Story by Karan Smith
MONTEBELLO, QUEBEC — I was supposed to be what I call “location scouting” at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello for 15 seconds of an Instagram video. The luxe log cabin hotel located between Ottawa and Montreal is rife with Canadiana and I wanted to capture the red-tipped cedars, the three-storey fireplace and the carved bear lamps of this former hunting lodge. But as I wandered outside seeking an opening shot, I found myself drawn to a Muskoka chair set up under a maple tree facing the Outaouais River. I sat. I could hear the breeze, a dog barking on the other bank, the splash of a bird plunging into the water. And I became aware of another sound, my own exhalation. It was an unexpected moment of cottage-life zen.
It was surprising because Le Château Montebello is not your average Canadian cottage. In fact, much of what makes the property unique is that most popular of grade-school adjectives — biggest. It’s said to be the biggest log cabin the world. The adjacent wilderness retreat, Kenauk, is noted as the biggest private reserve on the continent. And there’s much to do on the expansive property: biking, horse-back riding, drinking of cocktails at the piano bar. (Well, does your cabin have a grand piano?)
But what I discovered is that it’s the small-scale, local connections that make a visit to both the hotel and the town of Montebello memorable: the day trip with chef and farmer; the beekeeper who supplies honey for the local microbrewery; the artisanal cheese named after a rebellious leader. It’s a town of around 1,000 people, but the entrepreneurs and chocolate makers and wilderness guides seem so invested in this little corner of Quebec. Outside the wooden gatehouse of the hotel, you can go clay target shooting or take a guided nature walk in Kenauk. You can rent an electric quad for an iPad historic tour of the town. And you can drive through Parc Omega where bison, bears and boar wander about.
So there are many reasons to pry yourself off that cottage chair, including these three:
Fromagerie Montebello: The first time cheese maker Alain Boyer caught a vein of blue in his goat cheese, an achievement with this type of milk, he yelled out loud. And the other products at his young shop are as distinct. This includes the nutty Tête à Papineau, which has picked up two awards; the gentle creamy blue cheese Rebellion 1837 and Manchebello, a goat milk cheese. The blue goat’s milk cheese is as yet unnamed, but no doubt it will be both a nod to local history and another temptation to travellers seeking culinary souvenirs.
Les brasseurs de Montebello: We’re never, never going into club sandwiches,” says Sylvain Periard about Montebello’s first microbrewery. Instead the focus will be on what has motivated some long-time members of a local beer club to open their own place: the 19 made-in-Quebec brews behind the bar. The pub opened in June and the smell of fresh-sawn wood still lingers. But its own two in-house pints have already proven popular: honey-aroma La Reine du Mont Vinoy and the blonde Le Fantôme D’Ézilda, named after the ghost that’s reputed to haunt Papineau Manor.
And if patrons get the munchies? There are snacks like bison pepperoni or cheese plates from Fromagerie Montebello and guests are even welcome to order take-out.
Manoir-Papineau: Monsieur Papineau was a very important man in Lower Canada’s history,” says costumed guide Caroline Bédard as she stands outside his handsome large-windowed 1850s house. “I was,” pipes in Daniel Richer, dressed as the man himself in tails and striped pants. And indeed Papineau – and his home, a national historic site – offer an interesting and personal view into history on the doorstep of Le Château Montebello. Or really it should be the other way around. Before this land became the private hunting retreat of the Seigniory Club, it was owned by the Louis-Joseph Papineau, a leading Quebec politician and head of the Patriotes. Now, you can wander in the gardens where peonies and irises grow, play croquet on the lawn or tour the first floor where the prominent family dined at a mahogany table fit for 20 or played chess and embroidered in the family sitting room.
BONUS: New this year: The $10 Montebello Passport offers a range of discounts for local attractions including including Kenauk Nature, Chocolaterie Chocomotive, Fromagerie Montebello, Les Brasseurs de Montebello and Parc Omega.
MORE ABOUT CHATEAU MONTEBELLO
Address: 392 Notre Dame, Montebello, Quebec (see map below)
Location: Chateau Montebello is a one-hour drive northeast of Ottawa and a 90-minute drive north of Montreal.
Telephone: 1-866-540-4462 (toll free) or 1-819-423-6341
Phone: 1-819 309-0541
Les brasseurs de Montebello
Phone: 819 309-0807
Phone: 1-819-423-6965 or 1-888-773-8888