Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017
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Eastern Escapes

Fall in love with winter again at one of these four Quebec resort-hotel

Le Château Frontenac
If you've been fantasizing about a European vacation to break the mid-winter doldrums, you needn't look farther than Quebec City. The small stone buildings that crowd together in Old Quebec, with more chimneys than you're likely to find anywhere else in North America, are reminiscent of a walled-in town in France's Alsace region. Even the restaurants here close for the afternoon. And what European town is complete without its very own castle? Le Château Frontenac, perched on Cap Diamond, has remained the unmistakable symbol of Quebec for more than 100 years.

Overhanging the St. Lawrence on a steep cliff next to the Citadel and the Plains of Abraham, the Château is situated where Samuel de Champlain built the first fort of Quebec after he founded the city in 1608. The fort was rebuilt several times over the next few hundred years. As the first stop after Europe in the Canadian Pacific's route to Asia, Lord Strathcona and a group of businessmen financed the construction of a luxury hotel.

The hotel was intended to be a contemporary structure, but American architect Bruce Price designed a French Renaissance château inspired by former French Governor Comte de Frontenac's home in France. When the Château opened in 1893, the interior was initially designed with 16th-century-style oak furniture. Throughout the years, as additions were planned and reconstructions overseen, the designs have remained true to the initial ideas of the first builders.

Though the Château was built with the Renaissance in mind, it has always maintained contemporary standards of comfort. At its opening, the Château was impressive with private bathrooms and fireplaces in the rooms. Today these standards have been maintained as each room is simply decorated but includes modern comforts such as Internet access and a cordless phone.

While you'd be comfortable staying in bed all day (you can even order an in-room massage for two), the Château offers packages that let you experience winter in Quebec. Since 1894, the Château has been part of Winter Carnival and throughout the season you can take part in the same winter holiday that guests of the hotel enjoyed 100 years ago. While the Château no longer has a curling rink, dogsled team or ski school, you can still go ice skating on the private rink on Dufferin Terrace, reach speeds upwards of 70 kilometres-per-hour while tobogganing down the ice slide, and get an old-fashioned sugar high with some tire sur la neige.

We opted for the dog sledding experience, which includes a half day of mushing at Domaine la Truite du Parc, situated next to the Parc de la Jacques Cartier, between Quebec and Chicoutimi (transportation to and from the hotel is included). The afternoon starts with a 20-minute lesson and then you're off on a three-hour ride through the mountains. Our guide made frequent stops to let the dogs (and passengers) catch their breaths and tell us about the life of a musher -- including how to find and eat snow cherries. A tour of the 150-dog kennel is a great way for someone to overcome his or her fear of canines, as the dogs are friendly and gentle. The experience will leave you daydreaming about winning at the Iditarod.

Fairmont Le Château Montebello
Le Château Montebello is touted as the largest log structure in the world. But even that advance publicity won't prepare you for the spectacular architecture that greets guests the moment they walk through the door. The centrepiece of this resort's lobby is its huge stone chimney with six fireplaces blazing at once. The dining and meeting halls, as well as the four wings containing 211 rooms, radiate like spokes from this massive hub of warmth and hospitality.

The Château's expansive acreage overlooks the Ottawa River. The three main buildings were built entirely by hand -- using stone and 10,000 giant cedar logs -- in a mere four months. A feat that made headlines across North America when the resort opened in 1930, this unique project was the vision of a Swiss-American businessman named Hubert Saddlemire, who hired a Finnish master builder to get the job done. Montebello has been a landmark ever since, first as a private retreat for the Seignory Club, an elite membership of politicians, dignitaries and celebrities, then in 1970 as a Canadian Pacific Hotel (now part of the Fairmont Resort family).

The red-trimmed log wings are partitioned into cozy cabin-like rooms, with white stucco walls outlined with dark wood detailing. By today's luxury resort standards, the rooms are somewhat small, though they still manage to tuck in all the modern amenities along with two double beds each.

Montebello is a true haven for winter activities. With the exception of downhill skiing (Mont-Tremblant is one hour away), the array of choices include cross-country skiing, skating, curling, broomball, snowmobiling ($109/hr, $249/day), ice-fishing, horse-drawn sleigh rides ($14/hr), tobogganing and tube-sliding, a snowboarding park for kids or lessons (a 15-minute drive) and dog sledding.

It was especially wintry on our visit, with temperatures hovering at -10íC and the landscape cloaked with this year's unusual surfeit of snow. These were ideal conditions for us to take advantage of some of the 70 kilometres of cross-country ski trails which are free to guests and well groomed for parallel or skate-skiing. We skated on the river (there's also a rink for hockey and broomball), snowshoed, and curled several ends with instruction from a pro ($50/sheet of ice/hr). Any equipment you might need can be rented.

One highlight was the easy five-kilometre cross-country ski trail that winds around the Château, along the river and through magnificent woods. For a more rigorous workout, we tackled the seven-kilometre La ScÄnique, one of the intermediate-to-difficult trails that puts the golf course to winter use. And we couldn't resist dog sledding ($27.50 each for about 20 minutes) that departs from a tall teepee outfitted with a warm wood-fire and hay bales. The drivers even stopped in the woods to trade roles and let us do the mushing!

Once you've had enough of the snow, there's a full roster of warmer activities: a range of spa treatments, hot tubs and the largest hotel swimming pool in Canada. If that's not enough, you can always take the underground tunnel to the tennis and squash courts for a few rounds. --

 

Le Fairmont Tremblant
From its prestigious slopeside address, right at the foot of Mont-Tremblant mountain, Le Fairmont

Tremblant is just a few glides from your first warm gondola ride up the slope. In fact, it's the only hotel in the village resort with ski-in and ski-out access -- a prime location that practically guarantees a room with a view when you check in. Upper-floor suites overlook Lac Tremblant and the Laurentians, while most with kitchenettes face the slopes and the village.

For a hotel with such a dominant presence, Le Fairmont Tremblant is actually just four years old. Its imposing modern exterior doesn't stray from the Intrawest signature that is Tremblant village: a recreation of an 18th-century fairy-tale town of restaurants and ski shops, at times quaint, at other moments too much so.

The suites are contemporary, spacious, bright and most come with kitchenettes. But, as with any ski hotel, most of the aprés action happens in the lounge areas. In the lobby, traditional furniture, tasteful folk art, antiques and a massive fireplace remind you of bygone days on Tremblant mountain, North America's second oldest ski resort. Take, for example, the wooden skis from the 1930s or the inside-out canoe hanging from the ceiling, an homage to the Laurentian folktale in which homesick lumberjacks are transported back to their families in an enchanted canoe.

In an effort to guard its exclusivity, Le Fairmont Tremblant caters more to couples than families, offering a quiet haven for weekend romance without too many reminders of the potential consequences. The halls are peaceful and the outdoor pool and whirlpools rarely overcrowded. When the day's skiing is over, the staff lays out a small chocolate fondue table in the lobby for the guests -- many of whom never leave, preferring instead to sink back in front of the fire and order a tea or aprés drinks from the comfort of arm chairs and couches. If your idea of aprés-ski is more solid than shaken or stirred, you can venture across the hall to the Windigo restaurant or explore some of the menus in the pedestrian village.

You may want to deal with your ski-sore muscles before tackling hunger pains with a Vichy massage at the spa, considered by spa lovers as one of Canada's best-kept secrets. For a ski resort, the prices are good. A regular one-hour massage is $85 and two-hour packages start at $150. Unlike those at many city spas, the masseuses thankfully don't push the envelope with forward-thinking treatments and they won't try to restructure your physiology: the massages here are simple, soothing and gentle.

The staff is young, precise and, at moments, go out of their way to please. When Ross Rebagliatti drove up late one night with a broken car door, the valet dashed off and fixed the door before the somewhat flustered Olympic champion even had a chance to check in. Earlier that same night, a not-so-famous guest accidentally dropped the lens from her eye glasses into the outdoor pool. Without any fuss, an attendant changed into swim gear and dove in to recover it. In other words, guests get what they ask for and then some. If you simply value no-frills efficient service, no problem. If, on the other hand, you want serious pampering on your ski getaway, the morning staff is ready to practically put on your boots for you.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
This imposing cliff-top hotel was first built by the Ontario and Richelieu Navigation Company in 1899, but was completely destroyed by a fire in 1928. Construction began almost immediately and the hotel reopened in June 1929 with its original Normandy-inspired architecture restored. Canadian Pacific Hotels bought Le Manoir Richelieu in 1998 and invested $140 million in a renovation and expansion project.

The hotel's 405 rooms are decorated with Tudor- and Jacobean-style furniture, but all are equipped with modern conveniences like data ports, cordless phones and voice mail. A health club, all-season indoor and outdoor pools, a full-service spa, Jacuzzi, game room, three restaurants, lobby bar, cigar lounge, tea salon and access to the Casino de Charlevoix round out the resort's amenities.

You couldn't find a better setting for such a grand hotel. Charlevoix's natural attractions earned the region the title of UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve -- one of the first of more than 300 areas in the world to receive the distinction -- and once you see its mountains, cliffs, streams, valleys and waterfalls, you'll understand why. Winter is the best time to visit Charlevoix. Its subarctic climate and sharp variations in elevation -- thanks to glaciers, earthquakes and a meteor that hit the area 350 million years ago -- have given way to a unique variety of flora and fauna.

All of this makes for a wide range of seasonal activities. In the winter, you can snowshoe, cross-country ski, snowmobile or go dog sledding. There's also ice fishing, skating, sleigh rides and downhill skiing at nearby Le Massif and Mont Grand-Fonds.

If you've never tried snowmobiling, this is the best place to start. There's nothing quite like zipping around the mountain trails into wide clearings that give way to wild and rugged vistas. The area is mostly covered with boreal forest, but you'll also find Arctic and Alpine tundra, Laurentian maples, oak and ash. You might even see caribou and grey wolves -- two species that rarely coexist this far south. If you're not brave enough to go it alone, guided group outings are available.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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