It was our first weekend away together (that wasn’t camping in the rain) since the pandemic had started. After two years of cancelled plans and being beset by other far more personal and heartbreaking events, we had finally found a dog-sitter and had booked a hotel room for two nights at Mont Tremblant. Yes, it was November, which is shoulder season – not the best time to visit. The fall colours were all gone and the snow hadn’t arrived yet but we didn’t care. We were getting out of Dodge and looking forward to sparking our sense of romance and adventure again!
It was just over a 2 hour drive from Ottawa to Mont Tremblant, a place neither of us had been. We aren’t obstacle racers or skiers so we’d figured it was only for sporty types. Then a friend who isn’t overly sporty told me all about the restaurants, the hikes, the shops, the gondola and just the prettiness and proximity of everything in the village itself.
We had decided this was going to be our anniversary weekend (even though our anniversary is in December). And to celebrate, we vowed not to be cheap! We would buy the things we fancied, stop for coffee and treats, lounge in bed with a book, eat until bursting, drink until wobbly! We’d saved enough over the past year and a half of doing nothing that we deserved to let loose! (By let loose, I usually mean, eat chocolate and nap.)
We left at around 11 am on a Friday. The longest part of the journey was just getting out of Ottawa. But after that, we set cruise control, found some good tunes and marveled at the idea that we were actually getting away for a weekend and plans hadn’t been cancelled at the last minute due to COVID. Praise Jesus.
Other than a few restaurant and hike recommendations from friends, we had no plans and no idea what awaited us. We arrived around 3 pm and checked into the Holiday Inn Suites. It’s an older hotel with the standard beige walls and brown carpets, slightly worn counters and tables, but comfortable, clean and friendly. We booked a suite so we had a kitchenette, a small table to eat breakfast at and a small sofa as well. We had a view of the mountain and the gondola went right past our window. Which would have been entertaining to watch had it been running.
I had never really been to a ski resort like this before. Once we had unpacked our food and wine, we headed out to just wander the village and see what it had to offer on a Friday afternoon in shoulder season.
As it turned out, not much. The streets were cobbled, there was definitely a European air to the buildings and everything was within only a few minutes walk of each other, which was lovely. But most restaurants and shops were closed. I guess we weren’t really surprised by this given that the fall colours were over and ski season hadn’t started yet. Some of the restaurants would only open at dinnertime. Surely the shops would open on Saturday? But no. Like everywhere else in Canada, Mont Tremblant had been hit by the labour shortage and lockdowns and many stores would not be open until further notice. That Friday afternoon, as we walked past shuttered shops and empty patios, it felt a bit like a ghost town. We were slightly underwhelmed but weren’t exactly disappointed because we knew that the crowds at this resort during the high seasons must be insane so we had a quiet and relaxing weekend ahead of us. A little boho non-Starbucks cafe that offered gluten-free treats was open, as was the SAQ (the liquor store) and a general store, and that’s all we needed!
There were still small shops open that sold treats like chocolates, ice cream and my all-time favourite maple taffy! To me, being able to have maple taffy on a stick is the epitome of Quebec. I haven’t been to Quebec very often but going during Carnivale or visiting a cabane a sucre and tasting some of this liquid maple gold are some of my favourite memories.
After our short meander through of the village, we headed back to the hotel room to freshen up for dinner. Due to the COVID restrictions, we weren’t keen on waiting in line outside if these fairly small restaurants filled up so we decided to partake of an early-ish dinner for around 5:30. We had scoped out the menus on our walk and we knew exactly where we wanted to go.
Le Q.G. Resto-Pub. It’s menu features interesting dishes with wild game and fowl, local cheeses and frankly, any place that offers a plate of cheese for dessert is my kind of restaurant. They already offered dishes that were gluten-free but they were also quite accommodating. For example, the fries were not gf but they replaced them with a vegetable puree which doesn’t sound very exciting but in fact was divine. I had a bun-less burger and Bob had the wild game sausages.
There were wooden tables covered in brown paper with illustrations of the cuts of meat, food was served in tin baskets lined with red checked paper, red metal bar chairs lined the bar, and a variety of hits ranging through the last four decades from Johnny Cash, to UB40 to The Mamas and The Papas to the Killers played in the background. There were approximately ten tables in this cozy gastro-pub and in order to comply with COVID protocols, they had installed heavy clear plastic curtains between tables. We were glad to have gotten there fairly early. At 5:30, we were the second table to be seated but by 6:00, the place was full. Even though by the time we left, the line-up to get in was ten parties deep, we not once felt rushed by staff.
Then again, we were sticking to our promise to enjoy ourselves. After a starter of escargot, two entrées, two beers for Bob and two glasses of wine for myself, and then of course, the dessert platter of fruit and cheese, the bill came to around $175. Which of course, almost made me choke. But really, the whole point was to celebrate being able to get away on a holiday so I quickly made my peace with it. The food was delicious and we basically rolled ourselves down the hill 200m to the hotel where we got into our pjs, hopped into bed with MORE wine and then fell asleep with the lights and TV on by about 9 pm. If you’re old like us, you know, that’s a party.
The next morning, before we picked up breakfast down in the hotel restaurant, we sauntered the 500m to Au Grain de Cafe for a real coffee and some morning pastries. The hotel offered a full breakfast and due to COVID protocols had been turned into a cafeteria style, take-to-your-room operation. It was a fairly standard hotel breakfast but it was large – with hardboiled eggs, bacon, toast, juice, coffee, yogurt, fruit and cereal. We kept the fruit and yogurt in the mini fridge for snacks later on in the day.
The morning was bright and sunny. It was chilly but we brought appropriate outer wear. The one thing we knew we were going to do was go on a hike so we had planned accordingly. The trail network around Mont Tremblant is vast and you could do a short, steep jaunt up to look down on the village, or you could extend your hike upwards of 20km, reaching the summit of the mountain. We had taken a photo of the trail map instead of actually taking a map but the trail markers aren’t really clear sometimes so we also used my All Trails app for GPS location.
The trail we started on was Vertigo. It meandered through beautiful woods, with gorgeous rock and water features. It also passed behind some of the other accommodations – the more expensive ones with hot tubs on their patios and such. We really slowed down once we started to actually climb the mountain. We were aiming for a view but after taking a few wrong turns, we found ourselves heading back down the mountain. Hiking uphill also made us quickly realize that our physical endurance for hiking uphill had seriously waned over the course of the pandemic. I had a whole new respect for those crazy obstacle racers that pay money to run up these hills with sandbags.
When we reached the village again, we noticed a steep trail heading straight up the mountain alongside the chairlift. It was packed with tourists heading up. If I wanted a view, that would be it. So we plodded up the stairs, amongst the day-trippers, many dressed as they would be in the city, trying to keep some sort of distance between us and failing, waiting for photos to be taken so we didn’t have to pass on the narrow wooden stairs, shaking our heads at how many people completely disregarded the signage of “Don’t walk here.” and after a few minutes, broke free from the crowd and walked out into the middle of the ski hill.
It was beautiful. I could just imagine how beautiful this little resort would be in the winter, or in the fall. On the way back, we headed down the more direct – and much less crowded – way, straight down the middle of the ski hill.
It was around noon and we decided to go back to the hotel, jump in the Jeep and head to the antique shops in the surrounding villages. On our way to Tremblant the day before, we had driven through Brebeuf, a small village about 20 minutes outside of Tremblant and noticed several antique shops. A quick Google search showed us that there were three in Brebeuf and also one in St. Jovite, the village closest to the resort. We exercised considerable restraint and only came back to the hotel room with two LP’s.
St. Jovite is a small village also known as Mont Tremblant and it is also quite charming, with restaurants, bars, clothing stores, a grocery store and other local stores to pop into, should you be strolling around the town.
When we got back to the village, we chilled in the hotel room for several hours, reading and watching TV (which is exciting for us since we don’t have a TV) and then around 6:30, headed out for dinner.
This time we hit a restaurant called La Diable, just across the cobblestoned street from the QG. It was larger than the QG and was already almost full. It had a lot of gluten-free options though its menu was a more traditional pub fare. I ordered the gluten-free poutine (because it’s so rare) and a Caesar salad. Bob had wild game sausages again and we ordered a bottle of organic red wine.
Once again, we ate and drank heartily and enjoyed a style of relaxed date-night conversation that we hadn’t had for a very long time, not having been out on a date for a very long time. It was becoming evident how long the pandemic and lockdowns had gone on for and how much they had taken out of us and from us. We were exhausted – emotionally and mentally – and our daily lives had become simply trying to get to the next day without losing our minds with the boredom of staying at home. We talked about the future and things we’d like to do, instead of the number of COVID patients in hospital or what new restrictions had come out. Here we were, sitting in a restaurant that was bustling with life and it felt the way life should feel; as if we were a part of something alive and hopeful, instead of living in a world governed by fear and suspicion.
We headed back to our hotel to once again, enjoy the ordinariness of a hotel room – the luxury of fluffy duvets, no aging dogs to medicate, a million channels on TV, delicious leftovers (I see absolutely nothing wrong with sitting in bed with a glass of wine and what’s left of the cheese platter from the night before) and because it was the end of Daylight Savings an extra hour of sleep! Could this weekend get any better??
Oh yes, it could. On our way home, we were taking a tour of Parc Omega – a wildlife conservation park that we had heard of but had never been to. It was another site that we passed on our way to Tremblant and decided to do on our way back.
We booked tickets for 10:00 am entry so we went to Au Grain again for our morning coffee, grabbed our take away hotel breakfast, packed up our bags and headed out. Parc Omega is halfway between Tremblant and Ottawa so it took us about an hour to get there.
Once again, we lucked out with weather. Cool but sunny. The wildlife would be out. Tickets were $30 per person, not per car, and the website says it takes about 3 hours to go through the whole park (the 12km driving route) but there are walks, picnic areas, restaurants and interactive areas so you could easily spend the whole day here.
A small part of me wondered if it would be worth it to see animals that are so Canadian – arctic foxes, moose, deer, coyotes, etc. These are animals that we have experience with hiking, hunting, camping in the woods or sometimes even just staying at our cabin, we hear the coyotes yip and see the bear tracks on the muddy road. But indeed, it is worth every penny.
You can buy bags of carrots that aren’t overpriced to feed to the deer through your windows (it was rutting season so we weren’t allowed to feed the males). There are boars, deer, moose, caribou, black bears, foxes, arctic foxes, coyotes, eagles, mountain goats and the list goes on. All in their natural habitat. You can tune into the park’s radio station (because there’s no cell reception as soon as you pass through the gates) for more information about the animals. Bring your long lens for some spectacular photos.
When we were finished, we started on our way back to Ottawa. But we had one small adventure left. Instead of driving the same way back to Ottawa via Hwy 50, we decided to cross to Ontario via the Montebello-Lefaivre ferry. We had never taken any of the Ontario-Quebec ferries so we added it to our weekend of firsts. It was 8$ and only a 10-minute wait for a 5-minute crossing. Then we were back into Ontario with an hour to drive until home.