To stay or not to stay: 5 impressions of Le Chateau Montebello

Chateau Montebello is one of those destinations that people talk about with something approaching reverence, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, with complete disdain. The information out there about Fairmont Le Chateaeu Montebello is patchy, and often contradictory. I’ve seen reviews that called the hotel magical, perfect for families, or relaxing, but I’ve also seen it described as boring, damp and musty smelling. In spite of (or maybe because of) the mixed reviews I’ve always wanted to stay there (preferably at Christmas, but I’m not picky).

When the opportunity came to stay at the hotel (in the off season, but like I said, not picky!) I jumped at the opportunity, not sure what I was walking into, but needing to cross this one location off my bucket list.

My interest in Montebello is twofold: I’m interested in both its  nearly 100-year history and the Christmas experience they offer. Built in 1930 in the village of Montebello, this massive log structure was built from 10,000 red cedar logs, each one cut and set by hand. When you’re inside the building the adze marks are still evident on the timbers today.

The resort was initially built as a private club that boasted elite members like former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. In 1970 the resort was taken over by Canadian Pacific Hotels, and renamed Le Chateau Montebello. A stroll down the halls of the hotel gives you tantalizing glimpsed of history in the making, with photos of Canadian political figures, and foreign dignitaries shown on the grounds or inside the hotel, where history was literally being created.

Today, the Chateau is a popular winter vacation spot, and in particular they offer an awesome Christmas getaway that is enough to make any mother drool. To begin with, you get to leave home with your kids, travel to a totally child-friendly hotel, where there are staff literally just waiting to look after your kids, and then – and this is the kicker – they cook every single meal for you INCLUDING CHRISTMAS DINNER.

That’s right. No five hours spent in the kitchen slaving away over the turkey, ham, pumpkin pies, stuffing. It’s all done for you. They even have a fabulous Christmas eve event spent in front of their massive stone fireplace, with hot chocolate, and gifts!

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I used to lie awake in bed at night imagining what it would be like to experience a stress-free Christmas for a change.

Even better, there’s all these winter activities that I’ve always wanted to try, like curling or cross-country skiing, and they even have an indoor tennis court and an indoor Olympic sized pool!

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? There has to be a catch, right? There is.

The Christmas getaway is expensive, and I didn’t want to commit my whole family to spending three or four days there if it wasn’t going to be awesome. So here are my impressions of Montebello, in order of importance.

  1. It’s massive, big, enormous, bigger than big! There is no word to describe how large a log structure this is, and how impressive it is to be inside it. It’s simply amazing that the building was hand-built nearly 100-years-ago and still stands today with  every log lovingly cared for, dusted and nary a spider’s web to be seen.
  2. The enormous stone fireplace that takes up a lot of the main lobby is stunningly beautiful. You can sit in front of it for hours, just looking up at the craftsmanship, the rafters, seeing how everything was pieced together. We spent a lot of time out in the lobby, having a drink in front of the fire and chatting between ourselves or with other guests. There’s also a bar beside the fireplace, which  is super convenient for having a late night toddy in front of a roaring fire.
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Look at the craftsmanship here! This fireplace is stunning, and better still no matter where you sit you can have your very own fire!
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Here you can see the logwork that is worked right into the stone fireplace. Amazing.

3. The hotel doesn’t smell musty AT ALL. It smelled like any other building. Our room was a little hot when we first got in it because someone had left the heater on, but otherwise was a lovely, rustic room with windows that actually opened (something I hate about hotels is when you can’t open the windows).

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No dampness, mustiness or anything wrong with this room! See how the windows are open? Super cute, and practical. Slept like a baby.

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I read a review where someone complained about the bathroom, here’s a picture of ours, it was small, but then again the hotel was built so long ago who knows how they could have retrofitted in bathrooms big enough to accommodate modern standards?

4. The beds were comfortable, the room clean and charming.

5. We were there in the off season, which meant no snow, but also no green grass either so we didn’t get out on the grounds very much. There were a number of trails that ran through the property, and of course there’s the waterfront component. Some of the trails take you to Montebello, which is a cute little town with a number of shopping options to keep you entertained. There’s also an underground tunnel that takes you over to the pool and tennis courts and makes  you feel like you could be in a movie racing to escape a foreign dictatorship!

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Check out the Olympic-sized pool!
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Fromagerie Montebello was a highlight of the trip. We picked up a wheel of their award-winning blue cheese and their 1837 British Empire cheese. Both were excellent and almost worth the drive to pick up on a regular basis! They make the cheese right there on site, if you go by at the right time you can catch them in the act.

Basically, our stay at Le Chateau Montebello was quiet, relaxing, interesting, unique, and something completely different from what you would expect to find at a Fairmont resort. We spent three days at the Fairmont Tremblant in January and Montebello is nothing like what we experienced there.

So here’s the catch (there’s always a catch):

Would I take my family there for Christmas? No, but not because it isn’t perfect for families, just not mine. My kids are older, most have already left home and would find the hotel boring after more than a day. For younger families it would be perfect, but unfortunately I missed the boat on taking advantage of the Christmas dinner thing, unless I want to force my family to go and risk a lynching.

Would I go back? Probably. But only if what I was looking for was total rest and relaxation. And not at Christmas even if I didn’t take my family, because I would guess it’s super busy with little kids running around and I’m not into that anymore.

So Le Chateau Montebello gets the thumbs up from me and my hubby, but since rest and relaxation are never really on the agenda I doubt we’ll be back that way again (sigh).

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