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a winter staycation: montebello two ways

As I've mentioned before, one of my favourite spots the winter is Fairmont's Château Montebello, located just outside the little village of Montebello and less than an hour's drive east of downtown Ottawa. Last winter my husband and I went for the very first time (while we were renovating our condo and were sans bathroom, eep) and fell in love it it. Even though it was just a quick drive down Autoroute 50 we felt like we were hours away from work, our renos, and everyday life basically.

From the moment you drive through Montebello's beautiful wooden gates, it feels like you're shifting down a gear or three. You check your phone less often, hit the skiing trails, curl up by the fire with a good book and a glass of mulled wine, and unplug. The staff are wonderful and everything you could possibly want to do, eat, or drink is right there. It's exquisite.

This winter I was lucky enough to visit Montebello twice: once with my girlfriends then a few weeks later with my hubby. I'm pretty spoiled, right? So I'm serving up this little staycation two ways: whether you go with friends or your other half, you're gonna have a great time at the world's biggest log cabin.

the first way: with your pals

At the end of January I brought my friends Amy and Stacey to Montebello for their first stay (and Stace has a fantastic blog called Not Just Baby Brain, go follow her!). The three of us grew up together in small town Ontario and have been friends for decades. Since these days we don't see each other as often as we'd like, we started an annual tradition of getting together for a girls' weekend so we can have a proper catch-up. We've done Prince Edward County, last year we did Château Laurier, and this year we decided on Montebello.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, threw on our fluffy bathrobes, and headed straight for the pool. The pool is GORGEOUS with exposed log walls, a vaulted ceiling painted with seahorses and ladybugs, and the entrance to the spa is there too and has everything you'll need for a relaxing afternoon: towels (no need to bring 'em from your room), a stash of magazines, beautiful wooden loungers, flutter boards, pool noodles, the works. Plus two hot tubs. After a swim we had a nice long soak and enjoyed the chance to catch up.

For dinner we'd opted to do DIY, and brought a slew of charcuterie, cheeses, jams, chutneys, fresh bread, wine, you name it. Each room has a little mini bar fridge which is neither huge nor super cold, but it's perfect for tossing in a few meats and cheeses. We turned the desk in our room into a serving board, noshed on our delicious eats, and popped open a bottle of Hinterland Wine Company's Whitecap sparkling (to congratulate ourselves on pulling off this yearly trip of ours).

After dinner we donned our stretchy pants and cozy sweaters and headed to the fireplace. FYI, at Montebello it's totally legit to walk around in your slippers and bathrobe/stretchy pants/you name it. It's glorious. So we settled in by the fire and sipped martinis and Manhattans while Stacey taught Amy and I to play Exploding Kittens. Catching up with some of your best gals + people-watching by a roaring fire = a pretty exceptional night in.

The next morning we woke up early and hit the pool again (what a treat!) then headed off to brunch. Montebello has two brunch options: their "regular" brunch which by any standard is pretty massive, then on the weekends they have an additional brunch option that's truly insane. Like crazy big. People rave about it and drive to Montebello just for their fabled brunch (and I don't blame them), but we weren't feeling a huge meal so we opted for the regular brunch (which is also half the price at about $25/person).

Our mini brunch included maple butter crêpes, french toast, an omelette station, scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, Québecois beans, bacon, breakfast sausages, smoothies, yogurt, parfaits, mueseli, fresh juice, bagels, smoked salmon, croissants (still warm!), muffins, danish, toast, oatmeal, cereal, oodles of fresh fruit, cheese plates, and bottomless tea and coffee. Yup, that's the smaller brunch. SO GOOD.

After our ginormous breakfast we decided to walk the grounds of Montebello to let our food babies process. We met the dog sled teams and wandered by the horses' stable (they have sleigh rides!) over to the Papineau Estate. After a good walk around we reluctantly packed up the car and headed back to Ottawa and back to reality.

the second way: with your other half

So that was my weekend away with the girls. Then my hubby and I went back just a few weeks later for a belated Valentine's Day getaway and to celebrate my new job at Givopoly (buh-bye government!). We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and even though the hotel was sold-out all weekend due to Montebello's ski marathon (how amazing is that?!) the staff had our room ready ahead of schedule and even upgraded us to a spacicious suite. Get a load of this:

Don't you just want to pack your bags and go like RIGHT NOW? Seriously. It's like staying at a cottage you don't have to take care of. Absolute perfection. Our room had a seating area with two armchairs, plaid blankets, desk, TV, mini bar, coffee maker, Fairmont teas (!!!), and three big, bright windows plus a forth little one in the bathroom. Not your usual hotel room, eh?

It was about lunch time when we arrived so we left our bags in our homey suite and headed to Château Montebello's on-site restaurant, Aux Chatignoles. The staff seated us at a table overlooking the frozen Ottawa River, and both of us instantly settled on the burger since we remembered it being delicious the year before. And we thought "what the heck, we'll be snowshoeing all afternoon, we deserve this." It didn't disappoint.

A beef patty with no filler, topped with cheese, bacon, a Montreal pickle, and the fixings. All of it on a brioche bun that held together despite the juicy patty. Plus a side of perfectly crispy fries served with all the mayo I could possibly want (I'm a condiment girl). YUM.

Then it was time for some snowshoeing to work off those burgers! We strapped on our shoes and hit the trails. We circled the hotel then headed down to the banks of the frozen Ottawa River. We passed the horses' stable and reached the neighbouring Papineau Estate, which has its own church, school house, and a funeral chapel hidden away further into the woods. We discovered we were actually much closer to the village of Montebello than we thought, and one of the trails will take you right into town in about 15-20 minutes. As the sun began to set we turned back toward the hotel and hit the pool (because that pool).

We then headed to the fireplace to nab a couch and dive into some books (with an Old Fashioned in hand, of course). I could spend all day every day next to that fire, it just never gets old. By nightfall skiiers who'd been competing in Montebello's ski marathon were reaching the finish line at the hotel, and everyone around the fireplace cheered as the skiiers arrived with their impressive medals. Well deserved after a 2-day, 77km trek! I couldn't imagine. Anyhoo, we spent the whole evening relaxing by the fire and taking in the people watching.

Now, if you've been to Montebello before you'll notice one significant difference this year: sadly, Montebello's four-legged host with the most, a lovely golden retriever named Monte, no longer greets guests by the fire. I found out he was recently claimed by cancer at the tender age of five, and his absence certainly leaves a hole in the hearts of all of us who spent entire afternoons petting him as he patiently sat next to us.

Monte was a retired seeing-eye dog and had the most incredible temperment of any pup you've every met: calm, collected, and he always spent equal time with everyone around the fire. I was terribly sad to hear of his passing and particularly at such a young age. He truly made Montebello all the more special. But in chatting with the hotel staff during our stay, I learned they may adopt a new dog as early as this summer. My fingers are crossed because four-legged hosts are the best hosts.

So those were my two winter getaways. Now, when I'd mention in conversation that I was heading to Montebello, the immediate reaction of several folks was "Wow, must be nice. That place is expensive!" Which isn't entirely true. Sure, if you splash out for a posh suite on a holiday weekend, it'll cost ya. As it will anywhere. But I recently spent more on a very un-fancy motel in teeny Campbellford, Ontario than I spent at Château Montebello. How? Read on.

getting the most out of montebello

Sign up for Fairmont's President's Club: it sounds fancy but the Fairmont President's Club is free to join and gets you free perks like a dedicated check-in desk, free wifi, and pretty incredible deals at all of Fairmont's properties (think $139 and up for Montebello).

Plan your stay on off-days: if you can manage a stay between Sunday and Thursday, not only will you benefit from fewer people on the trails, by the fire, and in the pool, you can score great nightly rates and best of all, deals at the spa. Like $155 for two 45-minute treatments of your choice.

Plan a day trip: if you can't get away for an overnight trip, make a day of it: right now Montebello's spa is offering a pretty wild Monday-Thursday deal: $99 for a full day at the spa, including a 45-minute massage or facial, a bento box lunch, a glass of sparkling wine, and full access to the pool, whirlpool, dry sauna, and the spa's lounge. Not to mention plenty of Fairmont tea -- try the Montebello blend: apple and cinnamon!

Pack some snacks: if you plan on skiing or snowshowing on Montebello's many trails (free access included with your stay!) you'll want to bring along some snacks since pickins at the gift shop are mostly candy bars and such. Pack nuts, fruit, heck, even some Seed to Sausage for a hit of energy.

Find out what's free: Montebello offers dogsledding and horse-drawn sleigh rides (each is about $25 per person), which are both completely lovely and I totally recommend. But if you're on a budget that's okay too! All year round Montebello offers a whole whack of activities covered by the resort fee that's added to your room rate, and I'm not just talking wifi and pool access. In the winter time you can take advantage of 42km of groomed cross country trails, 2 outdoor ice rinks rinks, 5 km of snowshoeing trails, use their hockey sticks and pucks, take curling lessons for beginners, and enjoy free rentals of cross-country skis, skates, and snowshoes. For real.

Bundle up and get your buns to Montebello. Shoot me a note, tweet, or DM if you go, I'd love to hear your experience!

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