A LAURENTIAN ESCAPE
Unwind in comfort at l’estérel Resort.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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