On our North American road trip we had been in Toronto, Canada for almost a week, but all we had done so far, other than a half-day side trip to Niagara Falls, was deliver nine rescue dogs to their new “forever owners” and participate in activities related to the pending nuptials of Sarah’s nephew. It was all great, everyone was nice and got on well, but meeting “the family” for the first time and all else associated with the wedding, not to mention recovering from jet lag, was a bit exhausting. It was with this as a backdrop that had me wanting, no needing, a bit of pampering and some time to spending exploring without commitments or obligations.
Luckily we had a huge treat waiting for us a few hours away in Montreal. The Ritz-Carlton, had recently undergone a $200 million renovation and the management had invited us to have a look at it and be their guests for a few days. Now, I have stayed in some very nice hotels in my times, but I have never stayed in a Ritz-Carlton before, so we jumped at the chance! It was nice driving right down Montreal’s main avenue, Sherbrooke Street and giving our car to the valet at one of the most premiere and storied hotels in the world.
The Ritz-Carlton Montreal, the brainchild of famed hotelier César Ritz was the first hotel in North America in the Ritz-Carlton line. Before coming to North America Mr. Ritz was already known as the “king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings”. A little pompous maybe, but he had redefined luxury accommodation in Europe. With experience managing two of Europe’s premiere hotels under his belt, the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton Hotel in London he, and the investors in Montreal, sought to bring some of the luxury West. The cost of building the original property was $2 million CAD. At its opening in 1912 the accommodation rates were $3 for a single room and bath, all the way up to $8 for a suite of rooms. Needless to say, times have changed a bit, but there is still a reason that “Ritz-Carlton” is synonymous with luxury.
The Ritz Carlton Montreal dominates an entire city block on Sherbrooke Street, one of Montreal’s most historic addresses. The “Grand Dame” is surround by art galleries, high end shopping venues and museums. Historic “Old Montreal” is ten-minute cab ride, a quick hop onto the nearby Metro or a pleasant 20-minute walk away.
Our 380-square-foot deluxe king was tastefully decorated in a style that artfully managed to “thread the needle” between upscale and stuffy. The furniture, the refurbished 1912 lighting fixtures, the upholsteries, the wooden floors and the 48-pile, wool rugs were all obviously of topnotch quality, but still very inviting and comfortable to live in. The room had motion and temperature sensors to activate the lights and climate control, a 47-inch LCD flat-panel television, iPhone docks for music, USB charging station and a Nespresso machine for making some early morning gourmet coffee.
Sarah fell in love with the incredible bathroom. It was huge: with a standalone rain/power/steam shower with hand-held showerhead and a deep “lounging tub”. It had heated floors, automatic mirror defoggers and towel warmers that held some of the thirstiest and fluffiest towels I have ever used. There was also another television and a multi-functional toilet/bidet with heated seat, automatic sensor and remote control. After leaving the Ritz I felt almost insulted in other places by having to raise and lower the toilet lid by myself.
The Montreal Ritz-Carlton, the first Ritz-Carlton, was built in 1912 at a, then astronomical, cost of $3 million CAD to the exacting standards of already famous hotelier César Ritz. The palazzo style neo-classical building was designed by the same architects whose other achievements include Grand Central Station in New York and the Biltmore Mansion. One of the touches that César Ritz insisted on was a grand staircase so that the ladies could make dramatic entrances in their gowns during formal functions and after the Ritz’s $200 million CAD renovation it is look as spectacular as ever. There is a 24-hour gym, a beautiful swimming pool overlooking the “Golden Mile” area of Montreal and the hotel’s restaurant, Maison Boulud, is run by renown New York chef Daniel Boulud.
From the time we walked in the door we felt almost as if we were among family. Everyone was friendly professional and seems genuinely interested in making sure we had a first-class stay. The entire staff seemed to know our name and were always available, but not intrusive. When we asked the concierge for restaurant recommendations, after telling him we were looking for something very casual and and off the beaten path, he suggested, almost whispered, the places he likes to go himself. His recommendations were spot on.
It isn’t every day that I get to stay in the place where Alexander Graham Bell placed the world’s first “long-distance” phone call, or where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton wed, and I must say it was a fantastic treat. I somehow had in my mind that a stay at a Ritz-Carlton would somehow be too stiff and formal. Everything was about as close as you can get to perfect, but nothing about it felt over the top opulent, formally stiff, or stuffy.