Destination Guide


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As its shapeshifting skyline can attest, Canada’s first cosmopolis is in the midst of a growth spurt—one that’s resulted in revitalized public areas, a culinary renaissance (with design-forward restaurants popping up in brilliantly repurposed spaces) and a new wave of sophisticated hotels.


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Suite at Shangri-La Hotel Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Shangri-La Hotel Toronto

Given that the Shangri-La's heated porte-cochère is located on Simcoe Street, it's conceivable—especially during the months of January and February—that a guest might check out of the hotel without ever having used its pedestrian entrance on University Avenue. But this less trafficked approach, home to one of the most significant public art installations in Canada, is worth braving the elements for. Zhang Huan's 24-ton, stainless steel Rising, which resembles a tangle of branches besieged by a flock of fluttering doves, was two years in the making. While some of its "peace pigeons" ascend the hotel's facade, others appear to have actually "flown" inside, where they can be seen hovering overhead or perched atop the lobby's centerpiece double-sided fireplace. As Huan explained at its unveiling, Rising is an expression of his wish for "beautiful city life to be shared by mankind and nature."

Eastern equilibrium and grace prevail throughout the hotel's Lobby Lounge (as the soaring, luminous central atrium is known), its contemporary grey furnishings accented by purple orchid blooms and statement Chinese calligraphy paintings with lush black brush strokes. At teatime even the tabletops, clad in tiered platters and hand-painted china, and servers, who wear chinoiserie-printed qipao dresses by Asian-Canadian designer Sunny Fong, are complicit in the spell.

But busy city travelers can't live on aesthetics alone; they need convenience, efficiency and access, all of which the Shangri-La delivers in spades. Intuitively designed, tech-intelligent guestrooms with pre-programmed iPads and bedside control panels mean you can schedule tomorrow's room-service breakfast, request a wake-up call, draw the black-out shades and turn out the overheads—all from under the covers. Once your day is underway, whether your agenda is corporate or cultural, the hotel's address at the intersection of the financial and entertainment districts promises minimal schlepping. Opera, ballet, and of course, TIFF, are all within a few blocks' walk, and Soho House Toronto, a favorite rendezvous of the city's creative and media cognoscenti, is within a few steps.

Between the refined, ingredient-driven fare at Bosk and David Chang's three-story, three-restaurant Momofuku satellite next door, those who prefer not to venture out could have nearly a week's worth of pilgrimage-worthy dinners on-property, not to mention live jazz every night. The Lobby Lounge's entertainment calendar, as popular as its afternoon tea, has sparked an animated local scene (be prepared to wait for a table). Peace and quiet can be found on the fifth floor, in one of the curtained cabanas surrounding the sky and candlelit pool, or at the destination hammam-style Caudalie spa, where massages conclude with a mint tea and baklava ritual. Guests traveling to Toronto for work will find the business-pleasure dichotomy quickly becomes muddled. Even a day full of meetings can begin with a private sun salutation in the yoga studio and end with a detoxifying scrub in the hammam.

Caring hospitality being a touchstone of the Shangri-La brand, the service here is as polished as the glossy new high-rise itself. Occasionally, it is downright exuberant. Upon spotting our party outside the airport, our driver leapt out of the car and bounded—joyfully—across the parking lot to greet us. After a morning's journey, not even the state-of-the-art infrared sauna could have revived me as much as his heartfelt welcome.

glass building complex

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto

For some, the words "Four Seasons flagship" may conjure images of old-world hotel splendor—a palatial lobby with a sparkling scene. But the Toronto-based company wanted to make a more subtle, sophisticated statement with its 21st-century Yorkville home. Arriving guests access reception via an understated foyer that might easily belong to a high-end residential building if not for telltale floral arrangements. Suspended above the front desk, a large-scale porcelain and wood dandelion mobile sets the tone for the hotel's contemporary Canadiana-inspired design motifs, its seed head wisps casting whimsical shadows as they appear to float away on the wind.

Guest rooms feel fresh and light in cream, grey and pearl with delicate botanical flourishes and wall art that quietly evokes Canada's great woodland wilderness. A typical vignette might include a simple line drawing of pine boughs, a laser-cut leaf rendering and a tiny gold-foil printed moose or fox. Even the veined granite in the bathrooms seems to resemble wood grain in its striations. Fittingly, many of the rooms have views over Yorkville's treetops (about ten minutes from the downtown core, the landscaped, retail-rife neighborhood—formerly an independent village—is right for those who prefer a little bit of distance from the commotion of the city center).

Breakfast and dinner are served at the hotel’s glam, Pop art-accented outpost of Café Boulud, helmed by renowned Chef Daniel Boulud and designed by the first lady of Four Seasons, Ms. Rosalie Sharp. Downstairs, the breezier street-level dbar serves lunch, dinner, and happy hour bites to a buoyant crowd. The 30,000-square-foot spa—also a hit with the neighbors—is the largest in the brand, offering drop-in yoga and Pilates classes, a hair and nail bar, a bromine-treated pool and a sun terrace.

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