Featured on Parents Canada, August 11, 2015.
As the kids age, we constantly refine our family holidays to maximize parent relaxation, and kid fun. With our kids now 10 and 12, the need for the all-inclusive plan with child care provided is less vital. But we do still want places that offer lots of kid and tween activities. Here are some stand outs, all three within a two-hour drive of each other.
Fairmont Le Château Montebello
Only a half hour drive from the Centre Touristique, you are in for a much different experience. Although also a resort with many activities on site, the similarities stop here.
Château Montebello, now managed by Fairmont Hotels, is the largest log cabin in the world – with 211 rooms, an Olympic-sized indoor pool, two indoor tennis courts, a squash court and many other facilities.
Chateau Montebello’s outdoor swimming pool. Photo courtesy of Rick Eckley.
Well known for its winter amenities, summer offers a whole different experience. There’s an outdoor pool overlooking the river, a miniature golf course, outdoor tennis courts, a marina, a Fairmont spa, and five beautiful paths for walking or biking along the adjacent Outaouais River and through the woods.
Beyond the gates, down a quiet country road bellmen greet you at the front door and take your bags. Valets park your car if needed.
Although the resort was at capacity when we visited in July, the place is so massive and the service so solicitous, that you never feel like you are part of a packaged experience. The delicious buffet breakfast in the bright Aux Chantignoles restaurant was replenished constantly: the fruit smoothies, maple butter crepes, buttery chocolatines and made-to-order omelettes are highlights. And their buffet BBQ dinner is expansive, with everything from quail to lamb, fish and stir fries.
It’s easy to while away the days here or at Kenauk Nature, a 65,000-acre property that used to be part of Montebello but still offers chalet accommodation, as well as a bear watching excursion, fishing, lake swimming, kayaking clinics and other activities. Additional fees may apply.
The $23/room resort fee covers many on-site activities, and you can buy packages with some meals, but the extras can add up. One night, we strolled a few minutes into the town of Montebello to Délice Champêtre, an upscale casse-croûte for burgers, poutine and Belgian fries that uses all local ingredients – from the beef to the hamburger buns to the cheeses, potatoes and natural gelato for dessert.
Centre Touristique La Petite Rouge
This Quebecois family resort offers all the carefree possibilities of summer on a lake. Located on Lac des Isles about an hour from Ottawa (1.5 hours from Montreal) in St-Emile de Suffolk, life here is much like how I would envision at family camp.
The Centre’s 12 cabins each have two to eight bedrooms – with two to four single beds in each. Décor is minimal and designed for practicality over aesthetics – with large garbage bins, big tables in a communal room, and paper and hand towels in the bathrooms. But they’re clean, as is everything on property.
And all meals and activities are included: three delicious hot meals each day – and every possible activity imaginable. On land, there’s shuffleboard, basketball, badminton and volleyball to name a few. And on water, there’s canoeing (including a Voyageur canoe), pedal boating, kayaking and swimming.
For rainy days, the games room is packed with board games. And in the evenings, two bonfire pits are laid and ready for roasting marshmallows before bed. On weekday evenings, there are also organized activities: dancing with Gigi, singing around the campfire; and Bingo (in which are kids were able to expand their French vocabulary beyond a list of pizza ingredients).
But probably the biggest highlight is the kitchen staff and the food. Celine has been here 17 years, Colette 12 and Rachel for 40, and within that time, they’ve refined hot meals to the pleasure of all ages: everything they serve they make from scratch, except for the bread. Their beef stew (ragout) is sublime. The chicken pot pie with mushroom sauce is out of this world. The molasses cake with caramel sauce and sugar pie (you can take one home for $7) are pure sugary decadence. And when you bring your tray back for seconds (and thirds), their big smiles only add to the down home feel.
And if this is summer camp: our kids would glad come back again next year. And my husband and I would too.
The original focus of Brookstreet was as a conference centre, thus its location in Kanata, a suburb 25 minutes from downtown Ottawa. But in the last few years, it has expanded its reach to families, which it does very well.
While the front of the 18-storey hotel is concrete, the back is a rural oasis that includes a new 18-hole mini putt course, which you reach through a path in the woods, past a lake with a fountain and by an impressive 18-hole golf course. And there’s an outdoor pool back here, too.
Brookstreet Mini-Putt. Photo courtesy of Rick Eckley.
With their B Family package, kids get a bumblebee knapsack on arrival that includes a stainless steel water bottle that they can fill up for free with juice, milk or soft drinks at the Options Jazz Lounge throughout their stay, and tokens to use in the games room. Kids eat for free with paying adults at the Perspectives restaurant from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The junior suite has a pullout couch for the kids, so parents get their own spacious room. Milk and cookies are delivered to the room each night as part of the turndown service.
There are also some other unexpected surprises. Because billionaire owner Sir Terry Matthews is a jazz aficionado, there is live jazz in the Jazz Lounge every night, putting Brookstreet into a well-respected place in the Ottawa jazz scene. And at their excellent Sunday brunch in the Perspectives restaurant, we were entertained by Lucas Haneman. The service was also excellent—with special kudos to Renata and Sandy, who were not just efficient, they were super fun!
Brookstreet is a worthy a visit when in Ottawa, or are en route to other destinations in nearby Quebec. For more information visit, www.brookstreethotel.com.
If you do visit, check out Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, only 10 minutes from the hotel. This underground bunker was built during the Cold War as a place where senior members of government could go in the event of a nuclear attack.