There are some who work in Toronto but live in Montreal – for the skiing. One of the best areas around is Mont-Tremblant, 90 minutes’ drive north-west of Montreal. The gal, of course, had to go and see why so many seem to commute every weekend, putting up with a much-longer drive (say over two hours) Friday night, to get there, and the same Sunday night, to get back. She wanted to see how an area, instead of just growing Topsy-like, was conceived and developed and put into action led by Joe Hossain, of the firm Intrawest, and a few colleagues. Fortunately Mont-Tremblant has one absolutely outstanding, and delightfully friendly, luxury hotel, Quintessence, so that would be the base. Apparently the name is the hypothetical form of dark energy postulated as an explanation of observations of an accelerating universe…
After the drive up from Montreal, the first thing I needed was a good back massage, or rather a good massage to make my sore back good again. No problem, said the enthusiastic young GM of the hotel, Michel Tremblay. What time? At 1845 I presented myself down at the calm spa, and while waiting for she-who-would-get-rid-of-all-knots, I looked through the window’s wooden-slat blinds. I looked over the blue, oval pool, with its inset hot tub, and across snow-covered Lac Tremblant. I felt better already, and then even better after Louise did her de-knotting while I slept like a log. This is instant relaxation, this 30-room hotel. It can, alternatively, be hard-hard work. In winter there are all those ski runs. In summer there is a range of activities – plus the next Ironman Mont-Tremblant taking place August 18th, 2013. At any time, too, you can arrange to head for Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, a full Formula One test-drive circuit under two miles away (it has 15 curves and its record is one minute, 22 seconds).
In summer, of course, Quintessence looks quite different. Then the exterior, the pool and the garden – and the lake – come into play. The hotel has a 33-foot, 1910 mahogany launch for touring. I have been there in summer, dining in a glass conservatory reached by a glass tube of a corridor. In winter quite the other way. There is a formal dining room but much more fun is the adjacent wine cellar bar, with its real-log blazing fire, and a collection of gins that includes such designer labels as Hendrick’s as well as Ungava, from way north (it has wild rose hips, cloudberry, crowberry, Nordic juniper and more). At weekends, especially, you meet local people here, regulars of the calibre of Mario Lemieux, ice hockey legend who now owns the Pittsburgh Penguins. Quintessence’s boss, Sean O’Donnell, is very much a weekend host – during the week he is busy helping Cirque du Soleil. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who have a house at Mont-Tremblant, might pop in, as could Michael Kors. On Saturdays there is live music: last weekend was another local, Sean Dillon.
Meet at the bar, and sit up on a leather stool. Want a glass of local red? The smiling bargirl (everyone making this 30-room hotel work seems to get ten out of ten for smiles) suggests a Southbrook Whimsy! from Niagara-on-the-Lake but then, as we dine by that log fire, we switch to Hidden Bench’s Terroir Caché. This goes remarkably well with a local greasy-spoon specialty poutine. Someone in the 1950s thought of serving French fries and curd cheese with thick gravy – here, of course, a gourmet version is a cheese-filled potato sandwich in a puddle of rich jus. Well, the Belgians eat fries with mayonnaise, and Americans with tomato ketchup so, honestly, this Quebecois pairing seems quite civilised.
At six in the morning another smiling someone opens the door to the gym and I can watch the sun come up, before breakfast. This place does not do things by halves. The breakfast buffet has masses of fresh fruit, and the breads for toasting include really healthy multi-grain (not the type some restaurants produce, the kind that flattens to paper thickness if you put your finger on it). There is a chef right there, standing in front of a Mont-Tremblant stained glass, just in case you forget where you are. But how can you forget when you have this view out of the window?
It could be addictive, watching how the colours change across the snow-covered lake. But the reason for most coming here to this luxury hotel – highly rated by both Johanssen’s and TripAdvisor, according to certificates in the lobby – is to ski. So it is time to go, gal.