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Timber Lodges: Fairmont Le Château Montebello, Quebec

By Brian Kevin

Jan 25, 2012

From the November/December 2010 issue

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Photo courtesy of the hotel

Photo courtesy of the hotel

Embrace a rustic, woodsy vibe at these timber lodges.

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When I stepped into the grand lobby of Québec’s Le Château Montebello, I felt like I was entering Paul Bunyan’s living room. Giant timbers braced a three-story-high ceiling, and a massive fireplace in the center radiated warmth in all directions. After checking in, I joined the guests gathered around the six-sided hearth and sank into a leather club chair. I spent the rest of the day by the fire, sipping hot toddies and napping, as the comfort of the crackling flames sent me and the other fireside dozers snuggling deeper into our cushions. I had come to ski some of the 65,000 acres of wooded backcountry that neighbor the resort, but the château was so welcoming, I found it hard to leave.

Often described as the world’s largest log cabin, the lodge and two other main buildings were constructed in 1930 from 10,000 red cedar logs and 500,000 handmade wooden shingles. The houses and the vast surrounding forests were long owned by the politically prominent Papineau family, and until 1970, the estate remained a private nature retreat for Canada’s upper class. As I walked through the château’s halls, the intricately carved banisters and exposed beams reminded me of the great western lodges in the U.S. national parks—only without any grumpy tourists demanding to know where the animals are.

In the guest rooms, deluxe amenities such as flat-screen TVs and rain-dome showerheads upstaged anything found in Yellowstone or Yosemite. Despite the modern perks, rawhide lampshades and other rustic details helped my suite retain its frontier appeal. When I got up to pull the plaid drapes closed that night, I watched a horse-drawn sleigh pass by, glowing in the moonlight against the dark ribbon of the frozen Ottawa River.

Without fresh snow to ski the next morning, I was left to explore the lodge’s other activities. I opted out of getting scrubbed with maple sugar at the spa or unsuccessfully flirting with French-Canadian women by the fire, and instead devoted the day to learning the inscrutable rules of curling. The château has an indoor ice rink dedicated to the sport, a national favorite that’s best described as a combination of shuffleboard and falling down a lot. My instructor was Henri, a kindly sexagenarian who, like many in Québec’s western Outaouais region, seemed more comfortable speaking French than English. As it turns out, kindly reassurance sounds the same in either language. But as my backside repeatedly hit the ice, Henri’s patient polyglot insistence that I was doing “une belle job” grew progressively less convincing.

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After my rough-and-tumble day, I dined in the white-tablecloth Aux Chantignoles restaurant. Québecois cuisine dominates the menu, and I followed a dinner of tender venison osso buco with a slice of Québec’s famously sweet and jiggly sugar pie—think pecan pie sans pecans. Snow fell just in time for me to ski through the nearby forest on my last day. I spent a long afternoon there, gliding among stands of birch, pine, and spruce in the rolling Laurentian Highlands. Now and again, I paused to admire one of the countless frozen lakes, their smooth surfaces dotted with tracks left by moose and white-tailed deer. I skied in the silent wilderness until just after sunset. As the scent of a wood fire began to tickle my nose, I grew eager to cozy up by the hearth again. I turned back toward the château’s stone chimney, its rising plume of smoke signaling for my return.

Fairmont Le Château Montebello, Montebello, Quebec. 866-540-4462, expedia.com. From $200 per night.

Other timber lodges

Holmenkollen Park Hotel, Oslo, Norway

Holmenkollen Park Hotel, Oslo, Norway

Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica, Oslo, Norway. 47/22-92-20-00 holmenkollenparkhotel.no. From $232.

One of Oslo’s most recognizable landmarks is a former sanatorium designed in the “dragon style,” an ornate Norwegian variant on Swiss chalet architecture. Next door sits the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, rebuilt for the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships. When pros aren’t competing, visit the jump’s observation tower for views of the fjords.

Chalet RoyAlp, Vaud, Switzerland

Chalet RoyAlp Hôtel & Spa, Villars-sur-Ollon, Vaud, Switzerland. 41/(0) 24-495-9090, royalp.ch. From $533.

A sleek, bustling hotel in the Vaud Alps, Chalet RoyAlp also honors traditional Swiss architecture with its fir walls and intricately carved balconies. The mountain railway adjacent to the chalet offers easy access to the slopes.

Fiordland Lodge, South Island, New Zealand

Near Fiordland National Park, Te Anau, South Island, New Zealand. 64/(0) 3-249-7832, fiordlandlodge.co.nz. From $484 per night for a cabin, $654 for a double room. Open September through May. 

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Kowhai timbers and hundreds of river stones were among the native materials used to construct the 10-room lodge. The hotel’s two cabins were made from New Zealand rimu wood and sun-dried, hand-peeled Oregon logs. The buildings overlook the South Island’s dramatic coastal cliffs and glacier-filled peaks. 

Angkor Village Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia. From $89. 855/(0) 63-963-361, angkorvillage.com

Situated among lotus ponds and palm gardens, the buildings at Angkor Village incorporate native Southeast Asian hardwoods and mimic traditional Khmer architectural styles. Ride on an elephant to Phnom Bakheng hill and watch the sunset or explore the 12th-century stone temples of nearby Angkor Wat.

>>Next: The Perfect Early Spring Day Trip From Montreal Is All About Maple Syrup

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