Story by Lynn Burshtein (Twitter: @lynnb)
TORONTO, ONTARIO — There was a time, about 10 years ago, when the Four Seasons Toronto was the hotel for CEOs and Hollywood’s A-Listers. True, the downtown King Edward and Royal York hotels, with their old-world elegance, were well-established, as was the sleek Park Hyatt in Yorkville. But the Four Seasons’ Avenue Road and Bloor Street location offered the closest proximity to the city’s finest shopping (aka “Mink Mile”) and was the unofficial headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival.
Each September, throngs of paparazzi and fans would stand outside the revolving doors of the hotel’s Cumberland Street entrance with their digital cameras: “Look, there’s J.Lo! It’s Denzel! Bono! Is that David Cronenberg? Hey, it’s Bono again!” The hotel also hosted the famed George Christy cocktail party during the festival. And while the glam factor was on high during TIFF, the hotel’s elegant lobby bar, the Avenue, kept the buzz going the remainder of the year.
Then in 2007, the iconic Four Seasons brand got serious competition courtesy of the Hazelton Hotel, the five-star boutique property located kitty-corner to it on Cumberland. Thereafter, plans to launch other high-end Toronto hotels were trumpeted in quick succession, including the Thompson, the Shangri-la, the Trump Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton. It didn’t help matters that the Four Seasons, which opened in 1978, was looking tired in contrast to these sparkling new developments. Indeed, it seemed the property was on shaky ground.
But fast forward to October 2012, when a new, $500-million global flagship Four Seasons Toronto was opened, having relocated down the road at Yorkville Avenue and Bay Street. The 55-storey, 259-room geometric glass structure boasts an interior thoughtfully designed by the team of Yabu Pushelberg (W Hotel Times Square, Public Chicago) and eye-catching, Canadian-commissioned art (particularly the dandelion motif installation by Alissa Coe hanging over the reception area).
The hotel also includes the largest day spa of any luxury hotel in Toronto, not to mention the much-hyped Café Boulud restaurant that also has locations in Palm Beach and New York City. Suffice to say, the Four Seasons has put Toronto and the rest of the world on notice that it’s not going down in the city’s hotel war without a fight.
I toured the property recently and was given the opportunity to try out the spa and have a lunch at Café Boulud.
Four Seasons Toronto Feels Like Home
The suites have an almost residential feel to them, with their muted beige tones, floor-to-ceiling windows, real hardwood floors and modern furnishings — the larger suites also include a cozy alcove. All the latest toys are available including en-suite iPads. The spacious bathrooms feature two sinks and are well-stocked with amenities.
Toronto’s Largest Day Spa
The Spa at the Four Seasons, to use a well-worn cliché, is truly an urban oasis. For one, the tranquil space is enormous. The facility has 17 separate treatment rooms, along with two steam rooms, spacious locker rooms, saunas and a salon with hair, manicure and pedicure stations; there is also an outlet of the popular 889 Yoga Studio, an indoor pool and a fitness room. I think it would take an international film festival, as well as a half-dozen conventions and perhaps a royal wedding, to fill this spa to capacity.
And the treatment I had, the Gold Plumping Facial ($250, 90 minutes), was fantastic. Using products from the Hungarian Omorovicza skincare line (Budapest being known as the “Spa Capital of the World”), the treatment began with a copper-enriched, lactic-acid peel that is said to boost collagen production and even skin tone. An anti-inflammatory gold serum was then administered to heal micro damage, complemented by a highly skilled facial massage (I swear it felt like my therapist, Jennifer, had brought in a few little elves while my eyes were closed to help massage my face).
The big finish was a nourishing layer of organic oats and wheat hydrates, along with a sprinkling of Gold Shimmer oil on the face, arms and hands.
Café Boulud Treats Yorkville Right
I was given the chance to relax in the spa afterward but I had a lunch reservation. Café Boulud, on the mezzanine floor, is casual chic and well-staffed (busy even on a dreary Monday) with funky pop art on the wall. It placed 67th in the 2013 Vacay.ca guide to Canada’s best restaurants.
I sampled the Chop Chop Salad ($14 small or $17 large), made with cucumber and avocado topped on a bed of Romaine with a zesty sesame ginger dressing, and a salmon entrée ($22) that was succulent. But the most memorable part of the meal was at the end, the Grapefruit Givré ($12). Hoo boy. Where to begin? Words won’t do it justice, I’m afraid. This dessert made of sesame halva, rose loukoum on a grapefruit sorbet, with a cotton candy-like fluff on top, is a citrusy-sweet innovation. As for the service, it was friendly and accommodating — Canadian hospitality at its finest.
The hotel was just named to the prestigious 2013 Condé Nast Traveler Hot List, and has received a bunch of other accolades. It will be interesting to see whether the stars will follow suit during its first run at TIFF this September.
More About the Four Seasons Toronto
Location: 60 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto, Ontario (see map below)
Nightly Room Rates: Premiere Room rates start at about $575 (double occupancy). There are also Bed & Breakfast and Stay Third Night Free packages.
Spa Rates: The Spa the Four Seasons has monthly specials, with May being “Mother’s Month.”
Café Boulud Mother’s Day Brunch Menu: The restaurant features a three-course menu for $65. The regular daily lunch menu includes an option for a two-course price fixe special for $29.
Fun Fact: Did you know the Four Seasons was the first hotel chain to provide shampoo in hotel bathrooms?
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