly with an excellent bottle. We’re not sure where he got it because none of the 10 bars scattered around the resort carried single malt. We were impressed!
The whole layout of the resort was carefully planned for maximum privacy with a style that management calls “Classic Luxury”. The lawns and gardens are well groomed and spacious. The low-density of the buildings promote a laid-back and uncrowded feeling even when the resort is full. Six large serpentine swimming pools meander throughout the property and cover almost 20% of the resort. In many of the suites you can just open the door and go for a quiet swim.
For those who prefer the adjacent beach, the amazing powdery white sand is cleaned each morning and the warm Caribbean is very inviting. You can safely walk for kilometres along the firm sand licked by the waves. In fact the small town of Puerto Morelos is less than an hour’s gentle walk south of the resort and has several great shops for Mexican souvenirs or silver (bargaining is expected). The town also boasts its own leaning tower – a tall beachfront lighthouse that was battered by a hurricane several decades ago.
This was our second stay at one of the impressive Excellence resorts. The Spanish-owned chain is small and low-key (just three properties in the Caribbean – two in Mexico and one in the Dominican Republic – with a fourth now planned for Jamaica) but they clearly aim to be among the leaders in the upscale, adult-only, all-inclusive holiday and romance segment. The Food and Beverage Director even told us that part of his job is to visit top hotels and resorts around the world to be aware of culinary trends and activities that would enhance the Excellence brand.
We were naturally reluctant to fly back home after a week in this heavenly retreat but the final happy surprise was the Cancun airport, just 25 minutes from the resort. It’s large, very efficient for check-in and has a waiting area with great shopping, restaurants and one of the best duty-free areas we ’ve ever encountered. It even had a talented mariachi band to leave lasting musical memories as visitors with great tans and long faces headed back to northern climes.
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
by Barbara Kingstone
The very first time I stayed at Montreal’s Vogue Hotel (not a Loews at that time) was during the annual Montreal Grand Prix race. That was about a decade ago and the screeching of fans out side made it necessary to rope off an area for them so that the drivers could exit and enter.
Most recently, when I had to be in Montreal, it didn’t take long to make my decision of where I wanted to stay. Vogue is so well located, across from the legendary Ogilvy Department store where bagpipers start the day,where many of the salespeople have been there for decades, where being polite and friendly is part of their daily work.
Also, the location is within walking distance of some of this gourmet city’s fine cafes and restaurants and window shopping is a bonus with the variety of chic boutiques between St. Catherine Street, the main street, to Sherbrooke Street, the swanky ‘rue’.
The former corporate business office building has been most successfully re adapted into this fine and so stylish boutique hotel.
I wasn’t surprised when I arrived to see a mob of young people, again mulling about in the front and screaming with enthusiasm as a singing group then a hockey team, made their way in and out.
However, once inside, the first greeting and calling card, is one of the largest, most impressive large, seasonal colored floral arrangement the lobby’s round table, lobby central, actually arranged weekly by the florist at Agility. The smart, discreet reception desk is staffed with caring staff and just off to one side, under a circular industrial looking staircase is a small but always busy bar and cafe. Alfredo and Rasheed, immediately asked my name and during my stay remembered it, making me feel part of this very posh family atmosphere. A larger restaurant was almost completed and ready to open.
However, I think when I return, I’ll ‘take’ my breakfast at the cafe since it’s just a great perch for seeing what’s going on outside from the large windows.
I mentioned on my first cup of coffee, while waiting for my room (only 15 minutes since I was early), that if possible I would want a table for 6 on Saturday morning. This is a bit of a challenge since the tables are for two and with a push, three. However, come Saturday, in a corner, without feeling cramped, there was my table ready and waiting as I was greeted by these two wonderful and humorous wait staff men, one from the Middle East, the other from South America.
Safety is prime although Montreal isn’t known as dangerous. However, it seems to be the policy of the hotel that guests feel safe and with the cache of celebrities, it’s very wise of the hotel to keep a close eye at all times. For instance, to enter my room, I had to use my plastic swipe card to get into the foyer area that led to the small cluster of rooms. (There are 99 in the hotel). The sizable rooms were immaculate however, the view could have been better given that all I had to stare at in this city of mountains, were gravel stones roof and energy units outside the window.
But with this great service, all is forgiven.
Loews Vogue Hotel is so well located, so fastidious, so roomy that I know where I’ll stay when next in this lovely, tres charmant’ bilingual city.
Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco, didn’t lose in the translation from Asia. The hotel’s legacy is become legendary in North American