Montebello: A log cabin with classBy John MacDonald
Maggie Thatcher was impressed when she
visited Le Château Montebello hotel. And it takes a fair bit to impress
the "Iron Lady" of British politics. She called it the largest
log cabin in the world, as have many others before and since.
Le Château Montebello, however, is much
more than a mere log cabin --- it is a red cedar log cabin with CLASS.
Once a very exclusive private club, it is now one of Canada's most
glamorous and gracious hotels with 210 rooms and suites in a spectacular
setting of 65,000 acres of forest, mountains and lakes. The hotel lies in
the heart of a 100-square mile private estate on the Quebec shore of the
Ottawa River, between Ottawa and Montreal.
As soon as you enter the lobby, you know you are in for something special.
The rustic charm and elegance of Montebello unfolds in the lobby with its
three-storey atrium, featuring a massive six-sided fireplace. The interior
balconies, stairs and beams surrounding the lobby, also of red cedar,
glisten as the flames dance in the huge fireplace. A far cry from the
usual sterile decor of concrete, steel and plastic in modern hotels.
"From the moment our guests step
inside, they are taken back to a grander time. A time when hotels were
built by craftsmen and hospitality still meant a rich ambience in which to
relax, play or conduct business," comments Werner Sapp, Montebello's
courtly and genial general manager. The resort is built on what once was a
17th-century Seigniorial estate. It was purchased by Quebec's prominent
Papineau family in 1801. They built the grand Manor House, a focal point
for Quebec social and political festivities for many decades. The imposing
19th-century house has been restored to its former glory and stands near
the hotel. Designated as a National Historic Site, Manoir-Papineau is open
during the summer as a museum. Try to take one of the guided tours which
describes the life of Louis-Joseph Papineau, one of Quebec's revered early
The massive wooden structure was
completed in 1930 and opened as the Seigniory Club, an ultra-private
retreat whose elite membership included the mandarins of Canadian business
and politics, such as former prime minister Lester Pearson. International
members included Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Prince Rainier and
Princess Grace of Monaco. Among the many titled visitors was the Prince of
Wales who revisited when he became the Duke of Windsor.
In Feb. 1930, the site where Le Château
Montebello now stands was just a clearing in the woods. Four months later
it opened, a construction marvel which attracted attention throughout
A construction team of 3,500 craftsmen
and laborers worked around the clock. First they built a spur from the
nearby rail line which ran from Montreal to Ottawa. The new line
transported 1,200 carloads of timbers and building materials. The
craftsmen used more than 10,000 giant red cedar logs to build the resort's
three main buildings, all cut and set by hand. The project was the dream
of a Swiss-American named Hubert Saddlemire, who was inspired by the
chateaux of the Swiss Alps. He dubbed the project
In 1970, after 40 years as a private
club, the resort was taken over by Canadian Pacific Hotels, who re-named
it Le Château Montebello. It quickly became one of Canada's prime
resorts. Since it's opening, Le Château Montebello has hosted the
powerful and famous of the world -- the 1981, Economic G7 conference, a
1983 meeting of NATO chiefs of state. In 1995, an unusual conference was a
"tasty" gathering of the chefs of the world's leaders, including
Jean Chrétien's and Bill Clinton's. They cooked up a gourmet storm.
Sapp strives to keep Montebello at the
top of the culinary rankings. For example, in 1995 CP Hotels launched the
best-selling Northern Bounty, a celebration of Canadian cuisine a
cross-Canada exploration of this country's culinary heritage edited by
well-known food writers Anita Stewart and Jo Marie Powers. To launch the
book, Montebello's chefs created a weekend of culinary excellence.
Montebello is a blend of both old and
new, the best of both worlds. For example, the large, comfortable bedrooms
are filled with the latest electronic gadgets, including air conditioning.
However, you're not trapped within the usual hermetically sealed hotel
room --- the windows open to let in the delightful country breezes and
sounds from the surrounding forest. In 1995, the National Trust for
Historic Preservation, a prestigious U.S. heritage organization, awarded a
membership to Le Château Montebello, one of only two Canadian hotels so
honored. The other Canadian member is the ageless and elegant Empress
Hotel of Victoria, B.C., also a Canadian Pacific property.
For those who want to get away from it
all, there is Kenauk, the Seigniory of Montebello, 10 km (6 miles) away.
Also operated by Canadian Pacific, as part of the Le Château Montebello
package, Kenauk is a 100-square-mile private preserve with more than 70
lakes and 65,000 acres of protected habitat for moose, deer, bear, wolf,
coyote, fox, beaver, mink and muskrat wildlife. Accessible only to hotel
guests, it is a wilderness paradise sheltered by vast forests of maple,
oak, pine and hemlock.
Scattered among Kenauk's lakes and
beaver ponds are 13 private chalets ranging in size from one to three
bedrooms. Guests can either commute from Le Château Montebello or stay in
one of the chalets and fish for trout, pike, bass or salmon. Or you can
just sit back and enjoy the peace and serenity. Several cabins are located
on their own private lake with most modern conveniences with two
exceptions: no intrusive telephones or television sets.
Not far from Montebello are a host of
attractions, such as the Montebello Train Station, now a historical centre;
and the Pioneer Museum displaying artifacts of the lifestyle of area's
settlers in the last century. The Hull Chelsea Wakefield Steam train
operates throughout the summer with trips around the scenic Gatineau
Valley. One of Canada's last operating steam trains, "Le Petit
Train" chugs along a 64-km route from Hull to the village of
Wakefield and back. Another treat is a river cruise, including a jaunt up
to Ottawa and back.
But all in all, there is plenty to keep
guests completely content within the 65,000-acre estate including indoor
and outdoor swimming pools, golf on a championship par 70 course,
river-rafting, canoeing, tennis, fishing, and horseback riding. Absolutely
something for everyone.
Le Château Montebello is located on highway 148 between Ottawa and
Montreal. For information and reservations, call toll-free 1-800-441-1414.
© May 1997 CARPNews
Reprinted with permission.