The world’s largest log “cabin,” blonde bears, electric ATVs and remote cabins on secluded lakes make Montebello in Quebec a fabulous destination. From natural blondes (bears, that is…) through to the majesty of the world’s largest “log cabin” (Fairmont Le Château Montebello resort), the village of Montebello delivers a range of amazing destinations to explore.
Whether it’s raw, splendid nature you wish to explore on foot, kayak or electric ATV – or if you prefer sitting back and appreciating it, poolside, this historic hamlet is bound to please.
Located in Quebec on the north shore of the mighty Ottawa River, Montebello lies roughly halfway between the twin cities of Ottawa/Gatineau and Montréal. Gatineau is also where MosaiCanada’s spectacular garden display was held in 2017.
This means it makes a convenient destination for those wishing to visit Canada’s capital (Ottawa) and then experience some of Québec’s beautiful forests, lakes and history before plunging into cosmopolitan Montréal.
What’s not to miss in Montebello? For sure there are some wonderful festivals, such as Amnesia Rockfest, LogFest but check out these year-round destinations and attractions.
Kenauk (pronounced Ken-uk) is an extensive park north of Montebello, where forested hills shelter more than 70 lakes. It has a fascinating history, because it was part of Québec’s seigneurial system of land ownership.
Seigneurial lands were those given by the King of France to “lords” or “seigneurs” who controlled the settlement and development of such property, in a feudal system.
In Canada’s early years of settlement in what became Québec, long strips of land were given to seigneurs, where property fronted a river (the Ottawa River, in this instance).
Homes were built overlooking the river, because waterways were the first transportation networks. As people settled and pushed inland, trees were cleared, farming and other industries began and roads developed.
Kenauk is actually the remnant of a seigneury, where the lord hunted and fished in this park that is now open to the public.
These days, come to Kenauk and rent a cabin overlooking your own, personal lake. My husband, Eric, and I stayed at a cabin called Trois Pointes, overlooking a lake of the same name. Barbecues are provided, as is a full kitchen and all linens. You bring your food, wine, and all beverages (including coffee). A kayak and canoe (with paddles) are provided, as is a shallow motorboat (with oars) if you wish to fish.
A dock makes swimming easy and I can tell you that swimming beneath the canopy of stars is… awe-inspiring.
What else to do here? I recommend you take the two-hour safari (in season) to view Kenauk’s blonde bears.
Blondes have more fun
Yes: blondes do have more fun here at Kenauk, because these rare bears which represent only 1% of the bear population in Québec, represent 25% of the population in this park. That’s because hunting is not permitted here.
These bears are a colour morph of black bears. This means they’re genetically the same species as the more common black bears. Black sows can have blonde, red, or black cubs; a blonde female may have a blonde cub but is just as likely to have a black one. So, they’re both rare and wondrous to see and photograph.
The two-hour safari is led by Kenauk naturalist-guides where you travel in a safari truck to two viewing platforms. Corn mixed with peanuts serves as a cache to attract them, and my husband and I were absolutely intrigued to see these blondes for the first time in our lives. Go and try to see these amazing creatures for yourselves by booking either through Le Château Montebello, or Kenauk Nature.
There are other outdoorsy activities here in Kenauk, too, such as skeet-shooting and hiking, skiing and snowshoeing in winter. And if you wish, you can even arrange to have the Le Château Montebello chef prepare a meal and have it delivered to your cabin.
As an “insider’s tip” from a Québecker as well as a Canadian, I believe that visiting Kenauk and Fairmont Le Château Montebello represents a quintessential peek into what makes Canada tick: pristine nature and fabulous heritage resorts.
Manoir Papineau National Historic Site of Canada
This manor home is steeped in Québec history, being an easy stroll from Le Château Montebello because it’s literally connected to that resort via a broad driveway.
The Manoir takes the name of Louis-Joseph Papineau, a firebrand politician, lawyer, and leader of Lower Canada’s Patriote Movement. (Footnote to history: Québec was formerly called “Lower Canada”). He participated in the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837-38 against British rule, was exiled, and lived in America and France prior to returning here in 1845.
Built between 1848-50, Papineau served as architect, farmer, designer and gardener. Both French and American architectural details enliven the home: the north façade recalls a mid-19th Century North Carolinian antebellum plantation style, while the asymmetrical south side overlooking the Ottawa River is French, featuring two differently-shaped turrets. We can imagine in days of old, boats plying the river, where passengers gazed at this imposing manor home.
For these reasons, it’s no wonder Parks Canada preserves Manoir Papineau as a national historic site.
Either explore the grounds on your own or take guided tours of the home’s interior with Parks Canada staff. In 2015, many special Manoir experiences were launched, whereby visitors could “take tea with Madame Papineau”, or learn about such things as chocolate-making via talks with Gaëtan Tessier, the chocolatier from adjacent Chocomotive. So check out the Manoir Papineau’s website to see what’s happening and to plan your trip.
Love chocolate? Want to learn more about it, at a chocolate economuseum? Then run don’t walk from Le Château Montebello to the village’s former train station, where you’ll meet the ever-ebulient Gaëtan Tessier, chocolatier supremo. Ask him anything at all about chocolate and he’ll grin, then start spinning delicious stories about how he envisioned and created this chocolaterie.
A chocolaterie is a place which makes and sells chocolate confections. An Economuseum (Economusée en français) is a museum which celebrates and keeps alive traditional artisinal crafts.
Here find everything from fabulously delicious confections (chocolate covered ginger, pralines in chocolate for instance); white, dark or milk chocolate bars – either plain or featuring hot chili peppers, caramel, salt and so on; chocolate drinks and much, much more.
And, as part of the Economuseum, watch the skilled chocolatiers making Easter bunnies, valentine hearts, Christmas fare and more behind a glassed manufacturing area.
What’s next? Visit Camp Explora and get some exercise!
Honestly, Le Château Montebello is the key to accessing this venue, too, because Camp Explora is located in the former gardener’s and groundskeeper’s “cottage” on the property. Enter here to discover a fascinating little museum outlining the history of Montebello.
But that’s not all…
While everyone’s heard of ATVs (Quads), here at Camp Explora you can try out electric and solar geo-carts. Eric and I loved this place, because you get to test your navigational skills using an iPad as a navigational guide, while driving one of the geocarts. Following the iPad’s instructions, we headed off to locate several “treasures” during a 1 ½-hour drive through forested paths, paved back roads and muddy, rocky terrain.
As you go, you’ll be answering all sorts of historical questions – a great way to learn more about Montebello’s history.
Another fun fact is that Camp Explora is home to Canada’s only Land Rover Experience Driving School. Why not come over and take a course?
Want to drive through a fenced park to see wolves, deer, bison and other critters up close and personal? Want to stroll along forested paths or even stay overnight in a wildlife preserve? Drive to Parc Omega, five minutes north of Montebello, buy some carrots to feed the animals from the safety of your vehicle, then drive through this amazing park on paved driveways. Always remain inside your car.
Open all four seasons, Parc Omega is a local favourite for Ottawa and Montréal residents who’ll bring their children here time after time. It’s special not only because of the drive-through and being able to feed the deer and wild boars from your car.
There are interpretive trails, too. One describes the eleven First Nations Aboriginal Nations of Québec. And, a “trading post” showcases that part of Canada and Québec’s history.
Come March, the season of maple syrup is upon us, if the weather cooperates, and now’s the time to learn how this sweet treat is made.
So, come for the critters, come for the learning: this park is fun.
Brasseurs de Montebello
Love craft beer? The craft beer industry is booming here in Canada and Québec’s Montebello is no exception. And everyone knows exploring on foot or geo-cart makes us thirsty, right?
Here try such microbrewery delights as refreshing Kenauk ale or Fantôme d’Ézilda, a strong beer. Do remember that alcohol levels are higher in most craft beers – and enjoy yourself.
Okay so many claim that Québeckers favourite food is poutine – a heart stopping, totally decadent concoction if there ever was one. Think crisply delicious hand-cut French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. That’s “the classic” although chefs at such places as Délice Champêtre have adapted this basic recipe, where a variety of toppings are made.
Come here for a quick hamburger, European sausages or Belgian waffles – many simple indulgences are on-offer.
Remember my anecdote about Louis-Joseph Papineau being the leader of Les Patriotes? This fromagerie – cheesemaking shop – makes a fabulous veined blue cheese called Rebellion 1837, which recalls the famous rebellion of that year. And yes, of course you can taste it, or any of the other fine cheeses they make here, prior to making your purchases. Plural.
For all these reasons and more, come to Montebello, where you’ll find fine gourmet foods through to simply iconic Canadian experiences. Then? Drive the 1.5 hours to Montréal and take in its sights or, explore other picturesque little hamlets such as Ripon… but that’s another roadie trip!
Katharine and Eric Fletcher were the guests of Outaouais Tourism during their adventures in Montebello