Autumn Magic: Chez Montebello, Québec
By Jane and Dave Finn
Montebello Quebec – It’s the first week in October, my favourite time of year. The days are still warm and sunny but there’s a bit of a nip in the air at night. The leaves are turning and the trees that line the road to Montebello are a riot of colour; brilliant orange, burning yellow and blazing red. Breathtaking to say the least but even Mother Nature has some competition in this neck of the woods.
The World’s Largest Log Lodge
Venerable is the word that comes to mind as we drive through the portico to the main entrance of the Fairmount Le Chateau Montebello. The impressive hand-hewn, log lodge was built in 1930 and is reportedly the largest structure of its kind, in the world.
As we enter the lobby, I feel like I’ve taken a step back in time. The best way to describe the ambience is subdued, rustic and genteel – a bit sophisticated but at the same time warm and inviting. Perhaps that’s due in part to the massive six-sided stone fireplace that dominates the lobby but in truth, it’s more the result of the staff who are genuinely delighted to welcome you and who will absolutely ensure that your stay is perfect. Maybe, that’s the reason Condé Nast has rated the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello as one of Canada’s top 20 resorts.
Our room is situated at the end of the Champlain wing. On our first evening, we are treated to a stellar sunset. Pink, purple and orange streamers streak the sky above the glass-like Ottawa River. The days are growing shorter, so there are only a few boats left in the marina. As we take in the natural beauty and stillness of our surroundings, we can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to cruise these waters with Champlain and been amongst the first settlers to gaze upon these pristine shores.
A Nature Lovers Paradise
Scattered about are plenty of benches and Muskoka chairs where you can sit back and take in the pastoral scene across the river but if you really want some solitude and the chance to reconnect with nature, don’t hesitate to take one of the gentle hiking trails that encircle the property. Within seconds, you’ll find yourself in a safe, almost sacred place that encourages contemplation, reflection and even reverie – no mean feat in our wired world. Some meander along the shoreline while others climb to higher ground, for a different point of view.
The whistle of a train in the distance reminds us that this resort was developed on former railway lands. In addition to the natural beauty of the area, there’s also a tinge of feudalism and a bit of mystery to enjoy. At the end of one of the trails adjacent to the chateau’s stables, we discovered the Manoir Papineau. Built in the 1850s by a successful Montreal financier and suspected leader of the Patriots, in later years it became the secret retreat for the wealthy members of the exclusive Seigneury Club. Few people knew of the manoir’s existence or even paid heed to the building until it was sold in 1970 along with the Chateau Montebello. Even if you’re not a history buff, the tour is well worth taking to hear about the house’s rich past and the tales of intrigue that could be the basis of a Robert Ludlum novel!
Le Chateau Montebello Golf Club is right on property and consistently ranks as one of the top 100 golf courses in Canada. This stately, par 70 course was built in 1929 by Canada’s legendary architect, Stanley Thompson. The narrow, heavily treed fairways and dramatic elevation changes offer spectacular vistas of the fall colours. The greens are challenging and at times, even treacherous. Fast and definitely tilted, it’s tough to read the breaks which will invariably be more than you estimated.
While there wasn’t a hole I didn’t enjoy, the greatest stretch starts with the 6th, a picturesque, downhill par 3, followed by the 7th, an uphill dogleg left with bunkering along both sides. In my personal opinion, the 8th hole epitomizes the whole experience of playing Montebello. This downhill, short par 4 has a river meandering down the right side that eventually crosses in front of the green. This is target golf at its finest, requiring a strategic tee shot followed by an uphill approach to the toughest green on the course that slopes dramatically to the left.
The 9th may be the most dangerous. It’s a short, straight uphill par 3, with a green that’s literally perched a top a cliff. Don’t be short but if you hit it long into the bunker, as I can attest, you’ll be faced with an almost impossible sand shot since the green slopes severely from front to back. The only thing that saved my ball from heading into the abyss was the barely discernable, chicken wire fence.
When you travel in Canada, you simply must experience a Stanley Thompson design and this course is no exception. Though I found the bunkers shallow and a bit stony with heavy sand, overall it’s a majestic masterpiece that still holds its own, almost a century later.
Green fees are $85CAD in mid-season but rates fall to $65-75 including a power cart after Sept 22 and until June 5. Golf for Free packages start at $219CAD per night for double occupancy in a Fairmont room including one round of golf with power cart.
The Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is not only a fine resort but also a great community partner. Much of the food that is served in its elegant dining rooms is sourced locally, so before we head out to play a different course, we’re off to the hamlet in search of chocolate and cheese – two of my weaknesses.
Our first stop is ChocoMotive; an apt name for the delectable shop located in the ‘gare’ or converted railway station in the centre of this ‘village-relaix.’ As part of the ÉCONOMUSÉE® network, Chefs Gaétan Tessier and Luc Gelien transform more than 8,000 kilos of certified organic and fair-trade chocolate into very unique treats. Be sure to try a savoury offering like the bars flavoured with blue cheese, roasted almonds and a little cranberry which found their way into our bag but never made it home!
When you leave the station, turn right and just a few blocks down the road on your left you’ll find the Fromagerie Montebello. Keep a sharp eye out for the sign or you might just miss it which would be a shame. We were fortunate enough to meet one of the owners, Alain Boucher. As we sampled his artisan cheeses, the conversation is peppered with stories about his children and his farm and you know you’ve met someone who is as passionate about family as he is about his craft. I’m not sure which one was my favourite, their signature Manchebello, the Rebellion 1837 – a creamy soft-cheese flavoured with wild mushrooms or the milder Tête a Papineau. I have to tell you that the latter combined with prosciutto, pear, arugula and a little mayo and maple syrup on a rosemary baguette made an awesome sandwich and I’m sure the other two wheels will be devoured this coming weekend!
The Heritage Golf Club and Inn can be found only minutes away from Montebello. This club opened in 1993 and is nestled at the foot of the Laurentian Mountains which form a stunning backdrop to this wonderful piece of property. It’s well treed and features tremendous elevation changes. The fairways are reasonably wide and there are not many bunkers, making this a fun but interesting course for golfers of any caliber.
My favourite hole is #14, a shorter par 5 with a severe dog-leg left. You can either play it safe with a drive down the right side or take a risk and go over the trees but be aware; there are bunkers and a swampy area guarding the left side. Either way, you end up on a raised amphitheater green. I’d suggest that you play your approach shot long and watch it funnel back to the hole.
The Heritage Golf Club and Inn offers a Stay ‘N Play in a modern day hotel also completely constructed of hand hewn logs. While the structure may not be historic, it is definitely another relaxing option to explore the Outaouais region. Situated halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, it has proven to be budget-friendly for a group of twelve golfing buddies we met during our visit who travel here every spring and fall to enjoy a few rounds and a whole lot of camaraderie. Fall green fees are $65 including a power cart and a three course meal. You can enjoy some good pub fare that’s not fancy but very flavourful. Fall Stay’N Play package rates start from $323CAD plus taxes for two people including a regular room, 2 rounds of golf each, one dinner and breakfast.
Next weekend is our Canadian Thanksgiving and we have much to be grateful for – great golf, amazing accommodations, wonderful food, friendly people and the opportunity to reconnect with our surroundings. We’ll be back to enjoy another season in this southwest corner of Québec, La Belle Province. Outaouais Vive-le! Live it! For more information on Outaouais visit www.outaouaistourism.com
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