Having spent the past several Christmas vacations in the sunny south, we decided to change it up this year and head to Fairmont Château Montebello in Québec. The plan was to spend a few days playing in the snow and enjoying a typical Canadian winter. Alas, Mother Nature decided not to play along.
Mid-December we had a decent amount of snow on the ground at our home in Ontario and I had been checking weather forecasts in Montebello religiously to confirm that there was plenty of snow there too. During the week prior to Christmas, however, temperatures rose above the freezing mark in this part of Canada, rain fell instead of snow and dreams of a white Christmas evaporated. By the time that we departed on the 27th, we knew that there was not going to be any snow in Montebello during our stay.
The Fairmont Château Montebello is a four season resort with activities available year-round, however, many of the winter activities are weather dependent and weren't available during our stay due to the absence of snow on the ground. We did manage to keep ourselves busy for a couple of days though.
Our Stay at Château Montebello
The historic Château Montebello, a stunning red cedar log cabin built in 1930, will be celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2015. The resort's perfect blend of family-friendly luxury and rustic charm combined with an abundance of year-round activities makes it ideal for a family getaway. This is never more apparent than during the holiday season when the resort welcomes many extended family groups celebrating Christmas and New Years. We checked in on the evening of the 27th, dropped off our luggage in our connecting rooms, had a quick bite to eat and explored the hotel a bit to see if anything had changed since our last visit before turning in for the night.
At a resort like this which has a roster of activities available it's difficult to avoid the temptation to be doing something all the time. Everyone needs down time though and my favourite way to achieve it at Château Montebello is to find a comfortable seat in the lobby and enjoy the relaxing ambiance around the stunning six-sided stone fireplace. There is no better place to read a book, play a game, enjoy a drink and a chat or just warm up in front of the crackling fire. Monte the resort's canine ambassador can often be found making new friends around the lobby as well and if your kids love dogs then you will have a hard time tearing them away.
Despite rapidly falling temperatures, we also made time for a couple of walks around the resort property and into the Village of Montebello. We especially enjoyed a lovely walk along the river even though it was a little odd to see green grass at the end of December. In the village we spent a considerable amount of time at ChocoMotive, an artisanal chocolate company housed in the old Montebello train station. We went around and around the store trying to decide which chocolates to purchase and watched chocolate being made and poured into molds in the workshop. Emma also had a great time selecting songs to play on the shop's jukebox as it was the first time that she had ever encountered one. We eventually headed back to the resort with several varieties of chocolate and all were delicious.
One of the winter activities that was available during our stay was curling as it takes place indoors in the Heritage Room building. Sixty minute "Learn to Curl" sessions were held a couple of times a day while we were there so we took advantage of one of these to brush up on the basics one day and then booked ice time the following day as well. Curling is a lot harder than it looks but definitely a great deal of fun!
Château Montebello boasts the largest indoor hotel pool in Canada which can be enjoyed at any time of the year no matter the weather outside. My water baby loved being able to swim lengths of such a large pool.
Additional activities that were available included outdoor skating and wagon rides around the property. Indoors there is an arcade as well as an activity room for kids and supervised evening movies.
Visiting Parc Omega
We have visited nearby Parc Omega on each of the three occasions that we have stayed at Château Montebello over the past number of years. I thought perhaps my 11 year-old would not be interested in visiting again but she was actually quite keen. Parc Omega is a drive-through safari park where visitors stay in their own cars to drive the trail through the park to see wildlife. We always purchase a couple of bags of carrots on the way into the park because the highlight of the visit is always feeding the elk and deer from the car windows.
Detour to Ottawa
Due to the lack of snow, we decided to alter our plans and stayed at the resort for only two nights instead of the planned four. As much as we love Château Montebello, it's quite expensive over the Christmas holidays especially having two rooms booked. We decided that the expense wasn't worth it with limited activities available so instead we drove to Ottawa (about an hour or so drive from Montebello) and checked into the Fairmont Château Laurier to enjoy a couple of days of city fun. Château Laurier has a prime location next door to Parliament Hill which makes it easy to explore much of the city on foot.
It was late in the day by the time we arrived in Ottawa so we headed out to ByWard Market and enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner at Mama Grazzi's. After dinner we went for a short walk around Parliament Hill to see the lights. Every year from early December to early January, Ottawa takes part in the annual celebration of Christmas Lights Across Canada with thousands of colourful lights sparkling in the downtown area. Our walk was curtailed by the extreme cold but we enjoyed seeing the lights and projections on Centre Block of Parliament Hill and around the National War Memorial.
The next morning we headed to Parliament Hill for a guided tour of Centre Block and the Peace Tower. We should have made more of an effort to get an earlier start because by mid-morning the wait was already quite long despite it being off-season. Fortunately, we were able to wait inside out of the cold and ascend the Peace Tower while waiting for our early afternoon tour time. The Peace Tower and the Memorial Chamber which commemorates Canadians who have lost their lives in military service are both available as self-guided options. The free daily tours of Centre Block last about 45 minutes and take visitors to the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament while guides provide background information about the history of the building and the function of Canada's Parliament.
Following our tour of Centre Block, we walked to the National Gallery of Canada. This family-friendly gallery is one of my favourites for the architecture, the collections, the extensive activities available for families and especially for the giant sculpture of a spider outside. On this particular visit we wandered a bit but were mostly focused on seeing some of the works of Tom Thomson and members of the Group of Seven.
It was bitterly cold outside but Emma insisted on walking back to our hotel via ByWard Market so that she could get a snack at BeaverTails.
We celebrated my birthday that evening with a lovely dinner at Wilfrid's in the hotel and the following morning started the drive home in order to be there for New Year's Eve. It wasn't the Christmas vacation that we had planned but it was still a fun getaway after the madness of the holiday season.