Passion Points: Family
From Sarah Staples, Toronto, Ontario
Mont-Tremblant, a ski and cottage destination about an hour’s drive northwest of Montréal, Quebec, is nicknamed the “Aspen of the East” for good reason. On winter weekends, Hollywood types head to this quintessentially French-Canadian rural region to test the highest mountain in eastern Canada and enjoy a chic après-ski scene. In summer, the place is overrun with families enjoying a packed activities roster, from resort standbys like tennis, boating and golf to more eclectic fare including bird-of-prey demonstrations and dune buggy tours.
But Tremblant is just as hip and happening in the fall. And any Montrealer knows this is actually the perfect time to go, especially if you don’t ski but love the autumn foliage—and hate crowds, even A-list ones.
Taking in the extraordinary eastern-Canadian palette of rich reds, golds and oranges, followed by shopping and dining with a French flair and perhaps a brief stop in Canada’s most original metropolis, Montréal is wonderful. It doesn’t get better than this for a relaxing mini-vacation.
Which is why, on a recent Friday afternoon, my husband and I parked our brood with the babysitter and drove to Tremblant (pronounced “Trom-blon”) for the umpteenth time. We’ve become connoisseurs, so here is my insider advice for the perfect leaf-peeping trip:
When To Go: The weather’s been unusually warm lately, meaning fall foliage season, which traditionally begins in early October, could last well into November. Typically, the end of that month brings the first snows to Tremblant and sometimes Montréal as well. So these next few weeks represent a sweet spot to take advantage of.
Getting There: Continental Airlines flies directly to Tremblant from Newark International Airport, while Canada’s fancy niche carrier, Porter Airlines, does so connecting through Toronto. But both routes begin in December and last the ski season only. For now, take any major carrier to Montréal (Air Canada has several daily flights from New York’s La Guardia, for example) and drive Autoroute 15-Nord the rest of the way. Several private airstrips also service the region, among them Mont-Tremblant International Airport (150 Roger Hébert, La Macaza; 819-275-9099). You can provision your plane’s return trip through Traiteur Quintessence, the catering arm of the Hotel Quintessence.
Lay of the Land: When Quebecers speak of “Mont-Tremblant,” we’re referring to a much larger phenomenon than just the tiny village by that name. In essence, we mean the prime real estate—cottages, condos and ski chalets – and just-launched Casino de Mont-Tremblant (300 Chemin des Pléiades; 819-429-4150) bordering finger-shaped Lac Tremblant; for shopping and sightseeing, old Mont-Tremblant village and the quaint nearby town of St-Jovite; and of course, the ski resort complex at the foot of the eponymous mountain, owned and operated by developer Intrawest, whose centerpiece is a colorful, faux-Euro “pedestrian village” of hotels, restaurants and shops looking a little like an haute version of Disney.
Where to Stay: Kitty corner to Intrawest’s resort is the 30-suite Hôtel Quintessence (3004 Chemin de la Chapelle; 819-425-3400), which, for its design flair and discretion – and gorgeous lakefront infinity pool – is unquestionably the favored hideaway in Tremblant. This time around, however, we tested Intrawest’s new “boutique” hotel, Ermitage du Lac (100 Chemin Kandahar; 819-681-8000). The layout of our suite with kitchenette was nearly identical to one we stayed in at the Le Westin Resort & Spa Tremblant (514-876-7273; www.starwoodhotels.com) a few weeks prior for a charity event. It was actually more modern looking than the Westin – which is due for a multi-million-dollar facelift later this fall – though with comparatively spartan amenities and service. For longer visits, Intrawest-owned Tremblant Elysium (514-876-7273; www.tremblantelysium.com) is a beautiful collection of slope-side chalets, to which a private chef sourced through Traiteur Quintessence may be added.
Where to Eat: My pick for creativity and quality overall is Restaurant sEb L’artisan Culinaire (444 rue St-Georges, St-Jovite; 819-429-6991), a locavore fave in St-Jovite, whose regulars include Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Before opening his first restaurant four years ago, sEb’s 32-year-old chef-owner Sebastien Houle helmed the kitchen aboard Tatoosh, a mega-yacht belonging to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The restaurant name translates as “culinary artisan,” and the menu is billed boldly as “fine Quebec cuisine” accented by the international influences of several years that Houle spent crisscrossing the ocean, honing his considerable talent. Having inhaled the other night my North Atlantic pufferfish with lemon emulsion and razor clams in a teriyaki-sake reduction (the shellfish a reminder of my own youthful culinary adventures in Spain), braised, locally-sourced lamb, and a crunchy pumpkin crumble with sorbet of apples and Quebec apple cider, I can vouch that it is the unpretentious truth.
Aux Truffes (3035 Chemin de la Chapelle; 819-681-4544) in the pedestrian village is another solid choice, as is the Quintessence’s Q Restaurant & Wine Bar (3004 Chemin de la Chapelle; 866-425-3400), which serves a mean organic, locally-sourced Sunday brunch as well. For tea and scrumptious petit fours, there’s Patisserie Francaise Le Montagnard (835 rue de Saint-Jovite; 819-425-8987), in St-Jovite. Not to my taste, but I’m told the classic dive bar Le P’tit Caribou (Vieux Tremblant; 819-681-4500) – where Lance Armstrong and pals boogied this September after his Tour de Lance, the annual charity bicycle ride for cancer in Tremblant – is a local legend and fun for a nightcap.
What to See and Do: On a rain-soaked Saturday morning, we ditched plans to rent mountain bikes for a ride through Mont-Tremblant National Park and opted instead to take in the colors from a gondola-style chairlift up the mountain. Both options can be efficiently accomplished by purchasing an activity card at the base of the resort’s pedestrian village. The same card lets you try alpine luge rides, bungee-jumping, rock wall-climbing and more. At Halloween, the village transforms into a spooky place alive with ghouls and witches, complete with themed activities like an outdoor disco and costume parade. Spa Le Scandinave Mont-Tremblant (4280 Montee Ryan; 819-425-5524), a day spa known as a favorite of Montréal Canadiens hockey players and their wives, is a great place to unwind after a grueling day of staring at leaves and staring down scary apparitions.
Where to Shop: In Tremblant, the style is best described as chalet chic. Along St-Jovite’s main street, I found hand-crafted, hand-painted place settings by France’s Niderviller in a colorful rooster pattern called “cour normandie” at Le Petit Hameau (#2, 814 rue de Saint-Jovite; 819-425-2000). And at Chamonix (118, Chemin Kandahar; 819-681-5715) in the village, I settled on a woolen “tuque” – a traditional French-Canadian winter hat – trimmed in recycled raccoon, by Quebecoise eco-fur designer Mariouche Gagné.
Insider Tip: A couple of nights at most is all you need for a fall visit to Tremblant, but beware of Sunday afternoon traffic; it’s peak time for the return drive.
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