Railroad buffs have more than niche, often touristy, train rides to satisfy their cravings, they can also experience the railroad way of life by staying in the hotels the train lines built especially for their riders. In Canada that means the Fairmont brand of grand hotels.
Arguably the best known link in their chain of imposing castle-like accommodations is in Quebec – The Frontenac. Known more formally as Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, this turreted edifice towering over the Quebec skyline is celebrating its 120th year of service in 2013. Fresh off a multimillion dollar make-over, the grande dame of Fairmont hotels offers 600+ refurbished and redecorated rooms, meeting facilities and a fitness center, with dining in four beautifully appointed restaurants offering a full range of casual to haute cuisine.
The Frontenac was the original brainchild of William Van Horne, who was the General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late-19th century. He envisioned it as the ideal hotel for Canadian Pacific travelers. It was he who started its climb to the epitome of luxury accommodations it is today.
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has made every ‘best of’ list in every category, and is considered the top hotel in Canada. Located in the UNESCO World Heritage site of old Quebec City, one of the safest, historic and most-walkable cities in North America, the Frontenac is the ultimate pretend-you’re-a-railroad-magnate destination for train-lovers.
Moving on to other hotels in the Fairmont line, which, while they may be smaller are no less grand, can still involve taking the train. Not the Canadian Pacific line, but boarding a newly restored “Food Train” that runs on what were abandoned tracks along the St. Lawrence River will take you to “The Manoir”, more formally called the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, in Charlevoix.
The Manoir looks as if it could have been designed by the same architect that did the Frontenac, with its imposing stone turrets and copper roof identifying it as another Canadian Pacific railroad destination hotel. Here you’ll find the same luxury accommodations, an incredible series of restaurants that feature farm-to-table menus with most items sourced within 15 miles, and a new $1.5 million spa update. But what really sets it apart from the Frontenac is what is going on outside the walls.
Set on a rural hillside overlooking the majestic St. Lawrence, the Manoir offers the outdoor amenities the Frontenac lacks. Both have incredible water views, but the all-season list of activities at the Manoir defies comparison. Cooler months feature snowmobiling, ice-skating, skiing (snowboarding, etc.) and a heated outdoor pool. In warmer weather you’ll still have the pool, but there are miles of hiking trails, extensive gardens and a 27 hole golf course. And, for the high-rollers, the Casino de Charlevoix is open every day just across the courtyard from the Manoir’s front door.
Asked about the accommodations, the Director of Sales and Marketing, Eric Quesnel, said in late 2012, “The first floor was just totally renovated. The second will be over the winter, continuing until all 400+ rooms are completely redone.” On a tour of the facilities that included the newly expanded wine cellar and three huge kitchens, Monsieur Quesnel introduced Sous Chef de Cuisine, Robert Humphrey, in the main production kitchen.
Chef Humphrey explained that among his other duties, he is in charge of the Food Train menu. “In peak season we prepare two meals a day for the Food Train. That’s 300-400 meals in addition to what we prepare for our guests. We have special racks that roll from the refrigerator right into the ovens and from there into insulated containers that are delivered to the train twice daily. We provide locally sourced food, freshly prepared and creatively plated to all the foodies and train aficionados that pass here every day.”
Railroad buffs take heart. There are two world-class, luxury accommodations evoking the golden age of train travel that can be reached via rail from anywhere in the United States. Connecting them is a new concept of train travel: the Food Train. Seated in rolling comfort in what were once double-decker observation cars, these soaring-ceiling, picture window, dining cars offer unparalleled water views and the excellent food of the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. Here you have the decadence and joy of railroads rolled into one unique experience.