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The simple majesty of the Fairmont Chateau Montebello

FAIRMONT LE CHATEAU MONTEBELLO, QUEBEC – An airy, woodsy lobby like no other. A graceful spot along one of Canada’s loveliest rivers. And impossibly vibrant fall colours.

I haven’t heard as much about the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello as I have other Fairmont properties, but it’s as lovely a property as I’ve seen.

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The drive in from Montreal was an easy 90 minutes, passing Mirabel Airport and the town of Lachute and then passing through lovely, low hills with views of sleepy towns backed by the broad Ottawa River. The latter part is a lovely drive, particularly if you get off Highway 50 and take the smaller roads that snake along the river’s edge.

The hotel is reached via a long driveway with towering trees on either side, as if you’re entering a park. Pretty soon you spot a low-rise, dark wood structure that looks more like an old-time log cabin than a luxury hotel.

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Inside you’ll find an immense, multi-sided (I counted eight sides but I might have been dreaming) lobby with a soaring ceiling, enormous, dark wood pillars and a massive, central fireplace built of various types of stone. The main lobby area is filled with just-right, comfortable couches and sofas. They also have a series of resting areas in the wooden balconies they’ve built along the perimeter, with more spots where you nestle and read a book or have a quiet conversation while you look down towards the fireplace or across the lobby to the other side. I spotted a few backgammon and checkers/chess tables, along with fun photos of world leaders who gathered here for the G7 summit in 1981 (including photos of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and a fun one of U.S. President Ronald Reagan driving a golf cart).

I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it in other hotels, and it gives the property a wonderful, airy feeling. And very woodsy and homey, like a giant cottage you might build for a few hundred of your closest friends. In fact, it’s billed as the world’s largest log cabin.

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The rooms are built in spokes that emanate from the central building. I was at the far end of one of the wings, with a good-sized room that echoed the natural feel of the lobby; a carved wooden bear desk lamp, exposed wood beams on the ceiling and a dark, wooden head board fronted by a crisp, white duvet. The bathroom was good-sized with a shower and a tub, and I also had a sofa and a coffee maker.

The grounds are marvellous; with sweeping lawns, a large marina dotted with beautiful boats and a long frontage along the Ottawa River, which is several hundred meters across and feels more like a lake here than a river. There are a couple of gazebos and nice benches and Muskoka chairs right along the river; a perfect spot to watch the sunrise or sunset, or to gaze over at the cottages and homes on the opposite bank, which is Ontario.

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The 300-acre property features a walking trail of about 5 km, with towering birch and pine trees and maples that were as colourful as any I’ve seen in Canada; brilliant yellows and pumpkin oranges and brilliant reds the colour of an RCMP tunic.

There’s a playground for kids out front, as well as a small mini-putt course, tennis courts and a seasonal outdoor pool. They also offer canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, bicycling and ATV rentals.

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The hotel has a fantastic indoor pool inside another wooden building that’s flooded with natural light from enormous windows, as well as a couple of hot tubs and a squash court. There’s even a tunnel to take you from the hotel to the pool so you won’t get frosty in winter.

Speaking of winter, they also have a curling rink and offer dogsled rides, snowmobile trips, sleigh rides and cross-country skiing on 26 km’s of groomed trails. There are a couple of ice rinks, and they’ll even lend you hockey sticks and pucks.

There’s a wonderful-looking golf course affiliated with the hotel that’s just a minute or two away, as well. There’s a well-regarded spa, too, but I didn’t get the chance to try it out.

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Quebec is renowned for its great food, and the Fairmont Montebello doesn’t disappoint in that category either. Their main restaurant was serving an incredibly rich cream of onion soup with smoked gouda when I was there. The beef was tender as can be, and they also have lots of local cheeses you can choose from.

Breakfast is always a big deal to me, and they came through with flying colours: an omelette station, Swiss birchermuesli, British baked beans, several types of yogurt and smoothies and plenty of meats and cheeses. Not to mention a wide selection of fruit that included melons and perfect pineapple.

It’s a gorgeous part of Quebec, with a rolling, gentle countryside and marvellous views of the Ottawa River. I took the long way back to Montreal, driving north towards Tremblant on a lovely road that swoops and swirls over large hills and skirts past glittering lakes. It’s a fantastic drive that I’d love to do again, especially if we get another autumn display like this year’s.

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I didn’t have time for Tremblant, but I did poke around the shops and galleries in the tourist town of Saint-Sauveur, which feels like a Quebec version of Carmel, California to me. There were several restaurants with nice patios. I was there in mid-October but it felt more like June or early September, with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees and folks rolling through town with convertible roofs down.

If you’re into that sort of thing, there’s a large Premium Outlets mall on the way from Saint-Sauveur to Montreal.

ALL PHOTOS BY JIM BYERS

Got a comment or complaint? Email me: jim@jimbyerstravel.com. You also can follow me on Twitter:@jimbyerstravel. And on Instagram: @jimbyerstravel1

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