Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile: 20 years of adventure
The arrival of the Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile in Montréal was certainly a game changer for the area. A competitor for the Ritz-Carlton was certainly welcome. In order to learn more about this French luxury leader that has changed the hotel landscape of the metropolis and on the cusp of a revival, I met, a few days after the 20th anniversary of the hotel, with Mr. Marc Pichot, general manager of the hotel since 2015.
Waiting for Mr. Pichot in the hotel lobby, I notice how quiet the whole space is, it is really an area where you feel wonderful, where you can relax, there is a nice division between the reception desk and the lobby with its beautiful sofas as well as its bookcases that make us visit the area, in short, a hotel anchored in its environment, but with a touch of French luxury.
Discovering the history of the Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile with Mr. Marc Pichot
Why a Sofitel Hotel in Montréal?
There are, of course, several reasons for the arrival of this French-style luxury chain in the Québec metropolis in 2002. “The owner of the building, the architect, philanthropist and promoter, Mr. David J. Azrieli (now deceased), was very charmed to French culture and luxury, as was his wife who was fascinated by art (which is why there are so many works of art in the Sherbrooke Street hotel), and the Accor group was slowly developing in North America (the organization did not yet operate the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts), and since it was an easy gateway for the company’s values, the decision to set up the banner in Montréal was a natural one,” confides Mr. Pichot.
Following the demolition of the “Van Horne House” in 1973, an office building was erected in 1973 and converted into what has been known since October 14, 2002, as Le Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile. Mr. Pichot specifies that it is not a hotel with the flag of France, but rather a mixture of French and Quebec cultures, to bring out the best of both worlds.
Culture, not only on the plate
At Renoir, the hotel’s flagship restaurant, the team, under the leadership of chef Olivier Perret, works mainly with local producers. “Our chef goes to the markets, especially the Jean-Talon Market, to meet the producers, to learn more about the products, and this is what we find on our menu. You will find simplicity on your plate, but with a taste of Quebec and the terroir. I believe that there are still many products here that are not well known, people do not realize what Quebec has to offer in terms of gastronomy and Mr. Perret is able to put it all together,” says the general manager.
Culture, while the hotel is only a few steps away from two museums, is present everywhere. As well as in the lobby with huge paintings (which change from three to six months) as in the restaurant (named after the painter Auguste Renoir as we said at the beginning of the section) the Sofitel is proud to exhibit various artists and organizations in rotation. But it is also a partner in several festivals such as Cinémania, the Orchestre Classique de Montréal and Montréal en Lumière which promote culture in the broadest sense.
This involvement brings us back to the values of the Sofitel brand, which are excellence, generosity, open-mindedness and joie de vivre. And if we add passion, which can be found in each of the French giant’s properties, we are talking about the art and culture already well listed above, authentic and lively gastronomy, thoughtful well-being and chic design.
The Golden Keys concierge, a benefit?
While many of you may not know what Golden Keys concierges (Clefs d’Or) are, they are a great asset to hotels that have one (StoneHaven Le Manoir for example). These concierges have the keys to the city, they can find you a place in almost any event or restaurant at the snap of their fingers. They know the city they are in very well and they are a network that shares information. “For the customers, they know that they have a contact person in front of them who can direct them in a concrete way and who will meet their needs. And in a hotel of our category, having Golden Keys concierges is essential,” continues the manager.
After the restaurant, there is the Hotel Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile
With 256 rooms and 17 suites, the Sofitel may not be the largest hotel in the city, but it has everything: meeting rooms, an exercise room that will be completely renovated in 2024, an exceptional Golden Keys concierge service and more. Mr. Pichot reminds us that at the time of its construction (he was not yet there), luxury establishments were not the norm in Montréal. There was the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons had just left (it’s back since 2019) and boutique hotels were taking up a bit more space than the big luxury hotels. Sofitel was there to help Montréal shine and for the past 20 years, they have continued to do so.
A new path?
While Mr. Pichot has been at the Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile since 2015, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask him what has changed since he’s been there. Of course, there was the pandemic, but he strives to do his best to make people who come to Montréal to discover the museums, the city, the gastronomy feel welcome. The clientele of the Sofitel, surprisingly, comes mostly from our neighbouring province, Ontario, even though we are talking about a French banner. In the summer, however, it is Europe that inbound.
And with the end of the pandemic, Mr. Pichot sees a lot of what he calls “revenge travel,” and he points out that travellers want their own little luxury cocoon. “At Sofitel, we work a lot on the service element, the attention to the customer. We are a small hotel so we can take the time to get to know the people who visit us, to know their preferences, to spoil them so that when they leave our hotel, the first thing they will think about is coming back,” adds the director.
Many new guests discovered the hotel following the pandemic as they appreciated the location of the hotel: close to subways, downtown, department stores, festivals and of course, the Golden Square Mile, Montreal’s luxury destination with Holt Renfrew Ogilvy, MontBlanc, Tiffany, Château d’Ivoire and many others.
Upcoming renovations in 2024
Mr. Pichot tells me that in 2024, the hotel will undergo a complete renovation. The aim, he tells me, is to keep that Sofitel authenticity. “The aesthetics of a hotel are important, the customer must feel good, and we must always keep in mind when renovating a hotel, the human factor, which is often underestimated, because people buy people and not a place, that is what makes them come back to an establishment, the quality of our service. And the fact that there is a development in the luxury sector in Montreal is important, it’s a good thing, all competition is healthy, it also allows us to challenge ourselves, to raise our standards in terms of quality of service, quality of the product. While we are the only hotel brand offering French-style luxury, we offer a unique experience which really makes a difference,” tell the France-born gentleman.
“If you look at the different hotel brands, there are not many that stand out, but there is a lot of similarity whether you talk about the rooms, the lobby, etc. We’re lucky to have a unique product with a lobby that’s not too big or too small, and we want to keep it that way, and that’s one of the things people like to come to us for,” adds the manager.
The exercise room will be tripled in size and will be complemented by a relaxation area perfect for yoga or other relaxing activities.
Settle before all
Mr. Pichot firmly believes that the well-being aspect has become essential for travellers “In today’s society, people are looking for this well-being side, we see that flying is often complicated, stressful, and when you arrive in a hotel, the last thing you want is to be stressed. When you arrive and you can feel the pressure coming down and all of a sudden you feel good, I don’t want to say that you feel at home, because obviously that’s different, and it must be. We have to find a home, but somewhere else.”
One thing you notice when you arrive at the Sofitel is the politeness of the staff, always a “bonjour” or a “bonsoir” from the staff, and in French, no “bonjour-hi” here, only a “bonjour”. Afterwards, if the customer is English-speaking, of course, they will change the language, the manager confirms to me. “We are in Quebec, it’s important. Our terroir is not only our food, but also in our language,” adds the native Frenchman.
Civic-mindedness, a founding principle of Sofitel
The manager of the Sofitel Montréal Golden Mile is an ambassador for this theme, so to speak. Whether it is the respect of sanitary rules with regard to viruses, but also for his employees. “In most cases, our guests remain polite. With inflation, we notice that people are more demanding, because they anticipate the service they pay for and we have to live up to expectations,” the hotelier tells me.
Getting back on track
The pandemic, as you may know, has greatly affected the travel industry, both in terms of staff and foreign customers. But like everything else, the return to normal is slow, but it is returning to its previous level, the director confirms. He is quite optimistic, even if he keeps a close eye on the various economic forecasts that may affect his industry. On the other hand, he confirms that companies are still making their employees travel, conventions are coming back, it’s getting back on track. “People need to exchange physically in business contexts, but on the other hand, there are people who are worried too.”
Why settle down in Montréal?
A France-born general manager in Montréal, one might wonder why. So I ask him directly, and he jokingly answers, “The two months of sunshine a year! In fact, Montréal is a good compromise. It’s a city full of cultural history, the food scene is phenomenal, everyone is nice, it’s a city where you feel safe and I’m lucky enough to work in an establishment where we do great things with an owner who supports us and helps us evolve. On a more personal note, I have two children who went to school here, they love the city and we are Canadian as well as being French which gives us a sentimental attachment to the city. I don’t mind winter too much as we are a family of skiers, both alpine and cross-country, so we like our adopted city. It’s good to live here.”
And finally, notice that Sofitel is a member of the Accor group, as are Fairmont Hotels, and we may see more and more collaboration between the various properties in the years to come.