Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 28, 2021
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Feeling hut, hut, hut

The fully equipped tents in Quebec’s provincial parks take the “rough” out of roughing it

Do you remember camping? The bugs, the grime, the twigs in your food, the cold hard ground?

Well, one night in the fancy new Huttopia tents introduced earlier this summer in Quebec’s provincial parks should wipe all those miserable camping memories from your mind. Except maybe not the bugs…

Part of the park network’s euphemistically titled “ready-to-camp” (read: camping for wimps) service, these canvas and timber-framed shelters are the last word in camping comfort. The tents, which resemble the trappers’ tents used by aboriginal hunters, include a fully-equipped kitchen (minus sink), propane heater, beds and a table and chairs. This is definitely not roughing it in the bush.

Laurentian Living

Our little slice of camping heaven was in Mont-Tremblant Provincial Park, nestled in the spectacular Laurentian Mountains, about two hours north of Montreal. The mountain air revived us as soon as we stepped out of the car. I’m a seasoned camper, and my pal Anna had never slept in a tent. We lugged our gear into the tent — I brought way more than I needed, not knowing what they meant by “fully-equipped” — and instantly squealed with delight.

A fridge, pots, pans, dishes, placemats, garbage can, recycling bins, even tea towels! In other words, camping nirvana.

Outside, the tent has a covered porch where the propane stove is set up. Also on our large site were a picnic table and fire pit with swing-out cooking grill in case we felt like being outdoorsy. At this point we noticed that directly across the way there was a toilet and shower block, along with an outdoor kitchen sink for washing dishes. More squeals.

I begged Anna’s forgiveness for scoffing at her pre-trip bathroom query. “There’ll be an outhouse and noooooo shower, my dear,” I’d told her a bit smugly. Seasoned campers can be so insufferable.

Euro Huts

Quebec’s provincial park network (Sépaq) installed 60 Huttopia tents in 13 parks this summer. And that’s in addition to the 37 tent-trailers already in place. Sépaq is sure that this kind of turn-key camping will help broaden the appeal of the great outdoors not only to Canadians, but also European visitors who may be less forgiving of the often challenging conditions that tenters face here.

The tents were adapted for the Canadian climate by French company Huttopia. “The original tents had bug screens, but the holes were huge,” laughed Sépaq spokesman Jean-François Boily, noting that local mosquitoes and blackflies could have breezed right through them. Propane heaters were installed for a dual purpose: to combat the cold (the tents are open until October 13) and the humidity (a tenter’s second-worst enemy, after the bugs).

We found the facilities at Mont-Tremblant to be well-maintained, clean and user-friendly. The 5pm check-in for the Huttopia tents is pretty inconvenient, but for our Friday evening arrival it worked out fine.

Majestic Tremblant

Mont-Tremblant is the largest and oldest provincial park in Quebec. Its vastness means that even when it’s full of vacationers, you never feel crowded. In fact, we barely saw anyone on our jaunts.

The park is renowned for its hiking trails, over 100 kilometres of them. In keeping with our experience, we decided to stick to the less strenuous of these, visiting a couple of magnificent waterfalls with boarded paths and stairs. Phew. Time for a swim.

Our campsite was located in the Diable sector on Lake Monroe, an oblong lake into which the meandering Diable River flows. There are several sandy beaches on the lake, including a big public one with lifeguard, bathrooms and canoe rental kiosk. Without too much trouble we were able to find a tiny deserted spot on a cosy little point. The water was absolutely gorgeous.

Later on, feeling a little more ambitious, we decided to join a guided twilight canoe excursion around the marshes of the lake as the sun went down (2.5 hrs, $21.26 adults, $10.63 children). We learned a bunch of stuff, including the fact that much of the park was clearcut as little as 80 years ago, that toothy pikes sometimes attack human babies and that no amount of DEET will ever fend off the park’s most prolific fauna: the dreaded blackfly. We also saw a heron and a beaver (or was that an otter?) and some funny red-tufted ducks huddling miserably on a log. Guess their DEET wasn’t working either.

Our luxury accommodation felt even more so after our battle royale with the blackflies. After roasting weenies and marshmallows on the roaring fire, we hunkered down on the comfy mattresses in the cocoon-like curtained beds as the forest rustles and whooshes lulled us to sleep. Pure bliss.

Near and Dear

If you can tear yourself away, there are plenty of things to do within the vicinity of the park. A visit to the town of Mont-Tremblant, the picturesque ski resort where Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas own a holiday compound, is a pleasant outing. Where the rich and famous go, fine dining is sure to follow. Try Aux Truffes (3035 Chemin de la Chapelle, Mont-Tremblant; tel: 819-681-4544; for high-end regional specialities like local foie gras and Quebec’s famous artisanal cheeses. A little further south, the town of St-Sauveur offers outlet shopping in a candy-coloured alpine setting.

For something a little easier on the pocketbook (and a far better bet in my opinion), you must try the poutine (that French fry, cheese curd and gravy concoction) at the roadside greasy spoon Le P’tit Stop (Highway 117, St-Faustin-Lac-Carré; tel: 819-688-3111) directly opposite the Secteur La Diable exit. You can’t miss it: on its roof is a huge “100% BOEUF” sign. It’s the best poutine you’ll get this side of Montreal, and they serve a fine sugar pie too.

Who ever thought camping could be this sweet?

The verdict from seasoned camper and tenting newbie alike was resoundingly positive. For me, it was a relief not to have to drag along so much gear and fret endlessly about forgetting the Swiss Army knife or the camp stove fuel. For Anna, it was a pleasant introduction to camping. She’s already talking about going back with her family.

Just don’t tell the kids that this isn’t what real roughing it is all about.

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