Into the wild at the Fairmont Kenauk
Story by Jody Robbins
MONTEBELLO, QUEBEC — I was starting to get antsy. Nine kilometres past the reception cottage and we still hadn’t reached our cabin. Driving through these remote grounds, snow falling silently to the ground, windshield wipers droning back and forth, a stillness permeated the area; and it began to sink in, how isolated we really were. And just as scenes from The Shining began to replay in my head, we pulled up to a grand chalet — no Jack Nicholson in sight.
Looking for that perfect hideaway, somewhere secluded, that allows you to sink back into nature? Need to get away from it all?
The Fairmont Kenauk at le Chateau Montebello Resort, in the heart of the Outaouais countryside of Quebec, is a rambling, rustic retreat, situated on 66,000 acres of rippling countryside, making it the largest private reserve in North America. Heads of state retreat to these stately grounds, once part of the prestigious Seigneury Club. Rumour has it a certain PM recently unwound here, as huntsmen, nature buffs and families have done for years. Recluse movie stars also appreciate the solitude. Some come specifically for a digital detox, others like to hibernate in front of wood-burning fires, but everyone, finds a true Canadian wilderness experience.
What sets Kenauk apart from other rustic resorts is just how purposely it unplugs. Comparing Kenauk to a typical Fairmont hotel stay is unfair. “This is more like luxury camping,” advises Celyne Fortin, spokesperson for Kenauk. Blackberries “work” here, but only if you pluck them fresh off the bushes. There is no electricity, wireless, or phones. A two-way radio connects you to the main lodge and your closest neighbour is kilometres away. There are propane lights, well-equipped kitchens, and running water. Showers, but no baths, beds but no pillow-topped king mattresses.
A LUXURY HOTEL EXPERIENCE WITHOUT TECHY COMFORTS
Glamping in a chalet on your own private lake (there are 67 on these grounds) is surprisingly decadent. We stayed in Papineau Chalet, gracing the edge of 3,000-acre Papineau Lake. Four massive mounted stag heads dominate the wood-paneled main living room, connected to the ultimate scotch-swigging, card-playing screened-in porch that overlooks the lake. Our capacious chalet could easily accommodate 18 people, with six bedrooms, a formal dining table and games rooms galore.
Room service isn’t an option in the wilds (though a chef from Chateau Montebello will happily come out and prepare a feast for you). Before taking shelter for the evening, we were wise to stock up. Stopping off at critically acclaimed Les Fougères, in Chelsea, Quebec (easy to get to if you’re heading in from Ottawa), for gourmet, take-away food, we picked up some cassoulet and curries. Montebello, the last town before venturing towards Kenauk, also offers enticing options. We loaded up on fresh cheese curds, creamy La Tete a Papineau and fresh baguettes from La Fromagerie Montebello. And for dessert, you can never go wrong with organic, fair-trade, artisanal chocolates from ChocoMotive, housed inside Montebello’s historic train station.
Despite the lack of 21st-century creature comforts, there’s much to do. Waking up to the call of the loons, you can fall straight out of bed into that lake of yours that’s stocked with bass, trout, and northern pike. “Kenauk” means turtle in Algonquin, and each lake comes complete with prehistoric-looking, snapping turtles that skulk around the docks, searching for fish scraps.
All lodges are equipped with canoes and kayaks, some even come with motorboats. Naturalists are available for guided exploration and Kenauk even employs its own biologists to ensure proper conservation of the area. If you find the facilities too remote, 10 km from the main entry, lies Chateau Montebello, where Kenauk guests have access to all facilities.
At the Chateau, guests can enjoy a decadent Sunday brunch, or float in the nation’s largest indoor hotel pool, gazing upwards at the original hand-painted ceiling. But don’t be so sure you’ll leave once ensconced in Kenauk. “It’s very rare for guests to leave once they are here,” admits Fortin.
So, kind of like The Shining after all — but much less creepy.
MORE ABOUT FAIRMONT KENAUK
Location: 1000 chemin Kenauk, Montebello, Quebec
Contact: 819-423-5573 or 1-800-567-6845 (toll-free); www.fairmont.com/kenauk; email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Room rates: From $169 per night for a one bedroom to $379 during high season; $679 per night low season up to 8 adults to $1,200 during high season.