Luxury Road Trip - We set off on the Western circuit to find out what sets Relais & Châteaux hotels apart.
Wedgewood Hotel & Spa
There’s a scrum of reporters across the street at the courthouse shouting questions at a lawyer, a fire truck wails up Robson Street and the traffic is locked in place. From beneath the blue and gold awning of the Wedgewood a doorman waves and greets you by name. He opens the door and suddenly you’re standing in the lobby surrounded by flowers and art. Ah. There’s time for a drink before the show, after all.
Chef Lee Parsons’ lobster risotto is the culinary equivalent of wearing cashmere socks. How’d They Do That? Breaking all the rules of time and space, the luggage the bellman relieved you of as soon as you got out of the cab is in your room by the time you’re done checking in.
Above and Beyond
The dapper, liveried bellmen have an uncanny ability to remember your name and, more importantly, have unlocked the secret to hailing a cab in Vancouver - a rare and valuable skill in a city where that task can seem Herculean.
Chocolates on the pillow are always welcome, but it’s hard to beat the homemade chocolate chip cookies that they serve with turndown here. Want a glass of milk to go with it? Room service will have it up on a silver platter in a jiffy.
Reason to Stay
Bacchus Lounge is perhaps the best hotel bar in Canada, the kind of place where they flame orange zest, in the modern fashion, when making a Manhattan. The plush red couches, stiff drinks and live jazz speak to what a hotel bar should be: romantic and hopping.
Rates from $275. 845 Hornby St., 604-689-7777, www.wedgewoodhotel.com
The Post Hotel & Spa
Lake Louise, Alberta
The table next to you is whispering in Italian; behind you a couple flirt in French; a pretty Japanese woman across the room laughs quietly. The Post Hotel dining room still evokes the atmosphere of international jet-set elegance that some say disappeared long ago. They were wrong. Catch the woman’s eye, raise your glass of Champagne and let the evening unfold as it will.
Reclined on a chaise lounge with your legs wrapped in a blanket, watching the Pipestone River roll by, it’s hard not to feel like the hero of an existential novel. In fact, I was inspired to write a haiku to the sublime: Jagged peak snow capped / Scent of river and chimney / Dinner in an hour.
Admit it, you deserve a six-hour, four-day spa treatment. Temple Mountain Spa’s Aromasoul Extravaganza offers four different treatment choices corresponding to the different elements (earth, air, fire and water), and incorporating techniques from Arabian, Mediterranean, Indian and Asian traditions. Think of it as a complete body and soul tune-up.
Swiss-born chef Hans Sauter brings training from Japan and Hungary to his menu, although you’re likely to find more evidence of the former on his menu in dishes like Dungeness crab and scallop spring rolls from the frequently changing tasting menu.
Make no mistake, the cavernous, stone-lined wine cellar (more than 30,000 bottles from 2,000 selections) contains some extremely rare and expensive bottles. There is also a pair of very respectable $26 house wines available for the mortals among us. Cheers!
Above and Beyond
When you check in, your fireplace is already papered, kindled and logged, awaiting only a long match - on the mantle, of course - to ignite it.
Rates from $200. 200 Pipestone Rd., 1-800-661-1586 or 403-522-1586, www.posthotel.com
Sonora Island, B.C.
Didn’t the Campbell River area used to be for rugged, hard-core fishermen only? They’re not the ones writing comments like “more than perfect” and “magical” in the guestbook here. The newest Relais & Châteaux member in the West is surrounded by tidal pools that will almost convince you that you’re on a river, not an ocean; sea lions and eagles are plentiful, and whale- and bear-sighting is in close reach. Three lodge buildings and two exclusive villas (containing four suites each), including the spectacular West Coast contemporary Sea Lion Pointe, give you plenty of view options. Should activity call, the professional-calibre covered tennis court and putting green will do nicely.
The hands-down best way to arrive is on one of London Air’s fast, sleek Agusta leather-seated helicopters, which take off from Vancouver’s South Terminal and set you down on Sonora less than an hour later. Fast, efficient, quiet.
The chef’s tasting menu (established by the talented Matthew Stowe, a tradition now continued by his former sous-chef Terry Pichor) is a nightly surprise and delight of local seafood and the freshest produce and ingredients available, flown in daily.
A highlight of the games room - besides two golf simulators, pool table and shuffleboard and signed sports jerseys from celebrity guests - is the screening room, complete with 12 plush leather seats and old-fashioned popcorn machine.
The genuine First Nations longhouse on the property, complete with upstairs (gas) firepit, is a popular conference and retreat gathering space.Plant the Seed
The state-of-the-art glass conservatory serves as a favourite for candlelit weddings. One couple was helicoptered to a remote glacier to tie the knot on an untouched, geocached spot.
The third-floor Gillard Lodge hot tub (complete with outdoor shower) feels like it’s suspended over water.
Rates from $500, 1-888-576-6672, www.sonoraresort.com
The Wickaninnish Inn
As you walk along Chesterman Beach the biggest waves spray you with a fine mist and by the time you get back to the Wick you’re thoroughly soaked. Now, wrapped in a fresh robe after a hot bath, you’re sitting on the balcony with a crossword and a cappuccino. A pair of eagles flies by, so close you make eye contact and hear the whooshing of their wings.
In the Know Most
guests are content with long walks on Chesterman Beach, but anyone wanting to explore the area like a true local should sign out one of the bicycles that the hotel keeps on hand. For the ultimate Tofino moment ride it barefoot in a wetsuit while carrying a surfboard under one arm.
The Cedar Sanctuary room at Ancient Cedars Spa naturally possesses what many spas aim to create by design. The smell of cedar doesn’t come from an aromatherapy bottle, but from the walls of the room. Those bird calls and the crashing waves aren’t generated by Bose speakers, but emanate from right outside the door.
Over the years several chefs have headed up the kitchen at the Wick, some more successfully than others. The current toques in charge, John Waller and Nicholas Nutting, might just be the best they’ve ever had. The seared scallops and miso-braised pork belly, paired with a glass of Aurore Sauvignon Blanc from boutique Okanagan producer Le Vieux Pin, was the culinary highlight of this entire trip - which is saying a lot.
Above and Beyond
Fill your giant double soaker tub, bubbles optional, sink in up to your chin, and let your eye wander between the porcelain shore and the unobstructed view of the Pacific from your bathroom window.
A yellow fisherman’s rain slicker hanging in your closet.
Rates from $280. 500 Osprey Lane, 800-333-4604 or 250-725-3100, www.wickinn.com
For information, visit www.relaischateaux.com. To create your own luxury road trip, consult www.travelalberta.com and www.hellobc.com
The former Relais & Châteaux hotel Little Beaver Creek Ranch in cattle country in the Interior of B.C. is now the Glimpse Lake Private Cowboy & Country Club. Saddle up!
Somehow you dozed off looking out over the lake this afternoon. Now, as you stretch then wander around to the front of the century-old lodge, you look up to see - as if on cue - a rainbow blazing so brightly it practically casts a shadow. This complex of authentic Western buildings is straight out of Deadwood, but a high-tech theatre, swimming pool, tricked-out gym and even a spotless infirmary hide behind those rustic log façades.
Above and Beyond
Owner Alex Schultz, locally known as the Swiss Cowboy, is a renowned horse whisperer. There are 25 quarterhorse geldings on the ranch and the finest tack available (we’re talking handmade saddle, as well as boots, chaps and, of course, cowboy hats) is yours to borrow.
Don’t Fence Me In
The 164-acre property borders ranch land and a First Nations reserve - all told a million acres of prime cattle country to ride. Guides equipped with GPS devices accompany all riders.
Catch if you can
Glimpse Lake, where floatplanes bring in guests (there’s also a heliport), is teeming with trout.
They may refer to a cozy nook off the main dining room as the BBQ Shack, but when you’re dining on a duo of local buffalo, braised cheek and rosé-cooked entrecôte with corn ravioli and sweet corn salsa on Jerusalem artichokes mousseline, you know this is cowboy food redefined.
Glimpse Lake, Quilchena, B.C., 250-350-3461, www.littlebeavercreekranch.com