Story by Mark Stevens
MONT-TREMBLANT, QUEBEC — Given that I’m supposed to be luxuriating in a spa, it feels strange to be immersing myself in the frigid waters of the Devil’s River just down the road from the steep-roofed village curled up like a faithful dog in front of a fireplace at the base of Mont-Tremblant.
The water’s ice cold and the current pushes against my legs, but the ambiance — and the vista — is nothing short of heavenly.
What isn’t strange is my philosophical bent. For the past few days I’ve been surrounded by all things metaphysical and if my current status and location — Scandinave Spa — doesn’t encourage contemplation, I don’t know a place on earth that would.
Based on a northern European tradition, this retreat lets you undergo a medley of mood-altering activities — hot, cold, relaxation — lounging in a Finnish sauna, showered by an outdoor Nordic waterfall, rocking in a hammock in a forest beside the murmuring river.
Perfect place for reflection.
For the very essence of Mont-Tremblant and the surrounding mountains is a bi-partite tale, a saga of contrasts — summer and winter, nature and music, eco-activities and downright hedonistic pursuits. A parable, in short, of good and evil in the mountains of Quebec.
Case in point: A beer-tasting in an ersatz chalet at a microbrewery. During an indulgent visit, I sample potent potables with devilishly fun names like a brew that’s a tribute to the Evil One himself (the brewery’s logo sports those characteristic Beelzebub horns), another bottle is a nod to a church ritual, the last I try, in a wonderful twist, is dubbed Seventh Heaven.
You can imbibe these on a short trek down the road from the Valley of the Devil. Once you’re done, or perhaps afterwards, you can ascend the mountain in a gondola — angel’s-eye view of spectacular scenery: sun-spattered cobalt waters of the lake far below, tin roofs, red roofs, cobblestone byways fronted by boutiques and galleries, nestled below thrill rides and mountain paths, where pines reach skyward, where late in the season the voluptuous distant slopes are painted with autumn oranges and scarlet.
When I achieve the summit, the view of distant valleys is a panorama of nature at its finest. It also presents a cornucopia of activities from winter skiing and snowshoeing to summer offerings that range from whitewater rafting to hiking.
Once I am done with the peak, one more stunning attraction is revealed. A stop for coffee is graced with a downright otherworldly mist, which closes in and blankets my haven in a veil of fog.
The haven itself? A towering wind-swept structure boasting wooden beam ceilings, great chandeliers. And a perfect name. I am warming up before a mountain-top show where birds of prey swoop down just above my head, where an owl perches on a tree stump mere metres away, spirit-infused valleys falling away in the distance.
“The Great Manitou” — testament to both the forces for good and the presence of First Nations, primarily Algonquin, in the area. The name comes from a legend wherein the Great Spirit in question made the mountains themselves tremble in protest against humans making too many changes to the natural order of things. Worth noting is the fact that in the 17th-century Algonquins identified one of the Laurentians’ highest peaks (the summit measures 275 metres) as both home to the good spirit and evil spirits.
Mountains of Good Fun in Quebec
But you’ll only have a good time when you visit. Think state-of-the-art casino lodged in an idyllic forest clearing. Think summer activities — a multitude of festivals, a variety of attractions and rides. Think 96 downhill ski trails come winter.
But it’s not just Tremblant itself that is a repository of things good — and appealing.
Saint-Sauveur to the south is home to a summer water park, host to a family-friendly collection of ski hills, venue for a charming old Quebec village where I dined al fresco on a patio at Lola 45 right across the street, appropriately enough, from the gorgeous neo-Roman facade of Saint Sauveur Church, where worshippers have gathered almost since the Confederation of Canada. Its vespers’ bells provided a soundtrack to a gourmet dinner.
The morning following dinner, I stand on my balcony, gazing out from my eyrie at the rustic, historic — and charming — Mont Gabriel Resort. I wonder if the Great Spirit created this Laurentian vista just for me: The shimmering tin roof of the steeple of that self-same church dominating the valley far below, a curtain of fog pulled back as if to signal the beginning of creation, subject of a masterpiece this spotlit place of worship.
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