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Armchair travel: Wanna share a secret?

Have you had the opportunity to try an 'experience' hotel?

Have you had the opportunity to try an 'experience' hotel? It can be one with simple 'themed' rooms, like those at Fantasyland Hotel in West Edmonton Mall, or a hotel-wide theme with a singular vision and immersive story that makes it a very individual experience.

That's the case at The Dorian Hotel in downtown Calgary, where guests can see a lobby portrait change before their eyes, and participate in sharing secrets that age the face in the picture as the day wears on. It's bold, edgy and quirky--a fun add-on to a stay that takes guests into the world and mind of famous Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde.

I read Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray while in university, and the story has always remained with me. Contrasting a world of beauty, morality and Victorian sensibilities with young Dorian's gradual corruption, the novel visibly reminds that while Dorian himself is able to enjoy life's pleasures without any consequences, his portrait bears the scars of his choices, gradually becoming grotesque.

It's the hotel's Mark of the Craft, a chosen theme for Autograph Collection Hotels that bring a unique story to life--in this case, Oscar Wilde's tale of life-altering secrets. Other 'Marks' exists at Autograph Collection properties around the world, including in Kananaskis, where it's all about s'mores around the firepit--the hotel's Fireside Moments a.k.a. its take on an authentically Canadian campfire. At another such property in El Paso, Texas, guests experience everything 'John Wayne' during a stay.

Since opening last summer, The Dorian is laying claim to be the first premium lifestyle hotel in Calgary. Boasting a 19th century vibe with a modern flair and eccentric elements, the luxe interior design and textures are set off with intriguing artwork by international and local artists. There's even a local photo contest set to grace the hotel this summer, letting guests know they're definitely in Alberta's largest city during a stay.

"There's nothing cookie cutter here--it's for guests who want a premium, authentic experience," said Erin Richter, director of sales and marketing at The Dorian, describing the Mark as a little scandalous, and very memorable. "Guests are excited to get involved; to share and rate secrets and see the dynamic stages of change in the lobby portrait. It's creative and way out there."

Using a smartphone, guests scan a code where they are prompted to reveal a secret (anonymously) and rate another anonymous confession too, on a scale from permissible to deplorable. The more wicked the secrets, the greater the change in the lobby portrait. I found it a fun exercise, sharing a never-told story, and rating the same from another; then making sure to check out the main floor portrait later in the day.

Enthusiastic reviews for the property and its theme are an indication people want to be engaged, to have something capture their imagination and spark conversation. A copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray sits on the bedside table in each of the boutique's suites, enticing guests to grab a quick read and dive into the mind of Wilde.

A stay is a luxurious escape from the everyday world. Bustling Calgary awaits out the window, but inside the walls of The Dorian, guests can enter another genteel time; maybe even play a little too.

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