Pale-pink late afternoon light pouring into our suite through smartly dressed windows. Balcony doors that, when thrown open, greet a rushing Bow River and spectacular city skyline. An unforgettable Chef’s Table pairing featuring Irish blue cheese and a 30-year-old Apostoles sherry from Jerez, Spain.
These are just a few recollections of a recent stay at Calgary’s Kensington Riverside Inn – the latest Canadian addition to Relais & Chateaux, an international association with roots in France linking some of the world’s most ambitious hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs.
Being awarded Relais & Chateaux status means that this charming urban oasis, a 19-room boutique hotel located in Calgary’s trendy Kensington just a stone’s throw from downtown, has joined the ranks of more than 520 unique properties worldwide, including 12 other establishments in Canada’s western and eastern regions.
If one of the goals common to these properties is to celebrate “l’art de vivre,” or the fine art of living, then the Kensington Riverside Inn is well on its way.
I’m thinking of comfortable beds swathed in silky Egyptian cotton sheets. Staff who go the extra mile for their guests. (We didn’t request to have rose petals strewn around our hotel room floor, but they sure made us smile). And – given the inn’s old-world architectural style – a welcome splash of European elegance that elevates not only the neighbourhood aesthetic but arguably that of the whole city.
I’m recalling, to be frank, how my husband and I – parents of young teens and in need of a night out – would later on that evening abandon a ballet performance at intermission so we could scramble back and fully, ahem, appreciate our beautifully appointed room.
The morning after would greet us with an unsolicited but welcome Thermos of freshly-brewed coffee left outside our door. And breakfast to follow at Chef’s Table would include a carefully prepared Croque Madame, which, translated, is the most delicious warm ham and cheese breakfast sandwich, topped with an egg, that you’re ever going to eat.
To give you a little history, Relais & Chateaux formally launched in 1954 with eight members located between Paris and the French Riviera. Run by kindred spirits who shared lofty ideas about how best to serve their guests, these properties forged what became known among travellers as “La Route du Bonheur.”
“Roads of happiness” have since blossomed around the world – guided by the qualities of “charm, character, calm, courtesy and cuisine.” According to George Schwarz – Relais & Chateaux’s Canadian delegate and the co-owner of Lake Louise’s Post Hotel – the Kensington Riverside Inn is a welcome addition to Western Canada’s Route du Bonheur which now stretches from Calgary to the Pacific Coast.
“This is a small, very special property,” Schwarz says of the inn, which originated as a high-end bed and breakfast in 1999 before being purchased in 2007 and then renovated by the Hotel Arts Group. “The food quality is there. The location is central. And, of course, being in the Kensington area is fantastic.”
Charles McDiarmid of Vancouver Island’s Wickaninnish Inn, also a Relais & Chateaux member, says newcomers – even though they’ve demonstrated that they have the “bones” required to join – know they have to step up their game.
“When you experience these little gems tucked all around the world, you realize how deep the notion of hospitality can go,” McDiarmid tells me. This, coming from a man whose staff members toss lavender sprigs on the carpet when they clean which, once vacuumed up, leave a soothing scent in the air for visiting guests.
Kensington Riverside Inn hotel manager Jesse Ziercke confesses that, to some degree, he feels pressure to perform.
“I look at the calibre of the people that we’re running with and yes, the expectation is upon us,” he says. “That said, we already work very hard to create a feeling of home here at the inn, to anticipate the needs of our guests and to create an environment where people aren’t afraid to ask for what they need. As a result, many of our guests are repeat visitors.”
Not long after my initial overnight stay, I’m back at the inn – this time perched at a table by a crackling fire, wrapping up this blog post and feeling very much, well, at home.
Snow falls silently on the sidewalk outside. Light jazz plays in the background. And a handful of business travellers from California are enjoying a coffee and a quiet laugh by the window across from me.
My only concern? Given my weakness for lovely hotels, a desire to linger makes it very difficult to leave.
Note to reader: This post is the result of an arms length collaboration with our partners in tourism. The story was not edited or reviewed before publication.