Luxury Hotels

Montreal’s Fairmont, upgraded, is unrecognisably gorgeous

GM/RVP David Connor

Hard to believe, but it is a decade since the gal stayed at Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal’s anchor hotel above the main rail station. This is where, in 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous Give Peace A Chance love-in, in suite 1742.  Since then things have moved on and up, fast. There is a commemorative all-wall photo of the pair in the lobby, but the real art is truly sensational: the image above, taken in the really good 21st floor Fairmont Or lounge, is an Escher-like steel model, Révolution 2010, for Michel de Broin’s five-floor-high staircase at the Jacobin Convent in Toulouse.  The hotel re-opened 2017 after an astronomical renovation, which included not only spending on art but on converting third-floor bedrooms to small-size meeting rooms.

Tennis display in the lobby

Each unique, these rooms have such names as Ping (yes, that room’s carpet is grass green and the communal meeting surface is a ping-pong table) and Swing (see what is hidden in an alcove – photo above left). The hotel’s GM, David Connor, who also heads Accor for Eastern Canada, reckons the new-concept spaces more than compensate for losing bedroom revenue.  He still has 952 rooms and suites to fill every night, which, with average stay of 1.2 nights, means an awful lot of check-ins and check-outs every day. There is now, fortunately, a massive exaggerated-typeface artwork, Alexandre Berthiaume’s Typospective AI 2017, occupying the entire wall behind Reception to look at, in case you have to wait 30 seconds.   There are also special events in the lobby. As sponsor of the men’s Coupe Rogers 2019 tennis tournament, the hotel not surprisingly had game-related displays, and rangy muscular-calved guys, in the lobby.

The lobby’s food market

But the entire lobby has changed. The inner-circle Beaver Club gourmet restaurant is now Agora, an open space for displays and meetings. Whatever may have been there before is forgotten but the new Artisans gourmet supermarket is sensational, like a Dean & DeLuca meets Whole Foods, right in the hotel: I bought a cobb salad there, it was made on-site, tasted good. From here you can circle round to the new all-day eating-drinking venue, Roselys (do not ask me what the name means and sorry, I forgot to ask). This is so modern, different heights and types of seating. Why go out when you can eat and drink so well here?

A Roselys vignette

There is also a coffee corner, Krema. Yes, the temptation was to sign up Starbucks, says the canny David Connor, but every Tom, Dick and Harry does that.  Far more impressive is to work with local coffee companies and perfect something just right for this so well-established hotel, where top executives meet and stay as a matter of course during the long months when Montreal is a business and convention centre. And when those stalwarts go on vacation, some return with their kids, rooms become just family venues, and the hotel’s operations adapt accordingly. That flexibility is just one sign of a luxury hotel, and its staff. AND NOW SEE SUITE 2054

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Luxury Hotels

Montreal’s iconic luxury hotel, the family-run Ritz-Carlton

Style, at every turn

Put three words together, Montreal+luxury+hotel, and on and off, since it first opened in 1912, one property springs to mind, Ritz-Carlton Montreal. This is the hotel which, since 1950, has had a logo imprinted on the minds of global top-end travellers. Every summer, the duck house in the garden of the 129-room hotel stirs into action – see above. Ducklings arrive, grow quickly and give way to the next generation (better not to ask where the wrinklies go). Not only tradition and history, this is a hotel that has continual elements of surprise. The gal smiled at the fact that the china bowl of bath salts in end room 622 was topped by a perfect, and fresh, orchid.

The DP Bar

Ritz-Carlton Montreal is once again the top Ritz-Carlton worldwide, and although hardware, with the exception of one elevator, works just fine, it is the personalised service that makes the difference (on the elevator front, I am told the hotel is still waiting for attention by Otis, apparently less than efficient).  A team of four works full-time planning, and offering, touchpoints that are just right.  I was told of a female guest who found the bedroom plastered with post-it notes, each recording a memory from her husband. They were celebrating a wedding anniversary and it was this, rather than bubbly, that she remembered long afterwards, and she told all her friends, real and virtual.

Andrew Torriani

Andrew Torriani is the epitomal GM who runs this hotel – one of only two franchises in the Ritz-Carlton network – without having to go through many of the usual processes.  He has the best of both worlds.  His family has the management contract, and one of his brothers is co-owner of the building. When something is needed, it can generally be finalised in minimal time (elevator maintenance excepted). He is also one of those great GMs who realises that working flexi-hours can benefit everyone.  Despite it being a weekend, and a holiday, he cycled in to join me for brunch. Where to be photographed? By the ducks? Too touristy. By the Dom Pérignon bottles in the DP Bar that cleverly cover one of the high walls of the Art Nouveau rear lobby? Sends the wrong message.

Truffled egg

We settled on one of the half-dozen Jane Waterous pointillist splodge-paintings exhibited variously around this luxury hotel’s main floor – I had first come across this Canadian’s unique style at what is now Four Seasons Ocean Club in the Bahamas. And then we went through to Café Boulud’s brunch, a sell-out as always. I had breakfasted earlier off the hotel’s so-addictive smoked salmon, cold-smoked in the hotel, in lacquer style, which means continual marinading. Now I went for eggs, with truffle of course. And then, after a quick trip up to the rooftop to remind myself that next time I must use that pool and its adjacent outdoor sun terrace, it was time for me to leave.  Andrew Torriani, who a couple of weeks ago cycled with 26 hotel colleagues on a two-day bicycle marathon to aid cancer research, was, I knew, back in Café Boulud, networking with local clients before pedalling home. SEE ROOM 622, AND THE BREAKFAST BUFFET


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Luxury Hotels

And after Ponant, a finale of luxury hotels in Athens

Spiros Divanis

Well, after that glorious week of luxury hospitality, and archaeological education, afloat on Ponant’s Le Lyrial, the ship docked on-the-dot, 7 a.m. in Piraeus. And there, as planned, was a driver from the Divanis Collection, who drove the gal straight to Divani Caravel, a really friendly and empathetic luxury hotel (it is Leading as well as, like all the Divani Collection hotels, a member of Global Hotel Alliance GHA). Divanis is a family. The boss today, Spiros Divanis, is son of the founder: his wife, who heads interior decoration, had recently re-done suite 625 – see the video below – and their daughter is in operations. A niece handles sales and marketing.

Bob Suri

There is a highly popular outdoor pool on the 471-room hotel’s eighth floor rooftop but sadly I had no time for that. I was off to see the wizard, one of the wonderful wizards of Four Seasons. Last time I saw Bob Suri he was working his magic at well-established Four Seasons Dubai Jumeirah Bay: a few weeks ago a single telephone call saw him transported here, to Athens, temporarily to hold the fort at Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens in Vouliagmeni.  The Four Seasons flag finally went up March 2019 after a long wait. For years there had been discussion about who would take this 1958-vintage resort, owned by Starwood from 2006 to 2014. Well, the property is now owned by a London-based trio of new-generation investors who are resuscitating a beauty that in its heyday welcomed everybody from Bardot to Mandela, Jackie O to Sean Connery.

One of many waterside views, Four Seasons

Today, with two separate buildings, Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens offers space, bedrooms with glass walled bathrooms and enormous terraces (designer is Meyer Davis) and water facilities that are up to anything on the Riviera. And food is super – I was only there for lunch, outdoor at Taverna 37, under a necessary and cooling awning, see above. Our mezze tray to start was memorable: next time, perhaps a cooking lesson in the versatile Living Room.  Bob Suri showed me around as much as the clock permitted, and being him, of course he greeted all of the 650 employees we passed along the way. My Albanian driver back to town, by the way, was formerly a horse trainer.

One of the world’s best-ever dinner views, from the GB rooftop

My day finished dining with another extraordinary hotelier, Tim Ananiadis, at the Grande Bretagne (he also oversees the King George Hotel next door). Even going in through the GB’s main door is a treat. Everything is so spic and span and there are surprises everywhere.  Turn right to where the GB Corner café used to be to find what is now a first-class concept-store boutique, full of things you really want to buy, like natural-fabric clothes from the islands at Mareva Grabowski’s Zeus+Dione stand – if you do not have time to buy, now, there is a dedicated Zeus+Dione store airside at the airport.  A concierge kindly printed my boarding pass and I was escorted to the elevators up to the eighth floor rooftop.  Of course it was fully booked, as always, but fortunately we had a table, to watch the sun set.  Tim Ananiadis and his American wife, Jennifer, had a couple of retail specialists from the USA visiting and we talked about how main street shops had not foreseen the rise of online, just as so many hotels had not anticipated disruptors. But this hotel is always ahead of the game. Stay here, and a staff member can take you sightseeing off the beaten track. And up on the rooftop, learn to make tapas at a new outdoor kitchen just behind the main restaurant – but you can still see the Acropolis, as it grows yet more magical by night. This is a luxury hotel that always comes up with something new. I SPENT THE NIGHT IN DIVANIS CARAVEL’S SUITE 625






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