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FEELING THE CITY BEAT.

Byline: MALCOLM HANDLEY

STEP onto the pavement of Toronto's Yonge Street and you can feel the heartbeat of Canada's most vibrant city.

The culture, food, theatre, bars and architecture embrace you, demanding your attention, like meeting an old friend with a stack of new stories just waiting to share. Yes of course, there are the skyscrapers - north American cities' towering reminder that history is being forged every day - but look between the glass and concrete and Toronto surprises you with history and charm.

It has excellent shopping areas, including St Lawrence Market in the city centre where there's stall after stall of meats, fish and vegetables plus the chance of a wine tasting from an Ontario vineyard.

Toronto is famed for its shopping and it is Canada's financial centre yet there are still reminders of its unbreakable ties to Britain in its culture, buildings, food and, most of all, the welcome.

Brits are not foreigners in downtown Toronto - many there are happy to retain this historic link and they remind you the Queen still adorns the coins and notes.

She is also a recent visitor to the city and to its finest luxury hotel, Fairmont Royal York, which dominates the corner of Front Street West and York Street, across from the iconic Union Station and close by the magnificent CN Tower. The Fairmont is of the age when railways ruled travel and when, in the late 1920s, the Canadian Pacific Railway announced it would build "the largest hotel in the British Commonwealth" .

It did and then, as now, it set the hospitality bar with grace, charm and 5-star standards with 6-star staff.

The rooms are elegant and luxurious. The food is, as you would expect, superb and its breakfasts simply must not be missed. Its rich and famous guest list is extensive - elevator number nine still carries illustrious guests, including the Queen on her recent visit. Over the years there have been changes, yet many features remain - arguably the most important is that excellent standard of service delivered with a smile.

The hotel harvests its own honey and herbs from hives and gardens on its roof.

You could argue the Fairmont is a destination in itself but just yards from its doors is Toronto's financial district - which retains some of the city's finest buildings - its thriving theatre district and close by, around Yonge Street, are restaurants reflecting both the world's cuisine and Toronto's standards.

Toronto and its warm welcome is just few hours away with Canadian Affair's regular non-stop flights from Manchester.

For the first time visitor, it is best to take a guided walking tour and reputedly the best of these is offered by Bruce Bell (brucebelltours.ca) an historian, raconteur and performer a whose knowledge of the hidden gems of this remarkable city is boundless. He offers a true insight into the city's history from name change - it was once called York Town - to US invasion, religious conflicts, civic architectural vandalism, its role in the Prohibition years and much more besides. Bruce knows his city inside out and he tells it well.

Then strike out on your own. If it's old Toronto you want, revisit the markets and Distillery District, which now boasts a thriving entertainment area with good food and brew houses aplenty.

If it's new Toronto you seek, set off to the foot of the CN Tower which at 1815ft- 5in dominates the city skyline and, 34 years after its completion, still clings to one of the many "Tallest Tower in the World" records and has the world's highest wine cellar (351mtrs), serving the revolving 360 Restaurant.

Book a table here and not only do you get the best - and ever-changing - views in town while enjoying fine food and wine, you also avoid the queues for the glass fronted lifts up this truly iconic tower.

It is a must see - even for those faint of heart - and so too is the glass floor on the observation deck.

It is reputedly strong enough to support a herd of hippos but how they would test that is not the first thought in your mind as you take your first tentative step. Avoid the children fearlessly skipping and sliding across the glass.

Also make time for the Bata shoe museum, Daniel Libeskind's striking architecture at the Royal Ontario Museum and of course, the (Ice) Hockey Hall of Fame where Canadian sporting icon Wayne Gretzky is featured - think David Beckham, Chris Hoy and Jonny Wilkinson combined and you are getting close to this guy's status.

If you still have the energy there are the beaches, the islands, waterfront and more museums to grab your attention and if you still need to know more, Lonely Planet's Canada and Ontario editions are a perfect travel companion.

Travel FACTS . Double rooms at Fairmont Royal York Hotel(fairmont.com) from $189/pounds 118pn.

. Flights ex-Manchester with Canadian Affair (canadianaffair.com, 020 7616 9933) from pounds 318 return.

. More on what to do at: seetorontonow.

com or lonelyplanet.com * UNMISTAKABLE: Toronto has a vibrant community spirit beneath its futuristic skyline (S)

CAPTION(S):

* GOOD ENOUGH FOR ROYALTY: The Fairmont Hotel's rich and famous guest list is extensive - elevator number nine still carries illustrious guests, including the Queen on her recent visit (S) * BRIGHT CITY LIGHTS: Toronto is famed for its shopping and it is Canada's financial centre (inset). Yet there are still reminders of its unbreakable ties to Britain in its culture, buildings, food and, most of all, the welcome (S)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 4, 2010
Words:916
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