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. But 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 favorite 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. Apparently he is one of several resident hotel dogs or “canine ambassadors” that can be found at select Fairmont hotels and resorts around the world.
Yet even with all its indoor amenities, the real appeal for my two sons, ages 9 and 11, lies outside this comfy cabin. The resort offers a plethora of activities to match the seasons, and given that the temperature hovers well below zero during our stay, we have our pick of snow-inspired pursuits. Be sure to check the hotel’s website for special offers throughout the year, which frequently include outdoor activities and breakfast as part of the daily room rate.
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 kilometers. You can also rent a snow mobile for $195 per two hours ($30 per extra passenger), which includes an experienced guide to make sure you don’t get lost.
Skating: With dedicated times 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.
Curling/Tennis: The resort offers a variety of indoor (and outdoor weather permitting) sports clinics with lessons for children and adults. Be sure to reserve your spot as soon as you arrive as spaces can fill up quickly.
Tubing: 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 -17C. We also appreciated that there was a pully to get us and our tubes back up the hill each time.
Sleigh rides and dogsledding: 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.
Village venues: 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 savory, The Fromagerie Montebello is another must-stop for a taste of fresh local cheese made from cow and sheep’s milk, available in curds, blocks and twists.
For Animal Lovers: Montebello is home to Omega Parc, a wildlife sanctuary encompassing some 1,500 acres with deer, bisons, coyotes, turtles and a host of other animals living in their natural habitat. Open year-round, there are walking and car trails where you can stop and feed the deer and elk.
A rocking good time: For two weeks every summer, this tiny place is also host to Canada’s largest rock festival called Amnesia Rockfest, which draws big-name acts like Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica. The festival was started in 2005 by a 17-year-old from Montebello who had a desire to transform his village into a “rock paradise.” The locals tell me that they rent out their garages for parking and farmer’s fields for camping. My older son insists he’ll be back to check it out when he’s a teenager.