North America’s best kept secret is a rendezvous of adventure meets European charm that will have your inner foodie begging for a French Revolution – without ever crossing the pond.
Snuggled in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, 80 miles north of Montreal, sits the cobblestone street lined village of Mont-Tremblant, one of North America’s top ski resorts. Named “the trembling mountain” after a local Algonquin legend, the resort was built by colorful American adventurer Joe Ryan in 1938. Re-developed by Canadian company Intrawest in 1991, Tremblant has re-emerged as a favorite destination for Americans and Canadians alike. At first blush, the pedestrian village is charming, with brightly painted facades buildings set among chic boutiques and quaint cafes ready to welcome tired legs with a cold Labatt Bleu and belly warming fondue. Even if you’re not a skier, Mont-Tremblant makes a charming destination with plenty to offer. But first, enjoy the swoon-worthy views, then close your eyes, listen to the locals exchange bonjours and imagine you’re in the French Alps, sans the long flight.
Then there’s the food, plus a casino, a lake, and Scandanavian spas to help you relax and recharge. You’ll need at least a week to enjoy it all, and that’s just the winter season. Mont-Tremblant welcomes more visitors in the spring, summer, and fall when the region’s sparkling lakes and pristine trails beckon kayakers, hikers, mountain bikers and adventure enthusiasts to the great Canadian outdoors.
Let’s get to the action. Mont-Tremblant offers world-class mountain fun over 49 miles of trails, including 3 snow parks, serviced by 14 high speed lifts and a gondola. All manner of snow play can be found at the resort – trails for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, tubing, dog sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling and anything else your inner adventurer can conjure up.
To get your legs warmed up, start on the south side of the mountain near the pedestrian village, taking the gondola all the way to the top. Wow at the view, pop on your skis, then hop on Nansen, named for the early architect of the resort’s runs. It’s a long green winder from peak to village, whisking you past stunning views of Lac Tremblant, over trickling streams that pass under narrow wooden bridges designed to take you through some of the mountain’s most beautiful trails, with built in stops for frame-worthy photos of you tackling mother nature armed with just your skis and a smile. The mountain has something for everyone. Half of the runs are dedicated to beginner and intermediate skiers, the other half to experts swishing down black diamonds and tackling moguls. Mont-Tremblant also boasts one of the best ski schools on the continent with experienced, patient guides to get kids and adults zipping down the mountain toute suite.
After you’ve skied your legs off, explore Tremblant’s foodie scene bursting with local specialties and tasty ways to refuel. First up, the sugar rush. On the walk back from the gondola, look for a sugar shack, set up just on the edge of the village, easily identifiable by friendly Canadians hoisting big brown jugs, surrounded by piles of ice, and likely, a few excited children. Indulge your inner kid with a stick of tire d’erable, fresh maple syrup taffy, as you decide which resto will welcome you for apres ski.
With your energy back, swagger into one of the vibrant cafes and warm up with a traditional poutine. Piled with crispy french fries, squishy cheese curds and a variety of warm, savory toppings, poutine is a local speciality found only in Quebec. We went for the canard confit croustillant caramelise – crunchy duck confit with BBQ sauce. For a true nap inducer, opt for macaronis au fromage – mac and cheese made with béchamel and a blend of cheeses plus your choice of smoked beef or even homard, fresh lobster. If you’re adventurous, try creton, a pork pate spread over warm French bread. Wash it all down with a bubbly blonde, IPA or stout from one of Quebec’s famous local breweries.
Pay le addition and wander into the village’s quaint streets, polishing off the day with a giant Beaver Tail – fried dough shaped like the furry Canadian mascot, topped with gooey favorites, like peanut butter, bananas or Nutella, before lumbering back to the hotel, putting your feet up, and dreaming of the runs you’ll conquer tomorrow.
Welcome to winter fun, Tremblant style.
Air Canada, through code shares with their Star-Alliance partner, United, offers service to Toronto’s Pearson Airport (YYZ) with a quick connection into Mont-Tremblant International (YTM). If you love scenic drives, fly into Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau Airport (YUL), rent a car and take the easy 90 minute trek through the beautiful Laurentian Mountains, over the rivers and through the woods to Mont-Tremblant.
Where to Stay:
The Fairmont Tremblant (www.fairmont.com/tremblant) is a grand, cozy oasis of winter fun with the best access to the European village and the mountain. Fairmont’s legendary service reigns from the excellent staff, high thread count sheets, and exclusive guest experiences, including snow tubing, ice skating and “first tracks” passes that get you up on the mountain early with the sunrise to tackle the newly groomed pristine runs on the powdery north side. After hitting the slopes, take in the outdoor pools, marshmallow roasting and the best location on the mountain for people watching. For a chic treat, opt for a glass of the famous French bubbly from Veuve Clicquot’s ice bar on the deck as you hop between heated pools and jacuzzis, warming up tired muscles and winding down any ounce of stress you didn’t shake on the slopes. The Fairmont will undergo an upgrade this summer with renovations and additional amenities for guests exploring Mont-Tremblant this Fall and Winter.
The pedestrian village is a wonder in international cuisine, from fabulous French, to pizza and Asian specialties, you’re bound to find a taste for every palate. La Forge, the main restaurant in the upper pedestrian village is your best bet for poutine, burgers and local brews, as well as a lively apres ski scene. In the lower village, La Maison de Crepe serves the French speciality in an adorable cottage. For fresh breads and pastries head over to Oh La Vache! and Cafe d’Epoque is a great choice for refreshments. If you’ve had your fill of French fare, take a break at Wok Restaurant & Lounge, which also provides pour emporter, or take away service if you’d rather indulge back at your room. Find Beaver Tails at the Queues de Castor counter on the right on the way down the hill from the upper to the lower village. If you pass it, don’t worry, there’s another location at the bottom of the village where you’ll also find a mini marche if you’re in need of groceries, beer, wine, or you’ve forgotten your toothbrush. It’s small but stocked with essentials from supplies to gifts.
What to Bring Home
Canadian Maple Syrup – Quebec is famous for real maple syrup, gathered in late March when the Spring cycle of freezing nights and sunny days creates the perfect atmosphere for the trees to produce this legendary sweet treat. Make sure you bring home some of the genuine local delicacy and if you can, taste before you buy. Maple syrup’s flavor – and color – vary like a good olive oil. The first press, called fonce, is typically the darkest and most concentrated, commonly used for cooking, while the lightest, dore, (meaning golden) is the most subtle. Go for the ambre, with a medium amber color, perfect for dressing warm pancakes. It’s a better buy in the large cans you’ll see in the marche, as the price increases in direct proportion to the cuteness of a maple leaf glass jar. More expensive in the states, maple syrup is a great buy in Quebec, and you’ll see other maple infused options as well – taffy, butter, caramel and tiny maple leaf shaped candies, which make fun foodie memories from your trip. Keep a few on hand for the dog days of summer when you can unwrap one and enjoy the frosty week you spent slushing the slopes of Canada’s winter wonderland.
Arrete! The French word for stop has special meaning in Montreal. If you’re driving to Mont-Tremblant, while on the island of Montreal, you cannot take a right turn at a red light, but it’s legal as soon as you cross the river from Montreal into the rest of Quebec.
Alcohol in Quebec is regulated by the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) and can only be purchased at markets with the SAQ symbol. Stopping at one is a great way to purchase Quebec’s many local beers and Canadian ice wine, a sweet dessert wine only grown in the region’s cold climate. Just remember to be conscious of local liquor laws. As in many US states, you cannot walk between public spaces with open containers. Otherwise, enjoy responsibly.