Love is in the air. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the idea of a romantic getaway is an appealing one. You might think of Paris, or even New York city as the ideal romantic getaway, but Canada has no shortage of romantic destinations, and a recent trip to Montreal and Quebec City confirmed as much. These are two of Canada’s most historic and culturally-diverse cities – and it just so happens that they’re graced with some of the best hotels, too.

Like most Ritz-Carlton, properties, the Ritz-Carlton Montreal is designed to be an enclave of luxuriousness. Like most Ritz-Carltons, it succeeds. But there are a few things that truly set this classic 1912-built hotel apart.

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal, built in 1912, was the first Ritz-branded property in North America. Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton.

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal, built in 1912, was the first Ritz-branded property in North America. Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton.

To start with, this was the first branded Ritz-Carlton hotel in North America. It was constructed by the Carlton Company of Montreal, and was originally to have been called “The Carlton.” But the man behind the Carlton Company personally knew Cesar Ritz, who lent his name to the new Montreal hotel for a cool $25,000. The only stipulation: the hotel must maintain the high standards that Caesar Ritz set out for his own property, the Hotel Ritz Paris. Hence, the first Ritz-Carlton hotel was born.

Today, the Ritz-Carlton Montreal tops the lists of the best hotels in Canada. Last summer, Travel + Leisure readers named it as their favorite city hotel in the country.

“We at Ritz-Carlton Montreal are delighted to be selected the ‘No. 1 city hotel in Canada,” Andrew Torriani, CEO and General Manager, said at the time. “It is an honour to be recognized by such a well-regarded travel publication. We take great pride in maintaining high standards of quality in all areas from design, to service and amenities, and are grateful for the recognition by all the readers who took the time to vote.”

My home for two nights: a Signature King City View Room, with special romantic turn-down. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal are spacious, inviting – and offer a romantic turndown service. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So why steal away here for a Valentine’s Day to remember? It starts when you walk through the revolving doors off Sherbrooke Street and enter into the gorgeous lobby. With an unassuming Reception Desk off the left, the first thing you set eyes on is the Palm Court – the hotel’s opulent, baroque lounge that also does double-duty as the only Dom Perignon Champagne Bar in the entire country. If Champagne isn’t to your liking, their legendary Afternoon Tea service is well worth the $32 per person price of admission (or $45 with a glass of Champagne).

Thanks to a recent multi-million dollar renovation, rooms at the hotel are sublime. My Signature King guest room – a very ‘mid-level’ accommodation – came in at a spacious 500 square feet and included a massive walk-in closet, an elegant living area with king bed, multiple seating options, and a full-sized desk. The room also had a dual-vanity bathroom complete with a separate shower, a giant soaker tub, and an electronic toilet that became an object of fascination. Equally wonderful are the digitally-controlled lights, which can be turned on, off or dimmed to your liking with the push of a button.

The spacious bathroom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The spacious bathroom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal also sports the only Dom Perignon Champagne Bar in the entire country. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Ritz-Carlton Montreal also sports the only Dom Perignon Champagne Bar in the entire country. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The rooftop pool offers amazing views of Montreal. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The rooftop pool offers amazing views of Montreal. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

You can also enjoy High Tea with all the trimmings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

You can also enjoy High Tea with all the trimmings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A Romance Package is available starting from $790 per night that provides overnight accommodation, one bottle of Veuve du Vernay, chocolate covered Truffles, rose petals, a full American Breakfast for two in bed, romantic turndown service, late 3:00p.m. checkout, and overnight valet parking. Best of all, you don’t have to purchase this on February 14; the hotel offers it until April 30, along with a whole host of other special packages.

Few properties however, are more romantic than Quebec City’s Auberge Saint-Antoine, situated in the heart of the city’s historic Old Port district in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Vieux Quebec.

Quebec City's Auberge Saint-Antoine opened combines three buildings dating back to the 17th century. Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

Quebec City’s Auberge Saint-Antoine opened combines three buildings dating back to the 17th century. Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

The Auberge Saint-Antoine is integral to the history of Quebec City. The hotel integrates three historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, plus a wharf and battery structure that date back to the end of the 17th centuries. A modern lobby and reception area links these very distinct buildings together, and even in this elegant space, care has been taken to ensure the lobby and bar don’t look out of context.

The hotel incorporates earthen walls designed to look like the whitewashed walls of old. Reclaimed wood in the form of massive pilings has been added as accents to the main Reception and Concierge desks. And throughout the lobby, designers have strove to ensure a connection with the world outside, through wooden accents on furniture, lighting pieces designed to mimic tree branches, and ample wood and stone elements that are seamlessly integrated into the floors.

The warm and inviting lobby of the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The warm and inviting lobby of the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

You’re also likely to notice the historic artifacts that have been placed throughout the hotel in backlight, lightbox-style enclosures inserted into the walls. Over 700 are currently on-display in the hotel, creating a remarkable sense of place that is missing from many modern properties. And it is that individuality that makes the Auberge Saint-Antoine so wonderfully romantic.

Step back in time at Quebec City's Auberge Saint-Antoine Hotel, one of the city's best-kept secrets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Step back in time at Quebec City’s Auberge Saint-Antoine Hotel, one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The 95 guest rooms and suite feature all the luxurious touches you’d expect from a hotel affiliated with the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, and the Auberge delivers, with rooms offering Bose sound systems, luxurious beds, plush robes and luxury bath amenities, electronic toilets, and even heated flooring and no-fog mirrors in the vast majority of rooms. No two rooms are alike, and each has a story to tell. My advice? Book a room in the historic ‘Maison Hunt’ building for a truly unique experience.

No two rooms...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

No two rooms…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The surroundings may be historic, but the rooms are modern. Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

…are alike. Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

The hotel has been nominated for – and won – more awards than I can list here. But the crown jewel is Panache, the Auberge Saint-Antoine’s on-site Relais & Chateaux restaurant that offers a modern take on traditional Quebecois cuisine. Headed up by the talented Chef Louis Pacquelin, the food is absolutely sublime, and the atmosphere – set inside an old 19th century wooden building – is astonishing. Service is as good as you would expect, and always manages to straddle that fine line between accommodating and discreet.

For the romantic, the only way to go is the $200 per person signature menu that features seven courses with wine pairings from the restaurant’s 12,000-bottle cellar. At four full hours, this was the one dining experience I wished would never end.

The cozy and intimate setting of Panache recalls Quebec City's historic past. Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

The cozy and intimate setting of Panache recalls Quebec City’s historic past. Photo courtesy of Auberge Saint-Antoine.

The Auberge Saint-Antoine has a Valentine’s Day package on offer for bookings from February 12 to 14, 2016. Starting at $869 per night, it includes a one-night stay in an elegant Comfort room; a half-bottle of Champagne and a chocolate treat delivered upon arrival, plus turn down service and a romantic 5-course dinner for two in Panache (with all service charges included). The package also includes À la carte breakfast in Panache, (service charges included), and complimentary valet parking.

From drinks...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Hand-crafted drinks…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and desserts are on the menu at Panache. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and desserts are on the menu at Panache. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Best of all, these are two very romantic properties at any time of year. Spring is wonderful, and winters – while cold – highlight the striking beauty of these two places. My own visit took place in fall, as the leaves began to change colour and flutter to the ground.

As a Canadian, I sometimes don’t explore my own country as much as I should. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to love here – and a lot to like about these two great hotels in la belle province.

 

After decades spent languishing at her berth in Philadelphia, the historic ocean liner S.S. United States has been given an unexpected reprieve by Crystal Cruises. The luxury line, which has recently embarked on an aggressive expansion of their all-inclusive cruise brand that includes new cruise ships, expedition vessels, river cruise ships and a small fleet of Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft, has announced will save the S.S. United States from the breakers, signing a purchase option agreement and undertaking a feasibility study to restore the iconic ship to service.

The S.S. United States is closer than ever to returning to service, thanks to Crystal Cruises. Illustration courtesy of Crystal Cruises

The S.S. United States is closer than ever to returning to service, thanks to Crystal Cruises. Illustration courtesy of Crystal Cruises

In order to meet modern demands and be in full regulatory compliance, the SS United States will have to be extensively re-built to meet over 60 years of new maritime rules and shipbuilding practices. The modern United States by Crystal Cruises will be transformed into an 800-guest-capacity vessel, featuring 400 luxurious suites measuring about 350 square feet with dining, entertainment, spa and other luxury guest amenities that are true to the ship’s storied history. Features of the original SS United States such as the Promenade and Navajo Lounge will be retained, while new engines and sophisticated marine technology will be installed to maintain her title as the fastest cruise vessel in the world.

Crystal’s ambitions for the ship are helped in part by the fact that the historic ocean liner had been stripped of her original fittings, interiors, and toxic asbestos insulation between 1985 and 1994. She has been moored in Philadelphia since 1996, and has managed to avoid being sent to maritime scrapyards like those in Alang, India, ever since. Norwegian Cruise Line, which had expressed an interest in the United States as far back as 1979, purchased the vessel in 2003, spending five years completing feasibility studies that concluded the ship could be put back into active service. Her birthplace in the United States also gives her the right to be flagged in the U.S.; something most modern cruise ships cannot do. It’s a desirable trait for cruise lines, which are forced to call on “distant foreign ports of call” when departing from U.S. ports in order to meet cabotage requirements set out in the 1800’s. Norwegian Cruise Line decided not to proceed with their plans, and the ship was sold to the SS United States Conservancy in 2010.

The S.S. United States was launched in 1952, and set the transatlantic speed record for fastest crossing on her maiden voyage. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

The S.S. United States was launched in 1952, and set the transatlantic speed record for fastest crossing on her maiden voyage. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Now, Crystal cruises wants to bring the 1952-built ship – which still holds the record for fastest transatlantic crossing, garnered during her maiden voyage – back to life. The luxury line will be examining exciting new itineraries for the 60,000-gross-ton United States by Crystal Cruises including not only the resumption of her traditional transatlantic voyages from New York City, but cruises from key U.S. ports as well as international voyages around the globe which are a signature offering of Crystal and part of the line’s “World Cruise.”

“The prospect of revitalizing the SS United States and re-establishing her as ‘America’s Flagship’ once again is a thrilling one. It will be a very challenging undertaking, but we are determined to apply the dedication and innovation that has always been the ship’s hallmark,” said Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez. “We are honored to work with the SS United States Conservancy and government agencies in exploring the technical feasibility study so we can ultimately embark on the journey of transforming her into a sophisticated luxury cruise liner for the modern era.”

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Dreaming of the Med? So Is Silversea

The Trevi Fountain on the evening of August 9, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Rome’s Trevi Fountain. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

If you’re contemplating sailing the Mediterranean this year, ultra-luxury line Silversea keeps sweetening the pot with some great offers and specials on their full lineup of 2016 voyages through the region.

Most recently, Silversea made some modifications to some of its existing lineup of Mediterranean cruises. Select itineraries will feature exclusive onboard experiences and activities that can range from full-blown operatic performances created in conjunction with the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, featuring acclaimed soloists from the famous Bolshoi Theatre of Russia.

Culinary-themed voyages will host guest chefs from Relais & Chateaux, of which Silversea has been a long-standing partner.

Outdoor dining at Silversea's Grill featuring Hot Rocks. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Outdoor dining at Silversea’s Grill featuring Hot Rocks aboard the Silver Spirit. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Featured Mediterranean itineraries will also keep offering what Silversea is calling their Most Exclusive All-inclusive™ packages, which include a two-night pre-cruise stay at a deluxe hotel, all transfers between the airport, the hotel and the ship, and roundtrip international airfare from over 50 gateways in the United States and Canada. The line continues to offer free shore excursion options in each and every port of call.

This is also a good time to mention that we’ll be sailing aboard Silversea’s current flagship, Silver Spirit, on her April 26, 2016 six-day voyage from Barcelona, Spain to Rome, Italy and will be reporting with a daily Live Voyage Report from the Mediterranean.

Our Silver Spirit voyage will take us through the heart of the Mediterranean. Illustration courtesy of Silversea

Our Silver Spirit voyage will take us through the heart of the Mediterranean. Illustration courtesy of Silversea

The Silver Spirit is one of my all-time favorite ships. Over the course of three voyages, she’s taken me to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and even whisked me across the Atlantic Ocean back in 2012 on a spectacular journey from Barbados to Lisbon.

Carrying just 540 guests, the Silver Spirit is the largest ship that Silversea has built to-date (the forthcoming Silver Muse will be slightly larger). The one thing I appreciate about her, though, is that she’s not too big: she still offers the same spaciousness as her smaller fleetmates, along with the same dedicated service and amenities.

Lazy days at sea made it easy to fall into the Silversea Lull. After all, would you want to leave this gorgeous Silver Suite? Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Lazy days at sea make it easy to fall into the Silversea Lull. After all, would you want to leave this gorgeous Silver Suite? Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

It’s not difficult to get hooked on sailing with the line either. Suites, even at the low end, are large and inviting, and every single category of suite is treated to the services of a professional butler who will take care of any of your daily needs, from specialty dining reservations to laundry services or even just restocking your private mini-bar.

Silver Spirit was also highly influential on the Silversea product. Launched in December of 2009, she set the tone for the décor of public areas like The Bar, Silversea’s social watering hole; and Le Champagne, Silversea’s very own Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea.

Of course, part of the luxury experience is not having to queue up in lines, or fight for deck space or that favourite seat in the lounge.

Welcome Aboard! Silver Spirit's Reception area and Bar are decorated in beautiful Art Deco. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Welcome Aboard! Silver Spirit’s Reception area and Bar are decorated in beautiful Art Deco. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

It’s been four years since I’ve sailed on the Silver Spirit, and I’m looking forward to sailing aboard her in the same way I’d look forward to seeing an old friend. There have been many changes in the world since 2012, and indeed, many changes in the Silversea product: excursions in the Mediterranean are now offered on a complimentary basis, and Wi-Fi internet access is now provided without an additional fee.

But everything that I’ve grown to love about Silversea with my repeat voyages with the line is still there, from the friendly, personable staff to the complimentary premium spirits to the excellent food and the nine different pillow options. To-date, I’ve tried all of two. I swear I’ll get to the other seven someday.

So join us in April as we sail aboard the elegant Silver Spirit and cover some truly spectacular ports of call, including Sete, France; Sanary, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Livorno, Italy; and Olbia, Italy. Not to mention the beautiful cities of Barcelona and Rome.

Grill with a View: the spectacular vista from our table at The Grill featuring Black Rock Dining aboard the Silver Spirit. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Night falls on deck on Silversea’s elegant Silver Spirit. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Spirit will begin April 23, 2016. Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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