Mosquito-averse and sunburn shy, my husband and I plan to start our summer with a big-city staycation. Big views, big brunch, luxurious rooms, indulgent spa treatments and an exciting array of cultural events within steps make downtown Toronto the place to be when the sun sets late into the evening and sidewalk cafés come alive.
Conveniently located to theatres, galleries and festival sites, the Ritz-Carlton at Wellington and John Streets offers five-star luxury with spectacular views. Every room faces either north or south. Watch the buzz on David Pecaut Square and enjoy the excitement of the city, or look out at the serene waters of Lake Ontario and Centre Island. From our spacious corner suite with huge windows, we watch planes take off from the nearby island airport, but we never hear them. The soundproofing is that good.
Elegant lighting fixtures, serene earth tones, lots of wood and marble make the room feel restful and peaceful. We love the high-tech touches too: heated marble floors and a bathroom with a television screen that’s imbedded into the mirror and only becomes visible when switched on.
Convenient to culture
With rooms like these we hardly want to leave the hotel, but it’s an easy walk to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s summer blockbuster exhibit, Revealing the Early Renaissance: Stories and Secrets in Florentine Art, which brings to Toronto 14-century treasures from artists who gave birth to the Renaissance (one of the most dynamic eras in Western art). Many of the 90 masterpieces on view have never travelled before.
Starting June 14, the ten-day-long Luminato Festival invigorates the downtown core with an infusion of interactive arts for culture vultures including three big Canadian premieres: the Mark Morris Dance Group dancing to a Handel oratorio performed by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir; a tribute to Joni Mitchell with a stellar line-up of musicians including singer Rufus Wainwright and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell; and a Chinese opera directed by Atom Egoyan. Hit the Hub in David Pecaut Square (the grassy lawn you can see from north-facing rooms at the Ritz) where a stellar lineup of free performances draws large crowds. Among the highlights: conceptual artist and singer Laurie Anderson, and Amadou and Mariam, Malian singers who mix traditional African music with genres from around the globe.
Even before Luminato has finished, another of Toronto’s favourite summer festivals has already begun. The TD Toronto Jazz Festival (June 20 to 29) at Nathan Phillips Square (fronting Toronto City Hall) and other locations featuring 1,500 musicians as diverse as Nikki Yanofsky, Trombone Shorty, and Smokey Robinson.
We are also smack dab in Toronto’s theatre district where you can catch the mega musicals (The Book of Mormon at the Royal Alexander Theatre or The Lion King at the Princess of Wales) or a last-minute movie at TIFF Bell Lightbox during one of city’s most exciting events: the Toronto International Film Festival, Sept. 5 to 15, now the world’s largest public film festival.
However, after a full day of museum-hopping, we look forward to lingering on the popular terrace at DEQ, enjoying a mojitos made with mint picked in the outdoor herb garden. We love the strong sense of place at the Ritz Carlton: bronzed maple leaves embedded in the floor that we step over as we enter, scenes of Muskoka on the spa walls or Helvio Faria’s small golden maple leaves in a bathroom. There are more than 450 artworks by local Ontario artists including Floyd Elzinga’s metallic lobby landscapes. Impressive.
We awake in time for Sunday brunch, ready to linger over mimosas and Bellinis in TOCA restaurant where the lavish buffet is fast becoming a local legend for its extensive choice and exquisite presentation: oysters and lobster tails fresh from the east coast, and perfectly composed salads in miniature dishes that look like they belong in a jewel case. It’s all here: sushi, omelettes, smoked salmon, you name it. Big appetites gravitate to the classic Beef Wellington while dessert lovers delight in the array of tiny tarts, miniature mousse, one-bite macaroons and chocolates garnished with the gold Ritz-Carlton hotel logo. Attentive servers even refold napkins while diners return to peruse the buffet bounty! At the centre of the room, between the sunny bistro side and the somber banquettes of the dining room, is the heart of TOCA, a glass-walled cheese cave where wheels of mostly Ontario and Canadian cheese of fine pedigree age to perfection.
After such a leisurely start to Sunday who could blame us for wanting to lounge in the elegant hotel spa, Spa MyBlend By Clarins, with its saltwater pool (rare in this city) where we can laze together on a double-sized chaise longue in the co-ed lounge or our own private treatment room. Yes, there’s a gym filled with state-of-the-art equipment, trainers and yoga room, but who needs it after such a blissful weekend. Virtue can wait for another day.
Family Fun Package
Not just for adults, kids can share the Ritz-Carlton luxury on a Family Fun Package that includes accommodation in a room with two queen beds, access to the Club lounge where continuous buffet presentations let them nibble at their convenience—and the kids will be mesmerized with the view of the lake. A special check-in service welcomes children with age appropriate toys; a personally address note and in-room cookies make them feel right at home. VIK (very important kid) programming includes either a mini spa manicure or a culinary activity such as pizza making or cupcake decorating.