Canada's Top Ten Hotels
From the cities to the mountains, from east coast across the Rockies to the Pacific, Canada has an impressive array of hotels and resorts worthy of being called "world's best." That's the judgment of a recent panel of experts who chose the best hotels in Canada. They are not ranked within the ten, but instead were chosen as the best overall, based on factors such as room quality, service, décor and location. Their results are here for your resource, and comparison, in alphabetical order:
The Aerie Resort
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Although only 35 minutes' drive from Victoria, the Aerie Resort, set on the lush slopes of the Cowichan Valley, with sweeping ocean views, feels as remote as a monastery. Established on vacant farmland as a simple bed and breakfast in 1991, it's now an opulent Relais & Chateaux. Three separate buildings fuse Mediterranean and contemporary West Coast styles in 85 acres of forested gardens decorated with Italianate statues. The perfect place to nurture your spiritual side, the Aerie offers daily yoga classes, organic meals and fall mushroom-foraging expeditions led by a Benedictine monk.
The Fairmont Banff Springs
Designed way back in the 1930s by a New York architect, Bruce Price, renowned for his late Victorian château-inspired lines, this hotel opened for the first time for winter some 40 years later to capture the expanding ski market. The hotel, set in the middle of dramatic wilderness, looks on first sight like Hogwarts meets a Disney castle, with a touch of Scottish baronial. You get a plan of the hotel when you check in so that you don't get lost (though it's no guarantee), but you may just want to wander, since it's so impressive: endless staircases, vaulted ceilings, towering stone columns -- and the $2.3 million renovation in 2003 only made it more so. Still, this is a place about recreation and the outdoors -- and drinking in the clean air of the Canadian Rockies.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Lake Louise, Alberta
Surrounded by Banff National Park and sitting directly on the banks of a peacock-colored lake that stretches to the base of jagged Canadian Rockies peaks, the Fairmont Lake Louise is all about location. The peach-colored, crescent-shaped, turreted 12-story hotel leans toward generic, with myriad renovations and additions having diluted the original 1911 feel. But it does attempt to hark back to those glory days with deep wood accents, huge framed windows, and an Old World graciousness in its service. Despite the busloads of nonguests who crowd in to gawk at the view (mainly in summer), the place still feels mostly untouched.
Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
Toronto , Ontario
Many travelers accustomed to the exceptional design of newer Four Seasons properties may be surprised that this equally high-concept hotel is the Canadian company's flagship. Despite its 30-year run, the 32-story outpost has maintained its freshness through renovation, while keeping signature elements like the lobby's impressive black and white marble floors and a cove ceiling bathed in soft light. It's an area that sees plenty of traffic, as it's constantly abuzz with Canadian power players, some of whom spill over into the two street-level bars. The Lobby and Avenue bars also draw those who converge on Yorkville, Toronto's exclusive shopping enclave, for retail therapy.
Four Seasons Resort Whistler
Whistler , British Columbia
With impeccable timing, the Four Seasons Whistler opened its doors in 2004, giving itself a six-year runway to work out any kinks before the inevitable 2010 Winter Olympic Games boom. The only big problem this arriviste property faces is location, location, location. It lies -- literally -- in the shadow of the well-established Fairmont Chateau Whistler, so guests have to schlep (on foot or by five-minute shuttle) to the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain. Still, what it lacks in ski-in, ski-out access, it makes up for with Four Seasons panache and its ability to bring locales to life. At its Whistler resort that means things like poolside hot chocolate service, dog sledding expeditions and a chance to take in cedar forest and mountain scenery from every room, public or private. Its design may be contemporary but a rustic elegance shines through in just about every detail.
Vancouver, British Columbia
For all its reputation as one of the world's most livable small cities, Vancouver has very few small hotels. Indeed Opus, opened in 2002, is still the only boutique hotel in town. Set in a seven-story glass and bare-brick building in the fashionably gentrified Yaletown warehouse district, it combines many boutique standards -- designer lobby cocktail bar, contemporary-chic rooms, hip young staff -- with an unpretentious Canadian welcome that makes it far more cozy and intimate than its 96 rooms suggest.
Vancouver, British Columbia
What looks like a soulless corporate hotel from the entrance transforms into a grand 23-story property with stunning waterfront and mountain views when you take escalators to its second-floor atrium lobby. It was designed to resemble a cruise ship: Balconies lined with boutiques, restaurants and a ballroom narrow toward the glass-walled front lobby and outdoor deck as if it were the bow of a ship. And actual cruise ships dock in the water alongside the hotel, adding to the ocean-bound feel. Built in 1986 for the World's Fair, with a convention center to the left, the World Trade Center to the right and Stanley Park just a short walk or cycle west, it's the perfect location for business or leisure.
The Post Hotel
Lake Louise, Alberta
Spot the bright red tin roof and a building that looks like an overgrown ski lodge and you'll have found the Post Hotel. Indeed, it did used to be just a winter hotel (originally called the Lake Louise Ski Lodge), but since 1957 has been providing year-round accommodations. The distinctive color scheme of the hotel -- set among the lush green of Banff National Park -- is a pretty good indication that it's a world away from the corporate take of its immediate rivals. And the Post Hotel's current Swiss owners have imported their own brand of alpine charm.
The Wickaninnish Inn
Vancouver Island , British Columbia
The Wickaninnish is an example of a property perfectly suited to its surroundings. Set on the edge of Vancouver Island on a promontory jutting into the Pacific, it's surrounded by fir trees and flanked by a beach -- guests go to sleep listening to waves crashing onto the rocks. Even the architecture of this stylish but rustic lodge emphasizes this closeness to nature: lots of rough-hewn wood, natural stone and earth-tone fabrics. The Wick's formula for success is no mystery: extreme luxury mixed with good food, a great spa and lots of fresh air.
Windsor Arms Hotel
Boutique properties may be all the rage, but Toronto's first is still one of the best. In fact, when it opened in the 1970s it was way before its time -- so much so that it fell into disrepair in the ‘80s. But times have caught up with the idea of intimate and fancy, and having relaunched in 1999, the Windsor Arms has hit its stride. Cher, Sean Penn and Kate Hudson seclude themselves away here, perhaps appreciating the nonfrenzied atmosphere, which is assisted by the hotel's location on a leafy side street just steps from tony Bloor Street.