Food, nature and history at Montebello

It’s October, my favourite time of year. The trees that line the road to Montebello are a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows and reds, but even Mother Nature has some competition in this neck of the woods.

The World’s Largest Log Resort

Venerable is the word that comes to mind as my husband Dave and I drive under the portico to the main entrance of the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. The hand-hewn log lodge, built in 1930, is one of the largest structures of its kind in the world.

The West Entrance of Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. Photo by Dave Finn.

The West Entrance of Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. Photo courtesy of Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.

The lobby is rustic, subdued and genteel—a charming blend of sophistication and warmth. That’s due in part to the massive six-sided stone fireplace that dominates the lobby, and partly to the staff, who are truly delighted to welcome you. Perhaps that’s why Condé Nast ranks the hotel among Canada’s top 20 resorts.

On our first evening, pink, purple and orange streamers streak the sky above the glass-like Ottawa River as the sun goes down. As we take in the natural beauty and stillness, we wonder what it would have been like to travel these waters with Samuel de Champlain and been among the first settlers to see these shores.

A Nature Lover’s Paradise

Scattered about are plenty of benches and Muskoka chairs, where you can take in the pastoral scene. But if you really want to reconnect with nature, 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—no mean feat in our wired world. Some trails meander along the shoreline, while others offer a different point of view from higher ground.

A trail along the Ottawa River. Photo by Jane Finn.

A trail along the Ottawa River. Photo by Jane Finn.

The History

At Montebello, there’s also a tinge of feudalism and a bit of mystery to enjoy. At the end of one of the trails near the chateau’s stables, we discovered the Manoir Papineau, built in the 1850s by a successful Montreal financier. Even if you’re not a history buff, the tour is well worth taking to hear about the house’s rich past.

The Food

Dinner in the restaurant at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. Photo by Dave Finn.

Dinner in the restaurant at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello. Photo by Dave Finn.

Much of the food served in the Chateau Montebello’s elegant dining rooms is local. To learn a bit more about it, we headed out to the village in search of chocolate and cheese—two of my weaknesses.

Our first stop is ChocoMotive, an economusée housed in a converted railway station, where chefs Luc Gielen and Gaetan Tessier transform certified organic and fair-trade chocolate into unique treats. 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.

Chocomotive is located in an old train station. Photo by Dave Finn.

ChocoMotive is located in an old train station. Photo by Jane Finn.

When you leave the station, turn right. 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 miss it, which would be a shame. We were fortunate enough to meet one of the owners, Alain Boucher. As we sampled his artisanal cheeses, the conversation was peppered with stories about his children and his farm. I’m not sure which cheese was my favourite: their signature Manchebello, the Rebellion 1837—a creamy soft cheese flavoured with wild mushrooms—or the milder Tête a Papineau. However, the latter combined with prosciutto, pear, arugula, and a little mayo and maple syrup on a rosemary baguette made an awesome sandwich!

Cheese, glorious cheese! Photo by Dave Finn.

Cheese, glorious cheese! Photo by Jane Finn.

 

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If you go

Distance from Ottawa: 75km

Information: Tourisme Outaouais

 

 

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