Montebello Resort: Yes, it is possible to enjoy the winter without skiing.
I’d never heard of Montebello before a colleague suggested it as a “drive-able” option for a winter family vacation. Neither had anyone else I’d asked. But it turns out this little village in western Quebec, with a population of 1,200, is a mecca for activity-seeking families and rock stars alike.
Located on the Ottawa river, about an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, Montebello houses several small inns and B&Bs. We opted to stay at its star attraction, the world-famous Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, which is purported to be the largest log cabin in the world. While it may look rustic, this 211-room resort built in 1930 lacks no creature comforts. In fact, as the lobby pictures attest, the hotel has hosted many a historic meeting over the decades, including the G7 International Economic Summit.
The Chateau has indoor and outdoor pools, a luxury spa and gym, golf and squash courts, a children’s game room, as well as fine dining and pub-style eateries. Indoors, our favourite hangout was the main hall with its majestic centre column of stone fireplaces surrounded by comfy couches and chairs. Here families gather to play board games and drink hot chocolate (or something stronger) from the lobby bar. It’s also where Golden Retriever “Monte” – the hotel’s mascot – comes to greet guests and endure the multiple hugs of excited children.
Yet even with all of its indoor amenities, the real appeal for my two sons, ages nine and 11, lies outside this comfy cabin. The resort offers a plethora of activities to match the seasons, and given that the temperature hovered well below zero during our stay, we had our pick of snow-inspired pursuits.
First up, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Rent the equipment on site or bring your own to embark on one of several well-marked trails – ranging from easy to advanced – covering some 26 km. You can also rent a snowmobile for $195 per two hours ($30 per extra passenger), which includes an experienced guide to make sure you don’t get lost.
With dedicated times on the rink each day for free skate or shinny, my sons were able to put their hockey sticks to good use – and quickly made friends with other hotel guests their age.
A short walk from the Chateau is a substantial hill equipped with inner tubes that hold one or two people. We bundled up and spent almost two hours sliding down even though the temperature that morning was -17ÅãC. We also appreciated that there was a pulley to get us and our tubes back up the hill each time.
Hotel guests of all ages lined up daily to experience the thrill of a 15-minute dog-sled ride through the forest. On weekends there’s also a 45-minute horse-drawn sleigh ride for those who want a more leisurely route around the property.
Getting to Montebello’s main strip was an easy 10-minute walk from the hotel. Here we found restaurants, a grocery store, pharmacy and the Chocomotive chocolate factory. While the boys watched the chocolate makers at work behind a glass partition, my husband and I sampled the goods. If you’re craving something savoury, The Fromagerie Montebello is another must-stop for a taste of fresh local cheese made from cow’s and sheep’s milk, available in curds, blocks and twists.
Travel Tip: While in Montebello, check out Omega Park, a 1,500-acre wildlife sanctuary with deer, bison, coyotes, turtles and more, living in their natural habitat. Walk or drive through the park and stop to feed the deer and elk. For details visit parcomega.ca.
Visit Fairmont.com/montebello for more information.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May 2015.