a peek inside the fishbowl

02 Jan, 2015

A bit about our stay at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Ottawa|travel talk

Around this time last year we decided to start a 52-week money-saving jar. You can read more about that here, but to summarize, we socked away an increasing sum of money every week with a goal in mind: a two-night getaway to Fairmont Chateau Montebello over the holiday season. The idea was to leave the chaos of Christmas at home and enjoy some good old family R&R in the form of all the wintery activities they have on offer: skating, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, tubing, and curling, all followed up by steaming mugs of coffee and hot chocolate near the gorgeous six-sided fireplace for which they are so famous:

View of the lounge and the fireplace, Chateau Montebello

I’ve wanted to take off on a Christmas getaway ever since I can remember, and this was it. So, after many months of planning and saving (even the kids contributed to the money jar!) it was finally time to go. Given Ottawa’s winter track record, we assumed there’d be snow on the ground. Ha! Well, there wasn’t. It was a green Christmas, and we were setting out on a trip to a winter wonderland that had winter passed over.

A green Christmas at Chateau Montebello

But that is neither here nor there. It is what it is, and we told ourselves we wouldn’t be disappointed, as there would surely be other things to do.

Chateau Montebello is quite a nice destination, especially for families, and there are a lot of good things going for it. It’s an easy drive from Ottawa, located in a very scenic part of Quebec, and comes with a great history. It was built in 1930 as an exclusive club and playground for the wealthy, and only opened as a hotel for the general public in the 70s. (You can read more about its history on the Wikipedia page.)

The Chateau as night was falling

It’s hard not be awed by the unique architecture. Over 10,000 BC cedars were used in its construction, which took a record four months.

This historical aspect is fascinating to me, but it is also the resort’s downfall. Chateau Montebello is serious need of a thoughtful and loving restoration. My hope is that its recent sale to a Chinese real estate group will result in much-needed upgrades that will bring it back into contention with other high-end resorts.

The price tag kept nagging at me during my stay. On one hand, Chateau Montebello successfullly delivers on the two major markers of a top tier resort: service and dining. Every interaction with staff during our stay, even before and after, was top-notch. This was especially evident with front-line staffers at the reservation desk and in the restaurants. They get top marks for friendliness, willingness to help, and the right amount of attention (which is so important, especially when you’re eating).

The dining side of things practically deserves a post of its own. Our package included breakfasts and dinners. I ordered off the menu for one of our two dinners, and had the buffet for the other. We all ordered the breakfast buffets. The very idea of a breakfast buffet generally conjures up images of rubbery eggs and soggy pancakes, but nothing could be further from the truth in this case. There were numerous hot and cold breakfast staples (pastries, bacon, sausage, cereal, fruit etc), and maple crepes to die for.

Here, on our second morning, we snagged a table in the brighter part of the dining room… yay!

View at breakfast, Chateau Montebello

The buffet dinner on the second night featured an impressive array of foods which catered to multiple tastes and dietary preferences. (Speaking of diets, I don’t think I ever ate so much smoked fish and cheese in my entire life.) Much of the food seems to be locally-sourced, and it was presented with special care and attention, right down to the pizza and breaded chicken for the kids. We all ate very well, to say the least.

So how does this stellar dining and service square with the grotty shower in the pool area? The aging TV set and 1970s harvest gold bathtub in our room? The furnishings, although they may have a charming Canadiana style, made me feel like I was visiting a grandmother’s house in the Black Forest.

I don’t mind paying more for beautiful things and unique experiences, but the price paid – and value received – was out of whack. Which makes me feel like Montebello failed in its promise to us.

There’s a gorgeous old pool at Montebello, but its charm has sadly weathered. Here’s a panorama I shot overlooking the pool which will give you a good idea of the grandeur of the pool and the building.

We spent a lot of time at the pool because there wasn’t much else going on. It needs new tiles in some areas, and refreshed night-time lighting. Showering after our swim reminded me of locker rooms in aging rec centres; pitted grout with spots of mold. And why are there only two showers? And a sauna with a broken temperature dial? It just didn’t square up in my head. I suppose I’m the kind of traveller who expects top-tier amenities if I’m paying top resort prices.

One of the best things we did was book time in the curling rink ($30/30 minutes). We went to a free curling clinic, but it was packed. We knew we wouldn’t have a chance to give it a good try, so we left and booked some ice time of our own. It was a smart move, because it was pretty fun. Thankfully Mark was there to give us some pointers and we all got a few rocks in:

My view from our time curling, Chateau Montebello

We also went on a big walk around the grounds, which are quite pretty.

View of the docks, Chateau Montebello

Manoir Papineau National Historic Site, at Chateau Montebello

During a walkabout near Chateau Montebello

Near where the tubing was supposed to take place,  Chateau Montebello

I was mildly disappointed by the hotel’s lack of organized activities or options for guests who came for the snow. Perhaps I’m asking too much, which is why I’m on the fence about it. I understand that weather is unpredictable, promises of snow tubing can’t be kept if the snow isn’t there, but wouldn’t it be nice if the hotel offered up guests something in exchange? It would be a gesture of good will that would be appreciated and would not have gone unnoticed.

To be honest, I was thankful we didn’t book a third night as I felt like we had run out of things to do.

We did spend some peaceful hours resting by the fire in the lobby. The eldest worked on a puzzle book, and the youngest did some drawing while Mark and I read. For some reason they don’t light all the fires in the six-sided fireplace, which makes it challenging, if not impossible, to snag a couch in front of a lit side. (Although a kind staffer did eventually light a fire near us when we asked.)

Wearing her "reading socks" while at Chateau Montebello

Relaxing near the fireplace, Chateau Montebello

That being said, the lobby area is actually one of the best things about Montebello, where the rooms are generally quite small and families need the room to stretch out. Montebello is very dog-friendly, and even has its own canine ambassador named Monte, who we got to meet.

Monte, the canine ambassador at Chateau Montebello

Seating in this area is plentiful, and not crowded. We saw many families playing board games, and even doing puzzles together in the lobby. These games were available from a small cabinet in the main area, which was also served by a bar (which was perfect). So we were able to enjoy a glass of wine while doing this:

Bilingual SORRY, at Chateau Montebello.

Some folks just curled up with a book or a newspaper, which certainly fits my idea of a great getaway too.

Me, reading, at Chateau Montebello

I do feel a bit silly complaining about our stay, especially in such a public way, but I always want to give the straight goods. I like this place, and I want to like it more than I do because I adore the history of it, and somehow we’ve woven its story into our own.

I should also point out that although I wouldn’t return for an overnight stay, I would definitely come back for the food. As for next year’s holiday trip, I’m thinking taking the train to old Quebec City might be the kind of adventure we’re looking for.

Looking for more info on Montebello? You can check out a few extra photos from our trip here and read traveller reviews of Chateau Montebello on TripAdvisor right here.

7 Responses to "A bit about our stay at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello"

1 | Molly

January 2nd, 2015 at 5:50 pm


Thanks for delivering a straight up, honest opinion! We we were there for a wedding – I am with you on the food and hospitality. It was awesome!

But I don’t think that the Legend That is Montebello lives up to real life. A big price tag ought to deliver on big expectations. Hopefully new owners will see this through!

2 | Loukia

January 2nd, 2015 at 6:14 pm


Great wrap-up. We take the kids to Chateau Montebello every winter (usually after Christmas, before NYE) but we didn’t go this year. We love relaxing in the lobby, and we spend most of the time at the swimming pool, or playing tennis. We like some of the outdoor activities, too, when it’s like a winter wonderland outside. I’ve posted a couple of reviews of this hotel and am always pleased with the media rate I receive. I do agree the rooms needs to be updated!

3 | coffee with julie

January 2nd, 2015 at 7:36 pm


I love reading your reviews because I know I’ll get “the real goods.” I have never been to Montebello because of the price and I too would be disappointed (no matter how beautiful the lobby, how wonderful the staff, or how delicious the food) if the rooms and other facilities were dated. For top dollar, one expects top-quality throughout. I’ll be interested to find out what kind of changes may or may not take place soon with the new ownership …

4 | andrea tomkins

January 3rd, 2015 at 10:25 am


Thanks guys. I appreciate your feedback. It hurt a little to write this post, because in a sense it was like we were admitting we had made a wrong choice. Especially after having saved and talked about it for a year! Oh well. I do wish them well. And I think it will be amazing after a renovation. The property is gorgeous and there is a TON of potential there for sure.

5 | Cath

January 3rd, 2015 at 11:51 am


As always, I enjoyed your honest review! We love Montebello (for us, the vintage look and feel is part of the charm although I’m with you on the bathrooms!!) but we also only go when we can get a really good web deal and we typically don’t eat on site. The cross-country skiing really is glorious so I’m sad for you that you didn’t get a chance to enjoy it.

6 | Tanya

January 3rd, 2015 at 4:39 pm


I appreciate your honest review. I’ve wanted to take my husband who loves log cabins to Montebello for years. Cost and timing just hasn’t worked out. For our Christmas trip we headed to Lake George to the six flags great escape lodge for 2 nights before Christmas. It was fun to take our 2 year old to the indoor waterpark. The 9 & 11 year olds enjoyed the slides and my teen boy liked the surfing. They had santa and activities in the lobby and the staff was very friendly and helpful. 2 nights was enough though since there was no snow for cross country skiing and the town of Lake George is almost completely closed for the winter.

7 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Christmas 2017 recap - a peek inside the fishbowl

December 30th, 2017 at 9:02 am


[…] past years we’ve gone to Tremblant and Chateau Montebello. This year, the eldest came home from school and we stayed closer to home. As much as I like to […]

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