Canada is famous for majestic railway hotels such as Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs – but that's not where Canada's hotel story begins and ends these days. Check in to one of these small but perfectly formed properties that all have a certain je ne sais quoi. The buzz could be about a cutting-edge design, brilliant location or just the fact everyone knows your name.
1. Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland
The 29-room inn, perched like a beacon on the rocky shore of Fogo Island off Newfoundland, impresses on many levels. Apart from its aesthetic (austere on the outside, cosy within), the inn is part of a grand vision to revitalise the province's endangered outport communities – small, isolated coastal communities that once relied on fishing. The X-shaped building, partly perched on crooked stilts, came from Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders. Interiors feature bespoke furniture and textiles from island artisans. Contemplate the island's quiet revolution – and a sky full of stars – from the rooftop hot tubs. fogoislandinn.ca
2. The Drake, Toronto
With 19th-century bones overlaid with a hip 21st-century aesthetic, this 19-room property is the epitome of cool in Canada's largest city. That's because it's so much more than a boutique hotel (the rooms, which range from cosy nooks to a mid-century-themed suite, include handmade dolls, quirky ladder-access storage and original art). The Lounge is lined with retro semi-circular booths and swings from eatery to nightclub in a heartbeat. The breakfast menu includes everything from fried chicken thighs to an almond maple nutmeg latte. thedrakehotel.ca
3. Skwacháys Lodge, Vancouver
With a 12-metre-high rooftop totem pole and street-level fair-trade gallery, Canada's first Aboriginal arts hotel stands out from its neighbours on the edge of Vancouver's Chinatown. Led by a passionate hotelier, interior designers and Aboriginal artists joined forces to create one-off looks for each of the 18 rooms on the top floors of the Edwardian-era building. The Northern Lights Suite, for instance, features a beaded sculpture of the city's native black bear poised above the headboards of two double beds. Guests can book private ceremonies in the lodge's smudge room and rooftop sweat lodge. skwachays.com
4. Skoki Lodge, Lake Louise
A certain level of fitness is required to reach Skoki Lodge – an historic backcountry property near Lake Louise that requires guests to hike or ski in with their packs along an 11km trail. In 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – William and Kate – came to stay (word is an en suite was airlifted in and tacked onto their cabin so they didn't have to visit the outhouse). There's no electricity or running water. Instead, there are woodstoves, oil lanterns, candles and a warm camaraderie among those who venture off the grid. skoki.com
5. Ice Hotel, Quebec City
Bed down in your own igloo at the Hôtel de Glace – or Ice Hotel – on the outskirts of Quebec City. Open only from January to March, the ephemeral hotel's designers interpret a different theme each year (the 2016 theme will be announced in December). The top suite features a fireplace and private spa, although everyone can warm up in the outdoor spas and sauna in the communal relaxation area. Add extra thrills with an ice cider cocktail sipped from an ice glass or ride through the snow with a dog-sled team. hoteldeglace-canada.com
6. Blachford Lake Lodge, Northwest Territories
Always wanted to see the northern lights? There's every chance of catching these cosmic fireworks at Blachford Lake Lodge, located under the aurora oval and accessible only by floatplane from Yellowknife. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed in the summer of 2011, paddling out to Eagle Island on the lake to dine on caribou, arctic char, whitefish and cranberry bannock. The northern autumn and winter are the best times to catch the lights; during the day, guests explore the countryside on skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles.blachfordlakelodge.com
7. Tagish Wilderness Lodge, Yukon
Reaching the remote lodge south-east of Whitehorse is an adventure in itself. With the nearest road 27km away, winter guests arrive via dogsled or skiplane (landing on frozen Tagish Lake). In summer, it's a floatplane or boat transfer. Activities depend on the season: in winter pack a trapper's lunch for a day of dogsledding or go ice-fishing for trout. In summer, canoe or kayak on the lake or hike the wilderness, keeping eyes peeled for bears, moose, caribou, lynx and beaver. The kitchen's wilderness cuisine includes herbs from the boreal forest. tagishwildernesslodge.com
Four more cool things about Canada
FOOD Canada has a skyrocketing reputation for food, with cities such as Toronto and Montreal among North America's hippest foodie destinations. Great things are happening in tiny places too, including Fogo Island Inn (see story right) where the kitchen combines a foraging sensibility with island comfort dishes such as lassie (molasses) tart with berries.
CULTURE Want to go where all the cool kids are? Head out for the night and you could find yourself squeezing into a tiny jazz club, a country-music bar or a much-loved rock venue. Australian band Boy & Bear love Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom.
DESIGN Browse the avant-garde designs populating Canada's only Monocle store in Toronto or pick up a piece of bold statement jewellery fashioned from bison horn in Yellowknife.
ARCHITECTURE See statement projects such as the bold new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg or the Habitat 67 modular housing complex in Montreal. Wander around city neighbourhoods to see typical residential architecture such as Toronto's striking red-brick bay-and-gable homes.
Taste icewine in a Niagara winery's centuries-old log barn as part of Trafalgar's nine-day Best of Eastern Canada and Toronto tour or have lunch with a New Brunswick lobster fisherman during an 11-day Enchanting Canadian Maritimes tour. Worldwide Cruise Centres' Cowboys & Glaciers tour in July includes free time to eat and drink your way around Calgary and Vancouver. See trafalgar.com, worldwidecruisecentres.com.au
This article brought to you in association with Destination Canada.
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