Largest log cabin resort in the world
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello
By David Bell
Canadians look forward to holiday time. It could be for an overdue summer vacation, a fall retreat to immerse in the kaleidoscope of changing colours or a distinctive Canadian outdoor winter experience. Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, Quebec, is a one-of-a-kind four-star log cabin resort welcoming guests year round.
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is located 75 kilometers from Gatineau, Quebec, on the Ottawa River -- just off highway 50 leading to Montreal. This distinctive property, located in a tranquil resort setting, has 211 comfortable, rustically-elegant rooms and suites. The reception area opens to a grand rotunda with chesterfields, arm chairs, tables for board games, and areas for quiet conversation over a glass of wine or a cup of hot chocolate.
The centrepiece in the rotunda is a massive fireplace with its six faces rising 20 meters to the ceiling. There are four accommodation wings that extend out from this rotunda along with dining rooms and the ballroom. Additional amenities include a business centre, fitness centre with gym, children’s activities, spa suites and swimming pools. It is also wheelchair accessible. The tranquility, rustic elegance, extensive facilities and rich history of this “chateau” embody grandeur of a by-gone era.
The year was 1930. The stock market had collapsed the previous year. The original plan was to establish a private wilderness retreat for business and political leaders. In spite of the failing economy, they proceeded with construction of the “retreat.” More than 10,000 logs were transported by rail from BC to the local spur line at Montebello. In just four months Le Chateau Montebello was constructed – through the labour of 3500 on site workers and artisans. It was an amazing feat.
Guests choose their own pace and activities. For some that means total relaxation: wandering the trails, enjoying the serenity and panoramic vistas of the manicured grounds and the Ottawa River, spa treatments, etc. Others choose more active options – exploring the area on bicycles, swimming in the indoor or outdoor pools, working out in the fitness centre and gym, golfing and experiencing the one-of-a-kind attractions nearby the property.
What to see and do – in town
The town of Montebello – population about 1000 -- is a 10 minute walk from the property. There are a number of distinctive shops to explore.
The ChocoMotive Economuseum is the only Chocolate Museum in Quebec and is located in the historic log railway station. Watch -- and sample the results of -- the “chocolate artisans” at work. The products from this family run business, using fare trade chocolate from Peru, are delicious. The best times to visit are at 11 a.m. and 3 pm.
Fromagerie Montebello, just down the street, is another family run business. The two owners, Alain Boyer and Guy Boucherproduce specialty cheeses on site. Two of their cheeses recently received major awards. Sample several varieties before deciding which ones you will take home.
“Les Brasseurs de Montebello” – also on Main Street – is a new pub serving artisan crafted beers. Enjoy a “cool one” on their patio. “Le Fantôme d'Ézilda and la Reine du Mont Vinoy” are two of their specialty brews. Other drafts from throughout Quebec are also on tap.
What to see and do – just beyond the town
“Go on Safari” -- in Parc Omega! The “parc” is open every day of the year and is a must visit – especially if you have children. You drive through in your own vehicle and at your own pace. Many of the animals roam freely – and will approach your car -- looking for “treats.” Children delight in feeding “treats” -- carrots -- to the deer and elk – right out of the car window. Along the winding parc road you’ll see -black bears, elk, bison, deer, boars, white foxes, wolves, coyotes, ibex, moose, raccoons, etc. In summer months there is also a show featuring birds of prey.
Camp Explora Electric ATV Adventures is a new and popular ecotourism experience. Following a safety orientation, don your helmet and climb into the ATV. Traverse the terrain of Mount Wescott on an adventure packed “mystery safari.” On board iPad mini tablets display your path, provide historic perspectives of the area and outline “clues to solve the mystery” en route. The all new electric ATVs (both 2 and 4 seaters) are silent, eco friendly and can accommodate young children.
For most folks the drive home will be via Gatineau. I stopped over night there and took in two Gatineau attractions -- the Casino du Lac-Leamy and Canada’s most visited museum -- The Canadian Museum of History.
Casino du Lac-Leamy has 1800 slot machines and 64 gaming tables. It is currently completing a $50 million renovation project which will add additional gaming options and enhance even further the Casino experience for guests. I tried my luck at Black Jack, dined in the Banco Restaurant (great buffet) – and watched as enthusiastic guests tried to entice lady luck to smile on them.
The Hilton Lac-Leamy is inter-connected to the Casino du Lac-Leamy and was my stopover hotel. The 349 rooms are well appointed and the accommodations, staff and facilities reflect the “Hilton” quality throughout.
More than a million people each year visit The Canadian Museum of History making it Canada’s most popular museum. There are permanent exhibitions as well as timely special-themed ones. The Grand Hall, at the entrance, recognizes the First Peoples of Canada’s Pacific Coast. It showcases their history, culture, Native houses, and towering totem poles. The Children’s Museum, another permanent exhibition, has props, costumes and artifacts that appeal to younger visitors. The 3D films, shown in the IMAX theatre, also support the museum’s “history” mandate. Most adults choose the “D-DAY Normandy 1944” film while the children vote for the “Pandas 3D” option.
In conclusion, my holiday visit to Quebec was enjoyable, educational and memorable. The highlight was the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. It has a rich history and continues to welcome guests all year – spring, summer, fall and winter. Not only is it the world’s largest -- four star red cedar log cabin resort -- it is a “Canadian Treasure.”