John Coleman joins the celebrity line-up who have experienced the splendours of one of Vancouver's premium boutique hotels.
We arrive at Vancouver's Wedgewood Hotel & Spa near midnight, tired and jaded after 20 hours of flights and delays, but are immediately revived by the spectacle of hundreds of miniature lights wreathed through the maple trees lining the hotel's entrance.
That and, as we find next morning, the warmth and intimacy of this boutique, family hotel and its environs, where the locals sprawl in the sun on what look like oversize bean bags around Robson Square, with its gardens and waterfalls. On the fringe of the square is the beautiful, old former provincial courthouse, now the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The 83-room downtown hotel is a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux. Its remarkable, Greek-born proprietor, grandmother Eleni Skalbania, was the general contractor and designer for a makeover of the hotel, relying only on her natural sense of colour and texture. We're told she took over what was the Mayfair Apartment Hotel 28 years ago, gutted it, moved in personal collections of antiques and art for public areas, and commissioned custom-designed furniture from craftsmen.
The results everywhere are memorable: we're left with the impression of traditional English country house elegance.
The decor of our deluxe executive bedroom is in muted beige, carried through to the furnishings in beige and rust. A huge soaker tub dominates a corner of the bedroom; there's a sitting area with desk; walls adorned with hunting scenes; a bar; bathroom in Italian marble with shower; Gilchrist & Soames products; and spacious balcony (all bedrooms have them) overlooking the square.
Suite features include separate living rooms and two bathrooms, while the four penthouses - from 83.6 square metres to 116 square metres - have living rooms with marble fireplaces, double jacuzzis, antiques, original artworks, limestone bathrooms with heated floors, and patios that almost qualify as backyards.
The hotel attracts a high proportion of Australians, New Zealanders and celebrities including movie stars Pierce Brosnan (he once rented a penthouse for months while filming), Sean Connery, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. We're told 40 per cent of guests are repeats.
Wedgewood's Bacchus Restaurant specialises in modern French cuisine - executive chef Lee Parsons began his career at London's Claridges.
For dinner, we choose avocado and hand-peeled prawn salad. I follow with much-in-demand Alaskan weathervane scallops in sweet pea and asparagus risotto with Padano cheese, while my wife enjoys poached wild British Columbia salmon with asparagus, butter lettuce and lemon butter sauce. We complement it with a district verdelho, and resist the dessert trolley.
Among its features, the hotel has two meeting rooms for corporate or social events, with the latest technology, authentic tapestries, oil paintings, antiques and fireplaces.
A "Liaisons Room", catering for 66 at a seated meal, has a 16th-century fireplace.
The hotel's general manager, Philip Meyer, who came to the Wedgewood after extensive experience in Britain and Canada, including on the QE2, has a passion for cycling, stemming from his youth racing as a junior followed by annual visits to France for the Tour de France. The hotel sponsors a cycling team, which competes in gran fondos - meaning long distance and great endurance - to raise money in support of British Columbia's Cancer Foundation for brain-cancer care and a new system of therapies offering hope for sufferers.
Meyer, part of the 35-member Wedgewood team, last year finished the 160-kilometre Prospera Valley GranFondo in four hours nine minutes, and was first in his age group and sixth overall. The team raised $C70,000 ($67,500) for the Cancer Foundation, adding to the $C350,000 donated by the hotel.
Meanwhile, as the hotel prepares for another gran fondo in July, Eleni Skalbania no doubt will continue to focus her creativity on the hotel with another program of upgrading and improvement - as she does each year.
The hotel has received a string of awards, including 2012 TripAdvisor Traveller's Choice and Certificate of Excellence; Travel + Leisure inclusion in World's Best Hotels; and it is consistently on Conde Nast's Gold list. And Bacchus Restaurant has been named Traveller's Choice Vancouver's Favourite Restaurant.
The spa - named Vancouver's Best Day Spa - features natural skincare products, while the new health club has the latest fitness technology, personal trainers and a luxurious relaxation room.
And we were pleased to note the spa packages included one for jet-lag recovery.
The writer was a guest of the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa.
Where: Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, 845 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6Z 1V1. + 1 604 689 7777, wedgewoodhotel.com.
Getting there: Air Canada and Air New Zealand have regular flights to Vancouver.
How much: Rooms from $C275, penthouses $C1000 (winter); $C350-$C1500 (summer), plus taxes and GST.
Top marks: Elegant, family-run boutique hotel; warm and friendly service; excellent facilities; in a superb location. We appreciated the twice-daily maid service, complimentary bottled water and freshly baked biscuits each morning.
Don't miss: Vancouver Art Gallery, just across the square — Monet exhibition staged during our visit — or walk a few blocks to the ferry for brief the crossing to Granville Island markets for gourmet and seafoods, arts /crafts, fruit, vegetables, galleries, artisan studios, restaurants and shops.
Black mark: A quibble: we found no electric jug for tea-making, although presumably the coffee percolator could be used for boiling water.