A LAURENTIAN ES­CAPE

Un­wind in com­fort at l’es­térel Re­sort.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY LAURA BYRNE PAQUET

Re­ly­ing on my GPS, I turned off High­way 15 and nav­i­gated a se­ries of in­creas­ingly pic­turesque coun­try roads, driv­ing past mansard-roofed houses and slim-steepled stone churches. Slowly, I felt the ten­sion ebb from my shoul­ders.

Fif­teen min­utes af­ter leav­ing the high­way, I pulled up to l’es­térel Re­sort. Lo­cated be­tween two hill-fringed lakes, the re­sort has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory. Be­gun by a Bel­gian baron, who was forced to aban­don the project when WW II broke out, it was later fin­ished by Québec busi­ness­man Fri­dolin Si­mard. He dis­cov­ered the site when forced to land his sea­plane dur­ing a storm in 1958. Fifty years later, the prop­erty un­der­went a com­plete $50-mil­lion ren­o­va­tion. Clearly, many peo­ple have been so be­guiled by the lo­ca­tion that they’ve been in­spired to in­vest. I would soon fall un­der its spell my­self.

Be­fore I could even switch off my car’s en­gine, a cheer­ful valet ap­peared. Within mo­ments, he brought my suit­case to the front desk and whisked my ve­hi­cle away.

The knot in my neck eased a lit­tle more.

STYLISH QUAR­TERS

Soon, I had checked into a spa­cious suite with a dou­ble-sided fire­place and a view of Lake Dupuis. The re­sort com­prises two ho­tels, Evo­lu­tion and Emo­tion, and I was in the lat­ter.

Five storeys be­low me, guests were loung­ing in the hot and cold pools of a Nordic spa. Be­hind me, the suite’s deep soaker tub beck­oned. I sat on the stylish orange sec­tional couch (which un­folds to a dou­ble bed, so the suite can ac­com­mo­date four peo­ple), and con­tem­plated my op­tions. I could hit the spa. Since it was March, I could rent snow­shoes or cross-coun­try skis. Or I could go to the wine cel­lar, which is open to the pub­lic ev­ery day from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Guess which I chose?

RARE VIN­TAGES

Yes, within min­utes, I was en­sconced at a small ta­ble over­look­ing the lake as som­me­lier Frédéric Joyal walked me through my choices. I could have sam­pled both a red and a white wine for $17 to­tal, but I de­cided to try a 1.5-ounce sam­ple of a $200 bot­tle of wine for the same price. Hey, how of­ten does one get an op­por­tu­nity like that?

Ac­tu­ally, the chance to sip rare vin­tages is one of the key at­trac­tions at l’es­térel. In 2015, the ho­tel ac­quired the 5,000-bot­tle cel­lar of noted col­lec­tor Cham­plain Charest. The col­lec­tion has since ex­panded to 8,000 bot­tles and in­cludes wines from vine­yards such as Château Pétrus and Château Lafite Roth­schild.

FINE DIN­ING

To com­ple­ment such a stel­lar cel­lar, a restau­ra­teur should pro­vide equally fine cui­sine. Here again, Es­térel shines. That evening, I en­joyed din­ner in the Bistro à Cham­plain, one of three restau­rants on the prop­erty. It, too, over­looks the lake.

Feeling more re­laxed by the minute, I pon­dered the menu. I couldn’t re­sist one ap­pe­tizer in par­tic­u­lar: or­ganic salmon gravlax with smoked crème fraiche, can­died lemon purée and fen­nel. It was an ex­cel­lent choice: rich, salty, but­tery and sweet, all at once. Other cour­ses fol­lowed and they were all de­li­cious.

That ten­sion in my back? A dis­tant mem­ory.

RE­LAX­ING OP­TIONS

Af­ter a leisurely din­ner, it was time to tod­dle back to my room. I thought about open­ing my lap­top, but in­stead dimmed the lights, filled the soaker tub, switched on the gas fire­place and set­tled into the com­plete l’es­térel ex­pe­ri­ence.

The next morn­ing, I was back in the Bistro à Cham­plain to sam­ple the ex­ten­sive break­fast buf­fet, which in­cluded cooked-to­order omelettes. Then it was time for a quick but re­fresh­ing soak in one of the out­door Nordic spas hot tubs. (I could have tried the “po­lar pool,” too, but did I men­tion it was March?)

As I packed to leave, I found my­self wish­ing I could stay at least one more night. How­ever, even this quick visit had brought me worlds away from the stresses of my desk. If I’d stayed the whole week­end, I might never have left.

ABOVE: L’es­térel Re­sort is sit­u­ated be­tween two lakes in the Québec Laurentians. OP­PO­SITE TOP: Book a spa­cious suite with a dou­ble-sided fire­place and a lake­view. OP­PO­SITE LEFT: Sip rare vin­tages in the wine cel­lar. OP­PO­SITE MID­DLE RIGHT: There are three on­site restau­rants from which to choose for your din­ing plea­sure. OP­PO­SITE RIGHT BOT­TOM: Amérispa is ded­i­cated to sooth­ing treat­ments and to­tal re­lax­ation. L’es­térel Re­sort

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