Within minutes of
my arrival to the Ritz-Carlton
in Toronto's burgeoning Entertainment District, a bellhop whisked me upstairs to the 18th-floor club level check in, where a staff
member offered me a
complimentary glass of chardonnay. Not just any chardonnay, but one made from
grapes grown, picked, pressed and bottled in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake,
Ontario’s very own Napa Valley.
From my spacious room, floor-to-ceiling windows
revealed a portrait-like view of the city's soaring CN Tower, a needle-like
structure that narrows as it ascends toward a multilevel observation deck. One
of the world's tallest buildings, it is now also home to one of the city’s most extreme adventures: the
death-defying Edge Walk, where adventurists spend up to
half an hour in a
around the deck's outer circumference, 356m in the air.
Though it was my first time to the city, I
felt as though I had been here
before. Along with a population that is as ethnically and culturally diverse as London, Toronto has the
towering skyscrapers of Manhattan, the neighbourhood feel of San Francisco and
even a bit of the adrenaline-induced playfulness of Auckland – not to mention LA's high-priced martinis, which you can find at the Thompson
Hotel's rooftop bar. And while Toronto's skyline remains dotted with remnants of its days as a British
stronghold – the regal Fairmont Royal York, the
bustling St Lawrence Market and
the luxury King Edward, a hotel that once served as a love nest for an unmarried
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – it is easy to tell by the towering cranes and endless scaffolding that
downtown Toronto is in
the middle of a
reinvention, forming a new and modern identity that
is entirely its own.
No longer limited to old or outdated properties,
Toronto visitors now have a handful of snazzy new lodgings to choose from.
Along with the spacious Ritz Carlton (especially notable for its
mirror-embedded bathroom TVs), 2010 saw the opening of downtown's boutique
Thompson Hotel, where rooms have mahogany floors and built-in furnishings, and the elevators are consistently filled with glammed-up locals in
black outfits and four-inch heels en route to the rooftop bar; in true club fashion, there is often a line at the entrance below. Since then, downtown's Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto
and the Shangri-La Hotel
Toronto, as well as the flagship Four Seasons Hotel in the city's posh Yorkville
neighbourhood have opened, helping transform Toronto from a weekend stopover
into a five-star haven.
Along with building high-end properties, Toronto
has been busy securing its spot on the culinary
map with a restaurant boom to rival cities worldwide. Located in the
Entertainment District just outside the city's Air Canada Centre sporting arena,
is a classic North American eatery serving one of the
tastiest- burgers on the planet (seriously). Despite its top-tier price tag,
the 25 Canadian dollar Maple Burger – served on an egg bun with double smoked bacon, Guinness cheddar
cheese and a dollop of roasted garlic aioli
– is not only one heavenly bite after the next, it is also worth every cent.
Gracing the 54th
floor of downtown's flashy TD Tower, Canoe attracts the Hollywood elite who
come to town for September’s annual Toronto
International Film Festival. The restaurant offers outstanding views and a
regionally focused menu of seasonal dishes, such as Alberta lamb with baby
turnips and butterball potatoes, along with a wine list that is as diverse as
Toronto's residents. But it is New York chef David Chang's trio of recently
opened Momofuku concept eateries that are
Toronto's hottest tickets, namely Shoto,
serving Asian cuisine as an ever-evolving, 10-coursetasting menu that require
both ample time and a hearty appetite.
As Toronto's food scene rapidly evolves, it
naturally follows that other attractions are upping their ante. Along with the
Toronto International Film Festival, this city of festivals is becoming ever
more known for its annual Nuit Blanche
– or all night – arts fete in October, another autumn happening that transforms
Toronto's downtown into a giant multimedia art venue, complete with retro dance
parties and immersive light installations. And as host of the 2015 Pan American Games, a major
athletic competition that will be completely carbon neutral as well as Canada's
largest ever multi-sport event (with 8,000 athletes from 41 nations in 36
sports – twice the size of Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics), refurbishments
are in the works citywide. Union
Station, Toronto's metro hub, is in the middle of a complete overhaul, and
a new slew of subway trains – put into service in 2011 – have replaced those
that have been rocking the tracks since the 1950s and ‘60s.
Looking for a bit
of culture? The National Ballet of Canada
recently premiered a new rendition of Romeo and Juliet by acclaimed Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, and upcoming works include
Swan Lake and Cinderella. For a
secondary treat that is just as indulgent, swing by SOMA, a chocolate shop in Toronto's Distillery
District and enjoy fiery Mayan liquid chocolate spiced with Madagascar vanilla
and chilli. It is a bona fide game-changer, much like the city itself.
previous version of this article misnamed the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. This has been fixed.