by Marti Mayne
With February vacation week coming up, the question last month was where to take the family adventure vacation this year. It needed to be within driving distance, and it had to be a destination where my husband and two teenage girls would enjoy. As a contributor to EasternSlopes.com, we knew our journey must involve active outdoor adventure and as a B&B lover, we wanted something that was as much lodge-or-inn-like as possible. This is how we discovered a true gem in the Chaudière-Appalaches region of Canada, a 200km tourist region bordering Maine and the Province of Quebec on one side and the St. Lawrence River on the other, and within a five hour drive of our home in Yarmouth, Maine.
With the help of Sarah Moore at Chaudière-Appalaches Office of Tourism, we found the perfect treasure of a destination. Part adventure center, part boutique lodge and part spa, Appalaches Lodge Spa Villégiature is the ideal destination for those who love winter adventure, fine dining, relaxing spa services and spacious accommodations. Best of all, it’s within driving distance from most of New England and also Quebec. If you're looking for the perfect vacation to talk about around the water cooler, this is it!
Located in the town of Saint-Paul-de-Montminy, Appalaches Lodge Spa Villégiature is decidedly remote by design. Once there, you can’t help but feel you’re in a winter oasis. Everything you need from spa services to fine food, Indian tee-pees, snowmobiling, XC skiing and snowshoes, dogsledding, skating, tubing and so much more are right out the door. A true destination resort, if your choice of adventure isn’t there, it’s nearby.
Guests are welcomed at the main lodge where steam wafts from the Scandinavian baths and the smell of fine dining and wood fires combine into a sense of excitement from the time one arrives. Our family of four was welcomed enthusiastically as we entered as if they’d been anticipating our arrival with excitement. Trying our best to use what little French we knew, the front desk personnel were very gracious, speaking English to explain all that the resort offered. We found this to be true throughout our stay, and were happy to know that our “ne parle Français” was not a hindrance to communication.
Accommodations here are spacious in seven chalets, each with six guest rooms and a common living room, kitchenette, wood burning fireplace and deck. Each guest room offers two double beds and a private bath. Our family had the pleasure of a chalet all to ourselves, and we quickly spread settled into the comfortable accommodations with a roaring fire and a fine red wine. The chalets are each themed with a different animal – moose, eagle, wolf, dear, etc. Rod iron towel bars, chandeliers, and other décor bear the themed animal in each chalet. A nice touch.
Guests can opt to enjoy dinner at the main lodge or cook their own meals in the chalet’s fully applianced kitchenette. Most opt for dinner in the main lodge served in the main dining room with high ceilings accented with rustic birch logs, a full size pine tree and candlelight. If you enjoy fine dining, you’ll love the meals at the main lodge, which like us, most guests opt for. The first night we were treated to a four course meal from the menu bearing such selections as caribou, filet mignon and duck in a red wine reduction sauce. However, dining at Appalaches Lodge Spa Villégiature is dependent upon the clientele at the hotel, which caters to European groups often there in four or five different tours. With sixty percent of the clientele coming from tours via Air France and other European tour operators, it was not uncommon to see tables of ten to fifteen people in the dining room. When groups are present, meals are served buffet style, including a salad bar, pasta, soup, bread, two to three entrees and a variety of decadent desserts.
Ten years ago the Appalaches Lodge Spa Villégiature served as the base lodge for Grand Coulee ski area, which served the local area as a learning center. Local Lucien Dubé learned to ski there, and has come back full circle to serve as the head chef and general manager of the resort today. About a decade ago, a group of investors purchased the ski area, sank hundreds of thousands of dollars into it and converted it to a four-season resort geared toward the European traveler. Today, nearly a decade later it is a thriving lodge and adventure center, still hosting European groups and travelers from Quebec, Ontario and the U.S.
Plan to spend a few days here because the options for outdoor adventure are numerous. XC ski, snowshoe and dogsledding trails wind through the property. A full rental shop offers everything from heavy jackets, snowpants and boots that can be rented to skis, boots and poles to hockey skates, brooms for broom ball and a skating rink to enjoy it all on. It’s here one also rents snowmobiles and arranges for guides and tours, one of the many activities my husband opted for, enjoyed on a bluebird day. The guide took him to the top of the mountain behind the lodge on trails once hosting skiers.
While staying at Appalaches Lodge Spa Villégiature we were treated to a dogsled ride, an activity that simply thrilled our fourteen and twelve year old daughters. The lodge is home to 70 sled dogs used for dog sledding and ski journing in the winter and cani-rondo (hiking with dogs on bungees helping to pull one up the mountain) in the summer. We opted for a one-hour ride, and after a brief training period we were off in three sleds to explore the trails reserved exclusively for dogsleds with Cynthia, a former World Sled Dog Championship competitor and manager of the dog sledding operation. My husband and my oldest daughters drove, and I took a turn at it too. Managing six dogs each vying for dominance is harder than it looks, but adventurous, and being a passenger on a bluebird day through pristine woods is heaven. Afterward, our oldest proclaimed that driving the sled was better than Disney in her opinion. .
We finished the day off in the spa, with a spa experience starting with the Hammam wet sauna, then moving to an outdoor cold and hot series of Scandinavian baths beautifully surrounded by large rocks. My daughters and I melted as we finished off the experience in the dry sauna – not too hot and not too dry. It was the girls’ first spa experience and they are now thoroughly hooked.
Appalaches Lodge Spa Villégiature is an undiscovered treasure for American travelers in search of a winter adventure destination. Nearby Massif du Sud Adventure Park compliments the offerings with alpine and Nordic Skiing, backcountry Cat skiing and Heli-skiing too. And for the truly adventurous, try paraskiing (better known as kite skiing in the U.S.) with Paraski Aventure.
Nowhere in the Eastern U.S. can you find so much outdoor winter adventure in one region within driving distance of all points in New England. Even with a five day stay, there will still be activities on your bucket list awaiting time for more fun. Tu ne parle pas Français? No problem. While French is the first language, we found plenty of people willing and able to speak English, offering us the opportunity for personalized guided tours.
On the last day of our trip, we awoke to 16-inches of beautiful fluffy snow. Our car was buried, yet the lodge’s roads and the driveway to our chalet was plowed by 8am. Did we really have to leave? All that snow would be perfect for more snowmobiling, dogsledding, skating, XC skiing and snowshoeing! With heavy hearts we sadly bid farewell, but took a few hours to ski the powder at Mont Orignal on our way home!
When you go
Approximately 5 hours from Yarmouth, Maine and under 7 hour drive from Boston.
Winter (Dec 1 – March 31): Room rates begin at $120Cdn per room (plus taxes)
Most people opt for packages including an overnight stay, breakfast, dinner, use of all trails and Scandinavian baths: $132 per person (double occupancy + taxes). A wide variety of packages combining spa services, meal services, outdoor activities and accommodations are available. Click here for package descriptions: http://www.appalachesspa.com/with-lodging-en.html.
To learn more about visiting the Chaudiere Appalaches region of Quebec, go to http://www.chaudiereappalaches.com/en/home/ .