Think Aveda meets Ivana, and you've got the gist of Vancouver's opulent but au courant, trendy yet very trop Sheraton Suites Le Soleil.
Tucked into one corner of a sleek, high-rise-stacked block in Vancouver's financial core, the all-suite Le Soleil drips with over-the-top nods to such exuberant world landmarks as New York's Park Plaza, Paris's Hotel Meurice and London's Ritz.
But amid the fussy brocade couches and gleaming gilded tabletops are all kinds of contemporary extras squarely aimed at yuppie sensibilities: free bottled water, a cordless phone by the bed, complimentary dark-roast Italian coffee with your morning paper. And then there are those Aveda freebies: honey-scented soap, rosemary mint shampoo, the company's trademark Chakra III body lotion -- none of that no-name hotel-chain stuff for the guests who check in here.
Still, it's not the modern touches, but the Old World ambience that really defines the Soleil.
Walking along busy Hornby Street, you could easily pass by without realizing you were anywhere near a hotel. The entrance is just a few windows wide and sits next door to a YWCA. But head through the lobby doors and you'll find the kind of luxe appointments that are quickly becoming endangered species in an age when hoteliers such as Ian Schrager have decreed that less is more: overstuffed couches trimmed with thick, shiny tassels; Louis XVI-style tables imported from Italy; golden walls that stretch nine metres into the air; sweeping arches; fluted columns; a grand, end-of-the-room fireplace; and fresh bouquets of flowers flown in from Asia and South Africa. Get on plush little elevators and emerge into hallways with mirrors inlaid into ceilings, and scooped-out alabaster wall and ceiling fixtures.
The luxury -- too much, no doubt, for some people's taste -- continues in the guest rooms, which could easily have been decorated by the Versace siblings, and where the look switches from guillotined French king to Biedermeier, the 19th-century German style based on French Empire forms. Obelisks and sun dials are a running theme. Desk chairs sport carved bees. The couch could sleep two. Need to use the bathroom after a long journey? Get ready for enough marble to make a pope feel at home.
However ancient the whole place looks, the Soleil is in fact one of Vancouver's newest hotels, built from scratch barely two years ago, in an attempt, spokesman Richard Yore says, "to look like a heritage property." Noting that the Wedgwood Hotel on Robson Square -- home of equally ornate rooms and sumptuous venues such as the Bacchus Lounge -- was for many years Vancouver's only boutique hotel, Yore says Sheraton Resorts decided there was room for at least one more over-the-top inn in the city.
Certainly the hotel world has taken notice. The Soleil has already been voted one of the top 100 hotels on the planet by Resorts & Great Hotels Magazine, and has nabbed four diamonds from the American Automobile Association, and four stars from Mobil.
The hotel's Oritalia restaurant, meanwhile, has gotten some notice of its own. It was the only restaurant in Canada to make it onto Condé Nast's 2000 list of 60 Hot Tables from around the world. A place for power business lunches and quiet, candle-lit dinners, it's got a sizzling open kitchen whose chefs seem happy to shoot the breeze with anyone who comes up for a closer look. Along with a grand staircase up to the mezzanine, which provides a bit of shelter from all the buzz, Oritalia has panelled floors inlaid with mosaic tiles, and a two-storey-high ceiling hung with enormous, deco-inspired glass flowers that are in turn reflected in a gigantic mirror.
The menu, as the restaurant's name vaguely implies, is a fusion of Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Mediterranean. Among the best stuff I tried was a starter of crisp barbecue duck salad with plum wine vinaigrette, frozen grapes and toasted cashews ($11). Luscious grilled king salmon comes with satiny little Shanghai noodle dumplings, garlic black beans and pickled ginger sobayan ($24).
What Le Soleil lacks makes a relatively short list, although one you might want to consider. By and large, there are no views to speak of -- the price you pay for being in the thick of the West End's skyscraper canyons. And amid all the luxury, you have to pay ($11) to use the health club, which is that Y next door. As Ys go, it's a very nice one, and even comes with an ozonated, chlorine-free swimming pool; but it's still not quite what you would expect of a place like this. Another odd oversight: You have to traipse to the third floor to find the hotel's only ice machine.
Despite those peccadillos, if you like your hotels more chichi than chic, this one delivers big time. The Soleil guest list, in fact, implies it's got chic down pretty well too: Eminem, Beck and Moby have all bedded down here for the night. Of course, that could just mean that even the grungiest of rock stars, when they sweat their way off the stage, sometimes need to pamper the Ivana within.
The Sheraton Suites Le Soleil, 567 Hornby St.; suites run from $175 to $400 a night, depending on season and availability; penthouses go for $500 to $1,500. For more information, call (800) 325-3535; or on the Web, head to http://www.lesoleilhotel.com.