Sunday, June 29, 2014

Girls Getaway to Toronto

With festivals like Luminato and the Toronto International Film Festival and museums like the Art
Gallery of Ontario (AGO), there’s no denying that Toronto is one of the most culturally vibrant cities in North America. It’s just a hop away from many major U.S. cities and easy to navigate, even for first-time visitors.

From Chicago, the best way to get to Toronto is with Porter Airlines. You may not have heard of Toronto’s regional air carrier, but I’d fly them again in a heartbeat. Porter’s Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft are small, just two seats on each side, but very quiet. There is no first or business class, but everyone is offered complimentary nuts, cookies and vegetable chips along with a choice of beverage (including alcohol) served in a real glass. Porter also flies to New York, Washington D.C., Boston, and Myrtle Beach.

 It was smooth sailing from Midway into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located on the Toronto Islands. A two-minute ferry ride later and I was downtown! Sure beats a 45 minutes drive from Pearson International Airport.

As soon as I entered my room at the Shangri-La Toronto, I was greeted with a lovely painter’s palette
of chocolate truffles and an exquisite assortment of macarons. Pastry Chef Kate Siegel knows the way to my heart. The property is not quite two years old and the rooms and lobby still have a brand-new gleam. Hong Kong-based Shangri-La doesn’t have any properties in the United States yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that changes soon.

Guestrooms are sumptuous and spacious, with plush bamboo-weave carpeting and dark mahogany furniture. Ubiquitous Asian decor, from large-scale Chinese calligraphy in the lobby to delicate origami cranes on the nightstand, creates an elegant yet contemporary ambiance.

Right next door is David Chang’s Momofuku empire, with five restaurant concepts housed under one

roof. Momofuku Daishō has an eclectic Asian fusion menu with unique Canadian touches (like local Monforte Toscano cheese with charred cabbage) that will leave you salivating for more. A shiitake-mushroom crusted whole speckled trout strewn with asparagus, morels and ramps stole the show. I couldn’t imagine a better representation of spring. Frozen chocolate mousse for dessert was dressed with milk cream and toasted rice, like a sophisticated Asian malted milk ball.

Art lovers must visit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), which has an extensive Canadian collection, with an emphasis on Toronto and Ontario artists like David Milne. There are also plenty of exhibits featuring art spanning the globe from Africa to Asia. We even had the chance to see resident artist Bonnie Devine at work, as she painted an entire wall depicting her own version of the battle for the woodlands between European settlers and indigenous people for an upcoming exhibition featuring Anishinaabe artists of the Great Lakes.

The cutest neighborhood in Toronto award goes to the Distillery Historic District. In the last decade,
the formerly dilapidated buildings have been revitalized as a haven for artists as well as great shopping, restaurants and Ontario’s only locally brewed sake. Don’t miss the bean-to-bar chocolate at SOMA Chocolate or local contemporary art at Thompson Landry Gallery. If you’d rather shop for local food than clothing, head to St. Lawrence Market. Saturday is the busiest day here, when two entire buildings are full of fresh produce, seafood, meats and baked goods.

There’s no better place to unwind after a busy day of exploring than the Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris at the Shangri-La. The signature hammam and grommage
treatment is not for the shy. First, I enjoyed a steam chamber before having my entire body gently exfoliated with eucalyptus black Moroccan soap. After my body was scrubbed soft and clean, it was only fitting to brighten my face with a facial using Caudalie’s grape-based skincare line. My aesthetician expertly assessed my skin and customized the facial based on my skin concerns. The Moroccan theme carries through the spa décor and in the baklava and warm chai tea brought to me post-treatment.

Toronto is a great destination for ladies from various cities to meet up. Everyone is so friendly, so it’s easy to make new friends when you go out. Whether you’re looking you’re looking for traditional luxury, artistic enlightenment, great food or all of the above, you can find it here.

Thank you to Shangri-La Toronto and Porter Airlines for sponsoring my trip!