Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vancouver Under The Hotel Le Soleil

Hotel Le Soleil
In a city as dense as Vancouver, finding a small boutique hotel with the right proximity might sound improbable but it isn't. Thirteen years ago, Starwood Hotels and Resorts had set out to build its first luxury boutique hotel in North America. It spared little expense, investing $650 per square foot.

Perhaps that is what makes the physical aspects of Hotel Le Soleil so memorable. Interior designer Jose-Luis de Araujo had drawn his inspiration from the Savoy in London and Le Crillon in Paris. The idea was to bring an old world charm to an otherwise modern city.

And yet, nothing about the hotel is presumptuous. It's surprisingly easy to overlook the fluted columns, Nero Portorro Italian marble, and Louis XVI-style furniture imported from Italy. Instead, you feel immediately relaxed, an almost startling contrast to the bustling financial district outside.

The location of this neo-classic cannot be beat either.

Although located in the financial district, Hotel Le Soleil is almost equal distance from Downtown Granville Street and Robson Street, both of which are dotted with shops, entertainment, and restaurants.   It's worth taking advantage of the pedestrian-friendly city, even if it's still best to have a destination or route in mind before you leave the hotel.

Many of the downtown stores have limited frontage and feel dark from the outside, making widow shopping a little less enjoyable than Gastown, Chinatown or Granville Island (among other areas). Likewise, walking to the harbor is easy enough but the area around Canada Place isn't the same as it is around Stanley Park. (Canada Place is, however, a central start for many hop-on, hop-off tours.)

One obvious destination from the hotel is the Vancouver Art Gallery. The gallery doesn't use its space as effectively as many West Coast galleries, but it does have several collections that are unique to British Columbia, including an extensive collection of Emily Carr. One caution: The gallery is traditional in many respects, including photography bans (even though many museums are becoming more receptive to non-flash digital, except around visiting exhibitions).

Highlights from the abundance of Vancouver attractions. 

Totem Pole by Richard Becker
Just outside walking distance from the hotel is where you'll find the most memorable neighborhoods. There are an abundance of them in Vancouver, beginning with Stanley Park. There is a reason the expansive 1,000-acre park frequently lands in the top attraction column. The forested park is lined with trails, dotted with cultural enclaves (from totem pole monuments to a aquarium), and framed by a 5.5-mile sea wall, with separate walking and biking lanes. It's a community in and of itself.

Stanley Park also feels different than Downtown Vancouver, much like Gastown, Chinatown, or Granville Island feel different too. Gastown, which was the original Downtown Vancouver, includes several blocks of historic architecture that are now home to specialty shops, art studios, and restaurants. It is even more well suited for wandering shoppers.

So is Granville Island with a much more hip and contemporary atmosphere. What used to be an industrial district that fell into disrepair during the Great Depression has been transformed into an island of performing arts, art education, art studios, dining, galleries and a public market.  Chinatown has had even longer to establish its own identity. Its development began in the early 1890s. A must see.

Expect quiet comforts inside Hotel Le Soleil.

No matter what experiences you take in while staying in Vancouver, Hotel Le Soleil makes for a perfect retreat from the city despite being in the midst of it. The suites are reasonably spacious, the furnishings European imports, and the beds fitted with hypo-allergenic sheets. The baths are Italian marble. It's not as spectacular as it once was more than a decade ago, but still holds its own.

Hotel Le Soleil roomThere are a few unexpected annoyances, considering it has a Four Diamond rating. Most can be overlooked, but these do exist. While the valet is exceptional, they are often undermanned and frequently serve as valet, porter, and even concierge. This leaves guests waiting at the door too long when the desk staff could at least take your keys (like other boutique hotels with a limited valet). Also, the additional charge for WiFi was expected, but it's still unnecessary in this day and age.

Everything else was above average, including the Indian-fusion dining at The Copper Chimney, which also serves the hotel's more traditional breakfast (there are few places for breakfast in Vancouver, but plenty of coffee shops). The individual service is always well balanced between friendly and professional.

The Hotel Le Soleil In Vancouver Captures 4.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Hotel Le Soleil is certainly better than average and many people likely give it high marks because the rates are modest for a boutique hotel with such charm (modest, even for suites with a view). The reasonable rates make the parking fee more tolerable, which seemed high even for Vancouver (notorious for parking charges).

On the flip side, the hotel provided a turndown service without even being asked (a service that is usually requested), a nice touch since much of our trip was focused on the natural side of Vancouver. If you ever have the chance to visit, consider Fare Buzz to save up to 60 percent off on travel to Vancouver, British Columbia. For travel comparisons, start with the top travel deals at Vancouver can be an expensive city so every dollar saved is earned.
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