Business trip: Toronto
If you are worried that the Four Seasons might still be working out its grand opening kinks, check out the uber-cool 77-room Hazelton Hotel down the street. This popular five-star hotel has had five years to perfect its product, and attracts a crowd of insiders who appreciate its discreet, cosy feel, with extras like a plush private screening room and see-and-be-seen patio.
Unwind at the yoga studio or by the rooftop pool and lounge at the trendy 102-room Thompson Toronto, which fits in nicely in the artsy and eclectic King West Village, home to the city’s gallery and boutique scene.
In 2010, Montréal-based Groupe Germain, which pioneered the boutique hotel concept in Canada, opened its second location in Toronto, the contemporary 167-room Hôtel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square downtown. Its location near many of Toronto’s popular sporting venues is reflected in oversized black-and-white prints of athletes hanging in each room.
Out at Pearson airport, the new 153-room ALT Hotel offers simple, stylish, colourful, “no-frills-chic” rooms, a grab-and-go restaurant stocked with organic snacks and meals, and a quick and easy intra-airport rail link to terminals. Interestingly, this year, the hotel is experimenting with a flat, year-round $149 per night rate, unlike most other hotels that base rates on demand.
For a tasteful taste of Canada, make a reservation at Canoe, one of the country’s best restaurants, which turns out dishes such as maple-torched salmon from British Columbia, pan seared Québec foie gras, Alberta lamb or New Brunswick sturgeon, all from a unique location high atop the TD Bank tower downtown.
To wow your team or your client, book the chef’s table inside the kitchen at TOCA in the Ritz-Carlton. The fantastic meal (such as beer-battered Nova Scotia lobster and Kennebec fries) includes meeting chef Bruno Lopez, who will help plan your meal and lead you through the restaurant’s unusual glassed-in cheese cave.
Off the clock
During winter, when the wet or icy winds blow in and even a day trip to nearby Niagara Falls is out of the question, follow Torontonians underground to PATH, one of the world’s largest underground walkway and shopping complexes with 28km of retail space offering everything from cocktails to shoe repair. This vast warren of clean, bright underground passageways connects the entire downtown area (subways, department stores, office buildings, parking garages, hotels), and you can walk almost anywhere in warm, weatherproof comfort.
When the weather is nice, take a stroll through the pedestrian-only Distillery district on the eastern edge of downtown. During the 1800s the area was home to the Gooderham and Worts distillery — at that time, the largest in the world. Today, the remaining 44 historic buildings (restored and re-opened in 2006) constitute the largest collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America, now inhabited by a colourful mix of galleries, restaurants, theatres, cafes and shops.
Rub elbows with the locals at the St Lawrence Market, Toronto’s first permanent farmer’s market dating back to 1803. Saved from demolition in 1974, the vibrant market reflects the city’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity, offering hundreds of varieties of cheese, rice, olive oil, bread, mustard and sausage, plus a wide selection of fruits, vegetables and flowers. For a truly Canadian experience, order the famous fried pea-meal bacon sandwich, dusted with cornmeal and served with cheddar cheese and spicy mustard.
Don’t do this!
Do not think that suburban Pearson International is your only air travel option. Porter Airlines, operating out of the tiny Billy Bishop Airport on a small island just off the shore of downtown Toronto, is hugely popular with business travellers for short, less-than-two-hour hops to cities such as Montréal, Ottawa, Boston, New York, Washington DC or Chicago. The airline draws in the business travel set with leather seats, lots of leg room, free beer and wine, plus fun and friendly flight attendants who wear locally designed Pink Tartan duds like pencil skirts and pillbox hats.