The idea of having a "10 + 1" celebration was created when my husband and I were on a cruise in Australia last year for our honeymoon. On the first night of the cruise we introduced ourselves to another couple and said we were on our honeymoon. The couple said they were celebrating their "10+1:" 10 years together plus 1 year of marriage. We realized that the following year we would celebrate our own 10+1. That year we celebrated 9 years together and one month of marriage by looking up at the stars of the Whitsunday Islands on a tall ship cruise. How do you top that? As well as the wedding itself, it was hard to think of something special to do that was equally as good. Since moving to Ottawa, I have obviously explored Ottawa and a bit of Montreal and discovered there is a piece of Canadiana luxury right in between. So to mark our anniversary, we seriously splurged on a weekend getaway to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello in Montebello.
Located on the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Montreal, the spectacular resort was built in 1930. We were greeted by a bell hop who gave us some insight into the history of the place as he helped take our bags to our room. The three main buildings were built in the span of 4 months with about 3500 construction workers who used 10,000 red cedar logs to build everything. The hotel is built on the grounds of what used to be a 17th century Seigniorial estate. In the 1800s, the Papineau family of Quebec purchased the land. The resort as it is known now was opened to the public in the 1970s and now attracts visitors from all over the world.
The focus of the lobby is the spectacular hexagonal rotunda shaped fireplace. All of the 200 guest rooms in the hotel fan out from the middle of the lobby into four wings. The main dining room and banquet rooms are also off of the lobby. This means the lobby is an ideal spot for an afternoon break, pre-dinner cocktails or a late night cocktail. To appreciate the craftsmanship and sheer size of the lobby, it is something you have to see in person. The reviews I read beforehand said the rooms were on the smaller size, so it is best to hang out in the lobby instead of the rooms to appreciate the experience.
Originally, we booked a regular room with a Queen bed. Earlier in the week I tweeted that I was staying there for our anniversary and I guess they got the hint because they upgraded us free of charge to the deluxe room with a King bed and river view. Don't say tweeting never gets you anywhere! The room was spacious with a couch and seating area, television, coffee maker and kettle. We were also greeted by the lovely tray of desserts shown in the above photo. They didn't have to do that at all--and during the busy May long weekend too--so I appreciated it very much that they went the extra mile to make our stay memorable. I can't say enough about how wonderful and attentive the staff were at reception, in the dining rooms and on the grounds. There are many people buzzing around all of the time making sure everything is taken care of and comfortable for each guest. The resort mascot Monty, an old Golden Retriever dog, even has his own log cabin dog house in the lobby to take naps in between greeting guests.
We arrived Friday night around 6pm and had dinner at the Seigneurie Bar in the basement. The bar is one of the resort restaurants and serves standard fare like fish and chips, burgers and sandwiches. I had a Caesar salad with chicken and Mike had duck confit gnocchi. Since we were staying in May, it was a little early for a BBQ dinner on the terrace. The staff said it usually opens in June. The terrace seating was set up outside, but sadly no BBQ yet. We will have to go back for a terrace meal later in the summer. After dinner, we took a quick walk around and sat by the river on the Muskoka chairs and then went back to the room and both fell asleep while reading books. That fresh country air will do that to you.
Even the smallest details show the rustic charm of the place down to the paintings, decorations and lamps, like this epic bear lamp in our room. If you are expecting a modern, boutique hotel with brand new finishings then this won't be the place for you. Although all of the amenities are quite modern and clean, the beauty is in the coziness and sense of history. When I say history, I don't even mean like a giant, haunted old hotel either. It by no means has the vibe of an abandoned lodge. It felt like I was an exclusive guest at someone's grand home.
Although room service is available at all hours of the day, we chose to bring some things to make our own breakfast in the room. Mike picked up some pastries from Art Is In Bakery in Ottawa the day before. We had coffee and pastries, such as almond croissants, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and chocolate croissants--way too much for two people. On Sunday morning, we even had some Mimosas with breakfast. I brought the bottle of champagne that was left in our room for us on our wedding night by the Elmhurst Inn; it was a bottle of Lakeview Cellars 2008 GMR sparkling.
Saturday was a full day at the resort to explore, relax and try some activities. The hotel has an indoor and outdoor pool, spa, 18-hole golf course and 26 km of trails. Silly me was actually worried there wouldn't be enough things to do since it wasn't peak summer time. Instead of paying for each activity individually, there is a $23 per night resort fee for each room. Although that is an extra charge, it does mean you can take advantage of most of the activities for free. There were kids in every corner of the resort trying some sort of activity and a lot of things for adults to do as well as the obvious relaxing that needs to get done. This was the first weekend of the year they had canoes, kayaks and boats out on the water.
We took a stroll through the forest trails to the village to see what Montebello was like. The focus of the town most obviously seems to be the resort, however the village has a few small bistros, pubs and shops. For souvenir buying, there is a local cheese shop and chocolate store. I always like walking around seeing a place instead of staying cooped up in a hotel room. Another exciting activity close by is Parc Omega, which I like to call "Quebec's version of African Lion Safari" with drive up paths to see wild animals.
Instead of worrying there wouldn't be enough to do, we actually found it difficult to do everything. We had a swim in the indoor pool along with half of the hotel who all had the same idea. The indoor pool is more than big enough for everyone with two hot tubs and two saunas, as well as a spa. I would love to go back in winter and try out some of the winter activities and then warm up by the fireplace with a hot cocoa.
On a side note, I thought it was funny there were so many trilliums blooming around since the trillium is Ontario's flower and not Quebec's. Does that mean it is technically not illegal to pick trilliums in Quebec? Not that I would, of course.
There was a wedding going on that day, so we snuck a peek at the preparations. I could hear the wedding celebrations later that night in one of the banquet rooms, but the sound didn't carry to the rooms even though some of the rooms are right off of the lobby. The Chateau Montebello would be a gorgeous spot for a large or intimate wedding. And how symbolic yet again that it was exactly a year since our wedding day.
After walking and swimming, we both got ready for dinner with a pre-dinner glass of champagne. I put on a fancy dress and we headed down for dinner to the main restaurant Aux Chantignoles with food by Executive Chef Jean-Francois Fortin. Perhaps my only slight criticism would be the price of the restaurants. I know the Fairmont has a reputation for luxury. Having lunch and two dinners at the resort ended up costing almost as much as one night's stay. I found the prices a little on the expensive side. Mike was taken a back at lunch when he ordered a beer and it came to $15. That being said, the food is good with many options to choose. The menu is mostly French inspired featuring local Quebec ingredients.
It was a our anniversary after all, so we definitely splurged on the room and the food. The main restaurant is a grand ballroom with windows overlooking the patio. They also have a buffet option for brunch and lunch. To give you a clue of my level of fanciness, I saw that the buffet was open at dinner and I asked the hostess if it was available. She then replied that "at dinner time, the buffet is only for children." Mike had a laugh at my expense over that one. For dinner, we started with a salmon gravlax appetizer.
Mike had the trio of Quebec rabbit stuffed with herbs and mashed peas. I had the grouper fish "catch of day" with white asparagus and 7 grains. We were also given a few amuse bouches in between courses to cleanse our palates even though we did not opt for the 3, 4 or 6 course meal options. That is another example of the exceptional level of service of the place.
On Sunday we had breakfast and then played tennis. Pro tip: playing tennis after drinking Mimosas isn't the best idea. We whacked a few tennis balls around and then called it a day. It was nice to be outside and enjoy the long weekend sunshine. I couldn't take enough photos of the Chateau Montebello. Mike asked me when I wanted to head back to Ottawa and I was like "hold on, I want to take more photos."
Why would you ever want to leave? I mean, look at this. You can see by the crowds in these photos that it got busier on Saturday and Sunday. Between weddings, spa visits, business meetings, family vacations and couple's vacations there must be hundreds of people coming and going each day. The exciting thing is that is shows that log cabins don't have to be associated with some small place in the middle of the woods. They can be luxurious, grand and elegant.
We also opened our anniversary gifts for each other. For Mike's gift I framed one of the sheets we had guests fill out at our wedding with marriage advice as well as the magazine spread of our wedding in Wedding Bells magazine. He got me an engraved jewellery box and printed out some of our old email correspondences from years ago. Who says romance is dead after marriage?
Then it was back to Ottawa on Sunday. And the start of working towards marriage year 2. Here's hoping every year will be as wonderful as the first one. Thank you to the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello for a lovely weekend getaway.