A non-skier’s guide to Gatineau and Mont Tremblant
Every winter when my husband suggests a ski holiday, I respond by sending him links to bright, sandy beaches and wildlife safaris. Don’t get me wrong—I love winter. (Okay, I like winter.) And I can ski when pressed. But getting me to the bottom of a hill is more nails-on-a-blackboard scraping than smooth carving. This year, when the inevitable “What about a ski holiday?” query was posed, I paused. Maybe it was time to throw in the beach towel and break out the Gore-Tex. And I discovered we didn’t even need a passport to do it. Forget Aspen and the Alps—Quebec’s Gatineau and Mont-Tremblant are world-class ski destinations right here at home. Best of all, they’re barely two hours apart and both destinations have turned the après into an art form.
1/8© Gatineau ParkTHE VIBE Relaxed and refined. There are several small resorts for alpine-adrenaline junkies, but Gatineau, with its more than 50 groomed trails, is really geared to the quiet elegance of cross-country.
Gatineau© Nordik Spa-Nature
SIGHTSEE Gatineau’s charming villages are overrun with galleries, cafés and boutiques built for browsing. In Chelsea, check to see if Le Local is still running a pop-up shop. (If not, don’t despair—you’ll find the store and its chic collection of Canadian-made clothing and accessories in nearby Gatineau.) Pull up a stool at the Chelsea Pub if you’re craving craft beer; for something sweet and hot, Biscotti & Cie is a must. Or, if your muscles are stiffening up after some strenuous snowshoeing, a 30-minute float in Nordik Spa-Nature’s Källa pool is not to be missed. (There’s only one other floating saltwater pool like it, and it’s in Switzerland.)
Gatineau© Les Fougères
DINE You can’t leave Gatineau without experiencing Les Fougères. Book a table for brunch (try the fish cakes), lunch or dinner—and bring your snowshoes, because the woodland you see from the dining-room windows is yours to explore. The day you skip lunch because you can’t drag yourself away from all that fresh powder is the day to make a dinner reservation at O’Brien House. For the six-course tasting menu, Chef Patrick Marion makes a point of sourcing Canadian ingredients, from ocean-wise trout from Quebec to matsutake mushrooms from James Bay.
Gatineau© O'Brien House
STAY In Gatineau, you can literally cross-country ski from one boutique hotel to another. After a night of laid-back luxury at Wakefield Mill, a leisurely three-hour ski takes you to the glossy red front door of Wakefield Mill’s new sister hotel, O’Brien House. Once you’re chilling in front of the fieldstone fireplace in the Canadiana room, rousing yourself to do much of anything will be unthinkable. Eleven rooms lend an air of exclusivity to the lodgings—an effect heightened by a gallery on the ground floor, where every wall is hung with fine art on loan from the Crown Collection. Meanwhile, PEI-made MacAusland woollen blankets scattered invitingly about and custom La Pensée mattresses (you can choose soft or firm) add the perfect finishing touches.
THE VIBE Fast, furious and fun, whether you’re on the slopes or hitting the village’s bumping après-ski scene.
Mont-Tremblant© Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant
PLAY Mont-Tremblant boasts over 100 runs with “Should-I-stop-and-Instagram-this?” views of the Laurentians. One of the best runs for a scenic, stress-free trip down is the Algonquin, on the Soleil side. (Pause for a glass of wine and cheese fondue at Le Refuge du Trappeur log cabin along the way.) Of course, if your crew veers straight for the black-diamond hills, you can hop off the lift and head for the nearby Moment Spa at the Fairmont. Not only did I indulge in an 80-minute anti-wrinkle facial from luxury Swiss skincare brand Valmont (the perfect antidote for windburned cheeks) but I also spent an afternoon at the Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant. It’s the best place to forget about a near miss on the moguls because it makes you relax with its strict no-talking policy—even the pockets of your plush white robe are sewn shut so you can’t stash your cell.
Mont-Tremblant© La Forge Bistro-Bar & Grill
INDULGE Fresh air makes fresh food taste even better, like that on offer at La Forge Bistro-Bar & Grill. For a cozy après-ski tipple, stay downstairs at the bar; a Bourbon Chai will warm you up. Or, if you’re in a white-tablecloth mood, shed your ski boots and head up to the steak house on the second floor, where your sirloin is grilled over a maple-wood fire in the open kitchen.
Mont-Tremblant© Hotel Quintessence
CHILL There’s no better reward for surviving the slopes than sinking into a soft couch in front of a fire with a glass of champagne in hand. That’s precisely what I did when I returned to my suite (one of 30) at Hôtel Quintessence—but first I enjoyed a soothing soak in the room’s sunken spa tub while watching the sun set over Lake Tremblant. Personalized service is a hallmark at this boutique hotel: You can ditch your gear at the door and don a pair of slippers, and your ski boots will be returned to you the next day—pre-warmed.
This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of ELLE Canada.