Even my arrival was exclusive. Less than an hour after jetting into Vancouver’s International Airport I was helicopter bound for Relais & Chateaux’s all-inclusive Sonora Resort on one of British Columbia’s outer islands. There’s no highway, no railroad and no ferry service, so guests come by float plane or helicopter to the island and its eponymous resort.
It was less than an hour after flying along Canada’s pristine coastline that we hovered above our luxury digs before touching down on the property’s helipad. From that moment it was a matter of one-of-a-kind choices, choices detailed during the private check-in and its accompanying wine and cheese welcome.
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LFM Vancouver, Canada
“You just missed the orcas,” we were told when we ventured onto the multi-tiered deck overlooking Desolation Sound—just off the window lined, polished wood lounge and dining area. Not to despair, this rural resort’s offerings are replete with wilderness wonders . . . from wildlife photo ops (conducted at prime times) and eco guided boat tours (equipped with personal headphones and frequent dolphin, porpoise and eagle sightings) . . . to fishing expeditions (known for salmon stuffed waters) and grizzly bear tours (enhanced by the relationship with Homalco First Nations, participants see the grizzlies in their home territory from custom designed 10-foot high viewing stands). As Sonora Resort promises, “Connection to nature is not just a theme here, it’s the guiding principle.”
Perhaps one of the best spots to observe the swirling waterway (the world’s fastest coastal rapids) is from the Island Current Spa’s outdoor mineral pools during a therapeutic soak. This pamper emporium is enhanced with its own signature scent, a fireplace adorned couples room and specialized treatments such as the Canadian balsam oil deep tissue massage. Another vantage view is from Sea Lion Point—a short hike from our lodge—where we were mesmerized by sea lions feasting upon the water’s bountiful salmon buffet.
Each of the 11 lodges is uniquely themed (examples: Arbutus is alpine wilderness inspired and Coho has a West Coast wilderness motif) and rooms are loaded with perks. Among my coveted amenities were a goose down duvet, binoculars for the made-in-Canada view and a loaded mini frig whose sign read, “Healthy and unhealthy snacks complimentary.” Note: Also complimentary are phone calls anywhere (yes, in the world).
Chef Terry Pichor pulls off a nightly culinary coup with his five course tasting menu—allow two delicious hours and be prepared to be impressed. Here’s a sample of my meal: spot prawn with Serrano ham, roasted quail with wild honey and coriander glaze and sweet corn ice cream (all paired with wines, of course). Chef also conducts cooking classes alongside pastry chef Nikki Neff who taught us the art of macaroons. Tip: Add salt to every pastry; we used vanilla salt.
Rounding out the activities are a 12-seat movie theatre with a collection of 350 movies and two full-size golf simulators which transport guests to big time courses, though my goal to play St. Andrews remained unfulfilled (too busy, too many options).
Far from standard in-the-wild digs this is luxury at its finest, a fact underscored by the portfolios of the neighbors, auction guru Dave Ritchie and billionaire Dennis Washington, whose summer homes are on nearby StuartIsland. Owned by Brandt Louie, the billionaire head of London Drugs, Sonora Resort blends nicely into these exclusive environs.
Operating seasonally (typically from the end of April through mid-October) Sonora Resort is in sync with its island location. In truth, it isn’t that different from other island getaways: the water just more dramatic, the mountain terrain shades greener and the wildlife population densely abundant.
Fast forward to my helicopter return and a slight change in longitude and the city comes to center stage. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim. My re-entry into a faster pace was seamless—by private car from the heliport to the harbor (courtesy of the hotel’s BMW car service).
Situated on Vancouver’s most prime of properties Fairmont Pacific Rim’s founding principle, “spare no expense,” is apparent upon arrival. Its art is no exception, from the initial greeting of internationally acclaimed Liam Gillick’s repeated line of Helvetica-style text wrapping the building’s exterior to origami artist Joseph Wu’s soaring lobby ceiling sculpture.
My 14th floor corner room had everything a guest can’t pack—a two-sided floor-to-ceiling bathroom view (of the city, the harbor and mountains beyond), a Japanese standing soak tub and a chocolate “Chanel” bag welcome gift (its appearance so authentic that I tried to open it). Add to each of the 377 rooms Stearns & Foster beds, LCD televisions with surround-sound, iPad2 devices with interactive customer experience technology (Canada’s first hotel offering this perk) and Nespresso machines and you have high style, high altitude living.
The hotel oozes with specialties. Top sushi chef Taka Omi showcases his talents in the Lobby Lounge, which are complemented by the creativity of über-talented mixologists. It’s become Vancouver’s favorite place to sip, swirl and socialize, whether for afternoon tea or late night musical entertainment.
Each of the dining experiences is overseen by executive chef Darren Brown, a chef with celeb credits. He worked aboard Merv Griffin’s 150-foot yacht in the French Riviera, cooked for celebrities such as the Princess of Spain and lists world renowned chef Alain Ducasse as an employer. Here his kitchen is “full scratch.” Everything is made in the hotel . . . from the breads to the baked goods to in-house pickling to curing and smoking fish . . . everything.
ORU is an edible reflection of Chef Brown’s commitment to locally sourced food from the Pacific Northwest and flavors from the Pacific Rim. Its marble and stainless steel open kitchen makes diners feel a part of the process. And its offerings have become local favorites: Sake Cured Haida Gwaii Sablefish, chocolate desserts from Pastry Chef John (JJ) Hauser and a collection of over 200 wine labels.
Giovane Café begins its day as a casual coffee bar (its sugar buns are renowned); then transforms into an intimate, dimly lit Italian wine bar and bistro overseen by wine sommelier Jill Spoor, who called Italy home for a decade.
Away from the hotel, there’s no chance you’ll go hungry. Fairmont Pacific Rim has partnered with the Vancouver Foodie Tours, giving guests an additional tasting experience. The tour is designed to make the delicious introduction of its walking participants to the city’s lively food truck and food cart scene, with stops at such notables as Japadog (so popular, the Olympic wait was three hours) and Tacofino, known for fish tacos and an addictive sweet treat, the Diablo cookie.
But back at the hotel it’s the Willow Stream Spa where you’ll head to relax, rejuvenate, and get back in the action. I’m a pushover for local based spa treatments, so the maple sugar scrub and maple butter Coastal Mountain Body Wrap captured my attention. But it was the spacious outdoor deck punctuated by private Jacuzzis, seating around fire pits and meditation pods, all overlooking its downtown view, that will beckon me back.
Pick your cliché—best of the best, champagne tastes, caviar dreams—whatever your choice, it will fits as these Canadian resorts really are luxe loaded.