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In what should have been the summer of the road trip, global forces have prompted many British Columbians to rethink those weekend getaways. Call it a pain-on-the-pump break.
Instead, they stay close to home and discover, perhaps rediscover, why so many tourists worldwide have a summer vacation in Vancouver on their bucket list. That’s why so many downtown hotels are laying out the red carpet for locals with staycation offers and alliances with nearby attractions and exhibits.
All of this is perfect timing for the iconic Hotel Vancouver, which has tied the knot on a massive and somewhat lengthy $75 million renovation that has returned the Grand Dame of Georgia Street to its former glory. In particular, Gold Level’s 50 rooms and private lounge on the ninth floor have received significant upgrades in keeping with the hotel’s luxurious history and beautiful architecture.
Polishing the gold
I’d stayed here a few years ago, before the renovation, and got the same impression I’ve had from so many of these classic Fairmont hotels, such as Victoria’s Empress, Toronto’s Royal York, and Seattle’s Olympic. They all have incredible architecture dripping with history and an unmistakable sense of majestic permanence, but the rooms themselves were quite ordinary, and in some cases dated in terms of plumbing and amenities, audio/video technologies and even such a small, but increasingly essential, thing like USB outputs. It seems Fairmont executives felt the same way, as all those listed properties have all undergone major multi-million dollar renovations in recent years that have brought their rooms into the 21st century. That’s certainly what I discovered during a recent overnight stay at the Gold Level at the Hotel Vancouver.
The gold rooms, which include three-bedroom suites that can accommodate up to 10 guests, now feature a warm and nostalgic palette of deep navy blue, heather gray, gold metals, and marble, and large-scale patterned Axminster wool rugs run throughout. Much of the renovation involved craftsmen restoring and repairing or replicating all of the original plaster cornices, woodwork, decorative built-in fireplaces and shelving as needed. Likewise, the lounge has been completely revamped, as well as the elevator lobby and Gold Level check-in station. Fairmont hotels pride themselves on their service, and this ninth-floor Gold Level elevates that with dedicated concierge service that provides travel planning, dinner and theater reservations, in-room morning coffee, and complimentary shoeshine and clothes presses. A kind of old fashioned service, which just seems right considering the rich and romantic history of Hotel Van.
With the lounge offering a complimentary daytime service, starting with a full buffet breakfast, mid-afternoon scones and pastries, hors d’oeuvres from 5-7pm, and finally sweet treats from 7-9pm, I was almost tempted to just remain in the comfortable confines of the Gold Level for my entire stay. I say almost, because another free treat for Gold Level guests is a two-hour bike rental from nearby Cycle City that promised myself and my companion not only a good workout, but my deep appreciation for the city that has given me three decades of love. home lured re-ignited ago.
Two wheels good
We checked in early and left our bags with the concierge staff, then headed for the block walk to Cycle City on Hornby Street, where we often had the pleasure of being rested by the founder and, according to his business card, master pedal Josh Bloemveld. The shop’s rental fleet is widely varied, but as we found if you want one of their very popular e-bikes, a reservation is in order. Instead, we were equipped with some really nice commuter style bikes with locks, helmets, maps and route suggestions. We had left, and almost immediately I began to appreciate all those inner-city bike lanes where I sometimes have to swear at the wheel. To paraphrase that time-honored saying: drive a mile in their clip-in shoes.
Fortunately, Josh had kindly extended our two-hour ride to three, and we covered some ground in that time, a testament to the bike network established downtown and beyond. First it went to Coal Harbor and around Stanley Park, then along False Creek to Olympic Village, then to Granville Island, where we left the bikes with the free bike shed for a walk around the island. It was the first time I’ve been there since before the pandemic, and it was heartwarming to see the market buzzing, the restaurants alive with the sound of people and the streets alive with the sound of children.
On the drive back to the hotel, I found myself, aside from contemplating dinner at the Hotel Van’s Notch8 restaurant, which has a new chef and menu, looking at sights I visit almost daily. passed by: Science World, False Creek, the downtown skyline, the North Shore mountains—and seeing them with fresh eyes. Maybe it was the oxygen I’d inhaled during the ride or the unique – for me at least – perspective afforded by cycling past familiar places. Whatever it was, it was a bit of a revelation and underlined what a special and unexpected experience a staycation can be.
Go for Gold Package (May 15 – December 30): Best Fairmont Gold rate, self parking for one vehicle, access to Fairmont Gold Lounge, concierge team, pillow concierge, turndown service. More details here.
Residents of British Columbia, Washington State and Alberta get a 20 percent discount on luxury accommodations, including free parking. Visit here.
Make it an unforgettable date night with bubbly, chocolate-dipped strawberries, breakfast in bed, late check-out and free parking included. Check it out here.