TORONTO – Sumptuous rooms with wonderful views. One of the city’s best patios. And one seriously sensational restaurant.
I had a night recently at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Toronto, where I hadn’t stayed in years. And I’m happy to report it exceeded expectations on all fronts.
I don’t recall the old room style so much, but I loved the feel of the one we had. A lot of modern hotel rooms these days are cold and impersonal, but the one my wife and I shared was warm and inviting, yet quite luxurious. The room had deep, dark wood that was polished to a high sheen, with sleek lighting, a wooden headboard and a variety of textures. The carpet was a nice, misty green, with plenty of soft gold accents in the room.
The bathroom was huge and sleek, with a TV in the mirror (who uses those I don’t know, but they’re cool) and lovely Asprey bath products from England. The room also had a kettle and a coffee-maker and a lovely view of the CN Tower and Toronto’s waterfront.
I’ve always loved the warm, inviting lobby, which gives visitors a sense of arrival. The maple leaves on the floor add a nice Canadian touch without being cheesy. I love the look of the new Ritz Bar out front, but in summer the back patio at the DEQ bar is the place to be, with plenty of green space all around and a lovely sense of urban calm. They’ve added Cuban-style drinks and snacks this summer and re-branded the space as Nueva Vista Social Club. The Chan-Chan is a particularly delicious drink you should try.
We managed a truly remarkable dinner at TOCA, a lovely space on the second floor of the hotel. The food is marvellous and the service impeccable. We started off with some of their private label Pinot Noir from Niagara, which was very nice. Even more striking was the Raising Sun cocktail, with Pinot Grigio, house-made limoncello, amaretto for nice depth and flavour, bar mix and a lime. Wowza.
The caprese salad was sensational, not to mention the lamb dusted with spices and the branzino with mussels and tomato sauce. The cheese from the famous TOCA cheese cave (we had a brief tour) is phenomenal, especially to my taste the aged Lankaster. It might be the best cheese I ever had, and I discovered just the other day that it won an award for the best cheese in the world a couple years ago. They gave us a remarkable amuse bouche with burrata ice cream with saffron and a basil yogurt sauce, too. But the best dish we had was the fresh ravioli with Italian cheese and the freshest tomato sauce you can imagine. The ravioli were soft but firm; perfect little pillows of pasta.
We didn’t get a chance to try the spa this time around but I was there a few years ago and it was lovely; very relaxing and beautiful and with all the treatments you’d expect from a five-star hotel consistently rated one of Canada’s best.
We got to the hotel later than we wanted, and had to rush to an appointment on the waterfront. We had called for an Uber ride but the doorman insisted a Ritz-Carlton driver with knowledge of the area would get us there faster. And he did. So thanks for that, too!
Before we checked out, we also took advantage of the hotel’s on-line destination guide, which outlines a number of great things to do in Toronto. The Ritz-Carlton has a resident artist, Jacqueline Poirier (who designed the stunning plates at TOCA, by the way). Using her knowledge of the city’s arts scene, Poirier created an on-line guide to Toronto’s art scene for visitors to check out. I hadn’t seen Graffiti Alley (in the Spadina-Richmond Street area) so my wife and I followed Poirier’s advice and took a stroll to admire the local art painted in an alleyway running west of Spadina between Richmond and Queen Street West.
Some of it is quite remarkable, so that’s definitely worth checking out.
There’s plenty going on with Ritz-Carlton around the world, not just Toronto.
The company recently announced the launch of Journey into the Ritz-Carlton, which outlines travel experiences “inspired by the desire to create memories that last a lifetime.”
The program brings together “a collection of truly unique experiences and moments that range from Balinese weddings on white sand beaches through to fabulous cocktail recipes from chic rooftop bars.”
As part of its commitment to sustainability, the company recently said it will offer electric charging stations at properties around the globe. A nice step that other hotels should follow, I’d think.
Ritz-Carlton also announced they’re building a second hotel on the tropical Chinese island of Hainan. The hotel will front two crescent-shaped stretches of sandy beach and also will host a nine-hole golf course designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. (As a golfer, I love seeing nine hole courses built; they save time for folks with busy lives and have less environmental impact than a full 18-hole course.)
TRAVEL HABITS OF CANADIANS: FAMILY RULES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
We Canadians love to travel. And we love to take our kids.
A new survey from Choice Hotels Canada finds that 89 % of Canadians plan to travel somewhere within our great country in the next two years. Folks with kids are even more likely to do so (92 %).
Almost three-quarters of us (74%) say they seek novel destinations when they travel. For Quebecers, that number jumps to 81%. We say we want new things, but at the same time half of us end up going to the same vacation spots over and over. Albertans are especially creatures of habit, with 57% saying they stick to the same destination every time they travel.
I kinda get that. To me, summers in Canada are about visiting friends in Muskoka. But I also have loved visiting Ontario’s Southwest the past few years. And I love being in the Maritimes!
Getting back to family and friends, 59% of Canadians said they travel to hook up with loved ones in far-away places. For Manitoba and Saskatchewan residents, that number jumps to 74% (maybe because of distances between cities, I don’t know).
So, what do we want when we travel? Families with kids said value for money is the biggest factor (97%). After that, it’s cleanliness (86%) and safety (64%). A full 81% of Canadians look for discounts or reward points when they travel, including loyalty cards such as the Choice Privileges reward program from Choice Hotels.
Asked what they like to do on holidays, 73% of Canadians listed sightseeing, while 69% listed spending time with family, 58% beach time and 56% trying new food (and probably taking photos of their dishes for Facebook and Instagram, a habit that I always think would surely baffle anyone from the past should they ever hop in a time machine and end up at a restaurant in 2016).
We say we love to travel with our families, but there are differences between the sexes. 75% of women said they like spending time with family but only 61% of men. That’s awful!! I love spending vacation time with my kids and can’t wait to do our next trip.
There also are differences between provinces. Sixty six per cent of Quebecers like to go to the beach, but only 46 % of folks from Manitoba and Saskatchewan list the beach as a priority. Folks in B.C. are the most adventurous eaters, with 63 per cent trying new food on holidays compared to just 46% for Quebec (surprising for what I think of as a “foodie” province).
Sixty two per cent of Canadians said that seeing their friends’ travel photos on social media made them want to go somewhere. For folks aged 18-34, that jumps to 80%.
The Choice Hotels survey was conducted by LegerWeb between May 24 and May 26, with 1,576 Canadians surveyed online.