QUEBEC AT THE HEART
Françoise SPIEKERMEIER – © Françoise SPIEKERMEIER et DR
Vibrant, hectic, creative, with the greatest concentration of artists in Canada, Montreal is also the perfect gateway to vast naturally-intact areas. As soon as the weather allows it, city people head towards National Parks or outfitters. They stay in wooden cabins, at the edge of beautiful lakes and practice skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating or dog sledding in the heart of the icy surroundings. Immediate boarding for a beautiful break in the heart of the Hautes-Laurentides and Outaouais, the nature destinations of Montrealers.
Controlled landing at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport: The flight of Air Transat flew over the rooftops of the city's industrial suburbs and its rows of identical brick pavilions adorned with a coat of snow.
At the exit of the airport, a boy greets his sweet one with a large smile and a bouquet of flowers.
Love is beautiful! From the outset, the vibration is positive. What is the vitality secret of Quebecers? Perhaps the appeal of the great expanses, of an intact nature, the cleared horizon, the large spaces to take advantage of the call of Nature and to express oneself with lungs deployed at all the levels of the existence, since here, there is more room than reason.
Without transition, we escape north towards Mont-Laurier, a small town of 14,000 inhabitants near the Baskatong Reservoir, a gigantic water reserve of over 400 km2 fed by the Gatineau River, which ends its race near Ottawa.
To remind us how much the French presence deeply kneaded the land of Quebec and its whole story, Nicolas "Gatineau", Sieur Duplessis from France, a fur trader and explorer, had to drown in 1683.
During the trip, the names of the French wood-runners are constantly invoked: their adventures with the First Nations who have woven with them, bonds of indelible blood.
Clean, sharp, clear... The management of the territory seems absolutely under control.
The 240-km route (settled in a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes, unsurprisingly, like on wheels!) passes by, at halfway, the foot of Mont-Tremblant, the first ski resort located in the heart of the Mont-Tremblant National Park, that converts to a seaside resort in summer. The resort has global reach with its golf courses, casino, international airport. Former territory of the Algonkin Indians that they named the “Mountain of Spirits”, it was ranked number one in the top ten ski resorts in eastern North America in 2017. Nothing like a little overview in helicopter with Natan, a young French pilot operating on the site, to take in the extent of the beauty of the mount and of the numerous ski pistes that run down the summit (968m).
After passing the municipality of Ferme-Neuve, we enter the Regional Park of the Devil's Mountain.
We make a necessary stop at the falls of the Windigo that consist of a large natural slab of 55 meters in height: in summer, it is a great slide that ends in a dip in the fresh river water. In winter, the site is mysterious and magical, buried under tons of snow pulling the spruce branches towards the ground.
A few minutes away, at the edge of the Baskatong Reservoir, the Windigo village is dense with chalets that have a view of the white immensity.
This Laurentian region has the largest network of marked trails for snowmobiles.
The bedrooms are real apartments – “condos” – with a kitchen area, a sitting area, and a fireplace that the staff takes care to clean and prepare each day by filling it with logs. When you arrive, you just have to crack a match and relax in the big, comfortable armchairs while admiring the flames dancing and crackling. The minus thirteen degrees outside are inversely proportionate to the warm comfort you encounter when you pass the door. All around the Windigo, the trails of the wood-runners retrace the footsteps of the old trappers and allow you to go back the time, for your pleasure. In summer, white sand beaches offer hidden nooks that canoeing.
Adventure is at our fingertips. One hour from Windigo, the Fontbrune outfitter capitalizes on its spectacular snowmobile experience (take a driving license!).
They provide the polar: anti cold hoods, boots, helmet, overalls, jacket, gloves and under gloves (a very practical tool to take a picture).
Once you get onto the machine, the column moves and meanders along the frozen lake, skirting the ice concretions, to a cottage on the edge of the forest, where comforting snacks await: bear sausages and moose ham, made by Eric Fontbrune, the master of the place, trapper in his spare time, who lines up his hunting trophies along the bar of his outfitter. It is rather difficult not to greet the moose with its gigantic woods, that sits above each chimney. This also goes for that of Rabaska Lodge (name given to the traditional Indian boat), a real leisure center with a restaurant, a terrace and a marina, a very popular haven in summer for guests arriving by boat. Here, there is a strong focus on the cocooning experience: a bar with live music, a billiard and a hot tub in front of each cottage. It is a pleasure to slip into the bubbling water while sipping a cocktail and admiring the snowpack.
The dogs stumble with impatience and greet their owners, Normand and Karine Casavant, with great zeal.
The mushers give as good as they get. From the outfitter Cecaurel, in the Regional Park of Kamikia, they take you on a ride for an hour, a day, several days ...
“For me, the dream is that the snowmobiles break down and I help them with my dogs “. Jovial and passionate, he has won several dog sled races in the Yukon. “The dogs are trained during all of the seasons, and in the summer, we hike with them and bathe in the lakes and rivers to refine their muscles”. With Nicolas Morin, the outfitting manager, who redecorated the old wooden cottages of the 1920s, they develop and organize stays in total immersion in nature. “Here, it is Paradise. We’re the wildest outfitter, a mere two hours from Montreal.” To prove it, Nico invited Carl, the trapper, to prepare lunch: beaver sausage, caribou ragout hunted by his care, and maple syrup whiskey. For dessert, tanned skins of great beauty, trapped without hurting the animal with new generation traps. “I grew up like a wood-runner. I observe the animals and balance the populations to preserve the balance between the species.”
While descending down to Montreal, one crosses the Outaouais, the province of the national capital of Canada, Ottawa.
Cap on one of the most beautiful hotels in Quebec and of the country: the Fairmont Château Montebello.
Built in the midst of the 1929 American depression by a Club of incredibly wealthy Americans, it is the largest building of logs in the world! It contains no less than 10,000 trunks of red cedars from British Columbia, arranged in four months by 3509 workers!! Pharaonic! There is a six-sided stone fireplace and six hearth furnaces in the center of the lobby, where we met Bette Davis, Joan Crawford (in the 1940s!). Sport is in the limelight and the almost Olympic pool (a 23-meter pool) is a curiosity, in its wooden building, which gives it a retro charm. A game of curling is a must: the “pétanque” on ice is essential and fun. After renovation, the hotel will offer 210 completely redone rooms while preserving the importance of wood, which is a hallmark of the style of Quebec resorts.
This is possible, in the wolf chalet of the Omega Park, that is very close to the Château de Montebello.
Facing the bed, a large bay window overlooks a large enclosure to see the wolves evolve, sleep, live … to cross their yellow, mythological stare, safe and sound. Founded by a Frenchman, the Omega Park allows you to discover the animals of the boreal forest living in freedom in a park of 920 hectares … thanks to a bag of carrots bought just before rolling on the forest trail, in his car, or on a hike, among the peaceful white-tailed deer. In the park, an observatory of wolves designed by Serge Lussier, ethologist, allows you to approach the pack safely, a few meters away! The park is also a tribute to the Amerindian First Nations who were invited to make their mark through the making of sculpted totems and holding, on June 21st, the date of the Festival of the Eleven First Nations of Quebec.
Going back down to Montreal, two gastronomic stops allow for the discovery of seasonal regional products and of the inventiveness of Chefs Québec.
At the Wakefield Mill, a former flour mill turned into a 4-star hotel in 2001, the MUSE restaurant offers fine French cuisine from Quebec, with an exquisite international wine list.
Not to be missed, 15 minutes from Ottawa, the Les Fougères restaurant that also serves as a delicatessen with ready-made, homemade dishes. Chef Yannick Lassale, the chef, won the Gold Medal for Canada’s Best Chef in 2019. There, we can enjoy tobico, flying fish caviar and duck confit with Canadian wine made from endogenous grapes resistant to temperatures of minus twenty to thirty!
We go to the top of rue Saint-Laurent, on the Mile-End side, an industrial district in the midst of real estate and artistic boom, where the old factories are invested by artists and start-ups.
With his partner photographer, Dany created Spade and Palacio, and for five years, has been taking tourists to meet artists, on foot or by bike. Enjoy the best coffee in Canada, an old-fashioned coffee at Le Falco.
And cherry on top of the cake, treat yourself to a night in the bed of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
It is in the 1742 suite that in 1969, from May 26 to June 2, John Lennon wrote "Give Peace a chance" and stayed "In bed for Peace", without leaving the bed.
The hotel even offers the vintage menu: poached sole fillet at breakfast, turtle soup, and as a drink, tea, exclusively.
As they have for their nature, Montrealers have decided to transform their city into a huge playground.
LAURENTIDES et HAUTES-LAURENTIDES
Pourvoirie WINDIGO au bord du réservoir Baskatong
Hôtel FAIRMONT CHATEAU MOTEBELLO
MOULIN WAKEFIELD MILL AND SPA et RESTAURANT MUSE
PATINAGE EN FORET
Restaurant LES FOUGERES
Hôtel FAIRMONT Reine Elisabeth
SPADE AND PALACIO, tours à vélo à pied en petits groupes à Mile-End, MONTREAL
La seule compagnie à proposer des vols directs vers le Canada au départ de 8 villes françaises et seule compagnie à proposer des vols directs Paris- Québec