The Story of Four Seasons Hotels

The Four Seasons group of hotels and resorts is one of my favorite brands in the world. From The Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita to Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, each property I stayed at was over the top luxury and service. But it wasn’t until my recent visit to the Four Seasons Toronto that I came to know the story of how this brand came to be.

Founding of The Four Seasons

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, located in the vibrant Yorkville neighborhood, is the Canadian company’s flagship property. This is where it all started. In 1961, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts opened its first property – a motor hotel in downtown Toronto, down the street from where the current hotel stands. It was the brainchild of Isadore Sharp, the company’s Founder and Chairman. He wanted to set the stage for a new type of hotel experience with personalized service for business travelers. He found a niche in mid-size hotels of exceptional quality offering distinctive service and opened another location in London. The hotel became popular with celebrities when the Toronto International Film Festival was held in the Yorkville area.

four seasons hotel toronto

Amenities We Now Take For Granted

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As the brand expanded, Four Seasons became the first hotel company in North America to introduce now-standard items such as bath amenities, robes and hair dryers. It was also the first to provide European-style concierge services and 24/7 in-room dining. Twice-daily housekeeping, one-hour pressing and round-the-clock laundry and dry cleaning are additional guest services introduced by Four Seasons long before any other luxury hotel operators.

Have you ever wished to take home a hotel mattress? The first custom made Four Seasons mattress that we all love debuted in 1984, and has been the standard bearer for a night of perfect rest in all of Four Seasons hotels since then. In 2014, Four Seasons further innovated their sleep experience by introducing a fully customizable mattress that allows guests to choose the firmness of their hotel bed.  

Since then, the company has included  Private Residences, Residential Rentals, and  the Four Seasons Jet in its portfolio.

The Golden Rule

Academic researchers have done several studies and published papers about the reasons for Four Seasons success. It comes down to their mission statement: To treat others as we’d wish to be treated ourselves. Isn’t it simple and powerful?

And this is so evident in the staff interactions I have had across all the properties. Most employees I met were super friendly. We talked about our common passion for travel. They told me that they worked for the company for years, as many as 30 years! They often utilize the company benefits to travel to different Four Seasons properties, take their families to discounted dinners at the hotel, and enjoy their work life balance. The company culture ensures that the employees are well taken care of. Having a base of loyal and happy employees definitely reflects on how the guests feel too.

I wouldn’t be writing this blog post featuring a brand unless there was a sustainability promise. Through their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program, Four Seasons for Good, seeks to preserve and regenerate the beautiful places in which they operate, and leave a positive, enduring impact on the communities. Each of the two pillars: Planet (environmental impact) and People (social impact) makes efforts to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It makes me feel good about my stay too!

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto

Now let’s go back to Toronto, where it all started. A beautiful lobby with intricate lattice doors welcomed me in. The Premier Room on a 30 floor tower had a stunning view of a quieter part of the city, overlooking charming row townhouses and a park. The interior, in grey tunes, was soft and blended with the sky. A luscious giant raspberry macron with fresh raspberries and gold leaf was waiting for me to devour. This was going to be a wonderful stay already!

Fun fact: The 9,038-square-foot penthouse, which occupies the entire 55th floor of the West Residence at The Four Seasons Toronto was sold for Canadian $28 million in 2012, making it the most expensive condominium unit sold in Canada!

four seasons spa

The Spa

The Spa at Four Seasons Toronto is a must! My 90-minute Signature Gold and Diamond Facial was not only indulgent, I came out radiating. Think hour and a half of cleansing, peeling, massages, gold infused and rose quartz crystals masks, and anti-aging gold serum. My family members couldn’t believe the glow on my face. The relaxing rooms also had great views of Toronto skyline.

At some point during your stay, also make sure to check out the indoor swimming pool and state of the art gym. I am generally not a hotel gym person but this one was worth sweating at.

Dining

The dinner at Café Boulud was one of my best meals in Toronto. The airy restaurant with lots of natural lighting and modern interiors offers international Chef Daniel Boulud’s homestyle French menu. Melt-in-your-mouth Bluefin Tuna, fresh from the ocean Nova Scotia Lobster with homemade linguini, and fennel poached British Columbia Spot Prawns stood out for me. The Grapefruit Givre was a unique dessert. A half grapefruit was filled with grapefruit sorbet and topped with sesame halva strands and rose lokum (Turkish delight). Nothing like I have ever seen before. The menu is seasonal so you may not find the same dishes I tried. But if you go on a Wednesday, order the Three-Course Rotisserie Menu with PEI Mussels and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Yum!

The best part about Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is the location. As soon as you come out of the hotel, you are in the heart of Yorkville, Toronto’s top shopping and dining destination. There’s luxury designer boutiques, cafes with lovely ambiance and all types of restaurants. Just walking around the neighborhood and people (and their dogs) watching is also fun.

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is also pet-friendly!

Check out more stories from Canada on my website.

Open air ice museum

The snow capital of the world, Quebec City hosts the annual Quebec Winter Carnival from Jan-Feb. During those three weeks, the festival grounds turn into a giant open air ice museum with an ice castle surrounded by ice sculptures created by artists who come from around the world.

In 1973, the International Snow Sculpture Competition of Québec officially opened and four teams participated. It is the oldest snow sculpture competition and one of the most prestigious. Every year, sculptors from the four corners of the earth meet the challenge to create a work of art with this ephemeral and fragile medium under extraordinary conditions.

The competition is judged in three categories: Student Artist CategoryQuebec and Canadian Categories and International Category.

While judges award the winner in each of the categories, visitors can walk through these giant marvelous structures carved entirely of snow and ice. The sculpture are at least 5-6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, some even larger. It is incredible how these artists work outdoors in negative temperatures to create a unique piece of art that eventually melts away.

Stay at an ice hotel when visiting Quebec 

 

Take a bath in French style

The snow bath was an essential party during the 58th Winter Carnival in Quebec this February. Eighty-some participants volunteered to shed their clothes down to their bathing suits to bathe in the snow, while it was -20C outside!

A little bit of preparation was needed in order to be on stage while hundreds of people watched. Participants had to sign waivers and vigorously exercise for almost two hours before the event. They also made use of the saunas at the Carnival to warm up their bodies before going for a snow dip.

The crowds cheered on as Bonhomme, the official Carnival mascot came to greet the snow bathers.

People were rolling around in the snow for almost half an hour. I suppose all the dancing and jumping around was keeping them warm. In the background, Macarena and 80’s music was blaring.

Super heroes don’t feel cold. Look at the expression on this man’s face.

Oh the joys of winter! You must have a great attitude to participate in a Quebec snow bath.

Some of these people are looking too pink or is it just me? My fingers froze while I was just taking these pictures and I had to go indoors before they did.

Bistrot le Clocher Penché

Eric Villain and Steve McCandless, chief owners of Bistrot le Clocher Penché in Quebec City say “We are constantly working to provide a table that reflects the human qualities inspired by our craftsmen suppliers: rigor, simplicity, generosity and love of the profession. This desire to pass through exquisite food and unpretentious values ​​we hold dear defines the unique experience of the Leaning Steeple.” After a visit to the restaurant this past weekend, I felt these sentences accurately reflect everything it stands for.

Bistrot le Clocher Penché sources their ingredients locally, from farmers and producers located in Quebec (sometimes even down the street). They strongly believe in supporting local communities and providing fresh food. There is also attention to detail in the preparation of every dish, which is reflected in it’s flavor and presentation. To maintain quality, the kitchen serves a dozen plates every half hour or so.

Meaning bent bell tower, as in one located across from the restaurant, the menu keeps up with the theme of the church. Dishes are smartly named “First Communion, Adam’s Apple, The blood of the saints, Our daily bread, etc.” Consider this an upscale French Bistro with top of the line ingredients in a casual environment.

The brunch at Bistrot le Clocher Penché was simply outstanding! I had the La pomme de Adam, duck confit with apples inside a buckwheat crepe served with grilled potatoes and a mustard creme sauce. It came with a vanilla yogurt parfait with chopped pineapples, maple jello and streusal topping and a huge bowl of cafe au lait.

My brunch companion ordered La soeur Gribiche, which was fried fish and crab croquettes served with egg and tarragon sauce on a bed of green bean salad.

 

Le Clocher Penche Bistro

203, rue Saint-Joseph Est
Québec (Qc) G1K 3B1

Fit for a Princess

Overlooking the St Lawrence River and Dufferin Terrace, in the heart of Quebec City, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is a landmark of elegance and history. The hotel was built in 1893 to promote luxury tourism and named after Louis de Buade, count of Frontenac.

Having dinner at one of the Chateau’s restaurant, La Cafe de la Terrasse was perhaps one of the best meals I will have in 2012. Chef Jean Soulard keeps up with the upscale European style ambiance by offering a menu that is fresh and inspiring.

Set in a 18th century casual setting, the restaurant offers a locally harvested seasonal and themed dinners. Friday evening is a seafood buffet and what a feast that was, fit for a Princess I would say. I am personally a huge fan of seafood and could be critical at time, but this one blew me away. Not only was the selection impressive, but every single dish was cooking to perfection. Never before I had tasted salmon so tender and delicate, it was packed with flavor yet melted in your mouth.

Here are some of the highlights from the dinner…

Row of assorted salads

Two kinds of Oysters on the shell

Melt in your mouth shrimp salad

Couscous pilaf in a glass

Coconut shrimp dedicated to the delegation from Louisiana visiting during the Carnival

Seafood terrain

Steamed whole salmon

As if the seafood wasn’t enough, you get a steamed whole lobster as your “side”

There were at least a dozen desserts, but this one caught my attention

Ginger cookies with chocolate

Cheesecake with maple pecan sauce (the best of them all!)

The property is beautiful to visit, dine or stay. The Chateau offers Valentine’s escape, elopement and winter family fun packages

Romancing in an ice hotel

There are lots of unique destinations and beautiful places around the world to spend Valentine’s day, an anniversary or a romantic getaway. But none of them come close to the Hotel de Glace in Quebec City, Canada. I am saying that because I woke up there this morning and felt like I have been transported into another world.

Last night, my husband and I checked into the Hotel de Glace meaning ice hotel located just outside Quebec City. With 36 bedrooms, a chapel, bar, lounge and slides, this one is the largest ice hotel in the world.  There are outdoor Jacuzzis and sauna the couples can use to heat their bodies while dazing into the starlight sky.

After that you can go into the ice bar, get some colorful cocktails that match the decor of the rooms and dance late into the night. If you prefer something sober, there are activities such a treasure hunt and ice carving that the guests can indulge in.

In spite of the layers of clothing we had to wear to keep ourselves warm (it was -20C outside and -5 inside the room), it was very quiet and romantic. There were candles lit in our room where sleeping bags await us. The contrast of winter white walls, clear ice beds, colorful backdrop lights against the delicately carved murals created by award winning artists – all was a great sight for the senses.

There were suits and chambers in the ice hotel, each one with a different theme and layout. Some have an ice bed shaped traditionally, others like a circle or a star. The romantic suite has a king size circular bed, a sitting area, a fireplace and private spa. Many people come from around the world to propose to their beloveds, have a romantic getaway or even a wedding.

In fact, the non denominational chapel at the ice hotel has already hosted 24 wedding so far this season. The wedding planners at the hotel can arrange everything from flowers and dinner to a winter wedding dress for the couple.

An architectural splendor and Perhaps not something you would do every chance you get, but a stay at Hotel de Glace is once in a lifetime experience that every couple should consider doing.

Hotel de Glace, Canada is open only from January to March after which it melts away.

Book your stay at Hotel de Glace through TripAdvisor

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Eat Round the Clock in Montreal

The city of Montreal is just across the border, yet an entire world away. Crowned as City of Festivals and Paris of North America, the French influences are found everywhere from architecture, language, culture to cuisine. While there are a number of great eateries to choose from, here are my personal top choices that you could cover in a day.

Nocochi Pâtisserie Café, Montreal

Start your day off at Olive et Gourmando, a lively bakery located in Old Montreal. There is a good chance there will be a wait to get in, but its well worth it! You can chose from dozens of freshly baked croissants, pastries, muffins or my personal favorite, the banana chocolate brioche. It goes well with a hot cappuccino after which you have enough energy to stroll through the neighboring attractions including Basilique Notre-Dame, district’s riverside edge and Pointe-à-Callière (Museum of Archaeology and History).

fresh pastries at Olive et Gourmando, Montreal

For lunch take a stroll through the neighborhood of petite Italie ( Little Italy) which will transport you to a street in Naples. While there are dozens of restaurants to choose from here, restaurant Casa Napoli offers the best value for money. A family business of over 28 years, the owner offers northern and southern Italian cuisine in an ambience of The Godfather. There is also a dainty sidewalk patio too where you can watch Italian families shopping for traditional items or catching up with friends. There is plenty to choose from the menu. The mozzarella is so fresh that it melts in your mouth. The pizzas live up to the restaurant’s name as well. It is the closest you can come to going to Naples being in Canada.

Take the metro to Sherbrook and a bus ride over to Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). You could visit this extensive and one of the most famous museum’s firs , and then walk two streets over to Nocochi Pâtisserie Café (2156 Rue Mackay, Montreal, QC H3G 2J2, Canada, (514) 989-7514). This small delectable café is perfect for afternoon tea. Here you will find a variety of petite size melt in your mouth cookies, cakes, chocolates, nut filled dates, nut filled apricots, marzipans and Turkish delights. They are not cheap and you can get by eating a lot. They also have some nicely packed boxes to take back home as gifts.

Vieux-Montréal is home to a considerable number of restaurants catering to most tastes and wallets. However, a must try right off the bustling Place Jacques-Cartier is a French bistro called Le Jardin Nelson for dinner. It gets quite busy on weekend nights and they don’t take reservations. If the weather is nice, ask to be seated in the back patio where you would feel like you have entered a tropical garden paradise. There is live jazz music almost always. It even has raincatchers to protect you in case the weather is uncooperative. While the menu can cater to picky eaters as well, try the traditional crepes that are offered with a variety of fillings from mushrooms, rabbit, and duck to lobsters and shrimps.

Le Jardin Nelson, Montreal

Visit one of the three locations of Juliette e Chocolate for an after dinner treat. They serve traditional or old-fashioned, dark, milk or white chocolate as shots, milk shakes or smoothies, combined with fruit or if you are more adventurous with spices, and even married Liquor for cocktails, hot or shakes. And that’s not all! If you still like a dessert to go with your chocolate, you can order crepes, pastries or fondue. And please don’t forget to take one of the many varieties of brownies they make to have later. “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation!” – Oscar Wilde.

After partying at the numerous bars and clubs that Montreal is famous for, night owls usually end up having La Poutine. It is a fast food invention of Quebec consisting of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. You can find it in surprising combinations (even with foie gras) at pretty much any corner of Montreal. It is not the healthiest snack but a must try in this region.

~ As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in September 2010.

More on where to eat in Montreal