By Katharine and Eric Fletcher
We’ve stayed in many of them: the Empress, Banff Springs Hotel, Royal York, Château Laurier, Château Montebello, The Algonquin.
All number among the marvelously romantic chain known a the “Canadian Pacific Hotels.” The original cluster of late 1880s lodgings were strung like pearls along the transcontinental railway line that still links Canada together.
Harold Kalman, noted Canadian architect and author, identifies CP Hotel’s “Châteauesque” style of buildings (like Québec City’s Château Frontenac) as our only truly Canadian architectural style. Based upon Scottish baronial castle architecture, hotels such as our Ottawa landmark, the Château Laurier, resemble a fabrication born of Disney studios.
As you explore Canada, you’ll discover many CP hotels occupying prominent positions of grandeur in their city. Château Frontenac is an obvious example, being an internationally recognized symbol of Québec perched atop impregnable-looking cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence. Strolling along the blustery ramparts of the adjacent Citadel, or simply gazing downriver from the vantagepoint of the Dufferin Terrace -- a wooden walkway hugging the cliffs behind the hotel -- is an unforgettable experience.
The Château Frontenac’s location plummets you into the Old City with its wending streets, pretty parks (many of which sport cannons) and fabulous little restaurants where a tête-à-tête may just lead to something, well, exquisitely romantic?
Ottawa’s own Château Laurier is similarly spectacularly situated. We think that Ottawans take this gem for granted far too often. If you want a break from your daily routine, we recommend you take another look at it! Why leave town, when you can take a well-deserved rest at this oasis of tranquility?
Not only does “our Château” command a dramatic view of the Rideau Canal’s Entrance Bay Locks and spires of Parliament Hill. As with all of the CP properties we have visited, it offers wonderful recreational pastimes.
Be sure to ask for a “room-with-a-view” so you can watch -- then join -- skaters glide along on the world’s longest skating rink. After your skate, wander down to the Château’s breathtaking Art Deco swimming pool. Do some leisurely laps, then relax your sore skating muscles with a hot tub and sauna.
The pampering continues. Dining at Wilfred’s, overlooking the canal, is delicious and service is always discrete perfection. Staff know how to serve and there’s none of that objectionable “Hi! My name is Cindy and I’ll be your friend for the rest of the meal” sort of nonsense. At the Château Laurier (like all of the CP chain) servers are personable, attentive and leave you alone save when you actually need them. Wonderful!
And don’t forget to people watch: tables here are magnets for well-known Ottawans, for “meet me at the Château” remains a catchy phrase. One of Katharine’s favourite spots to sip on a drink and people-watch is Zoe’s, named in memory of former prime minister Sir Wilfred Laurier’s wife. Ensconced in a green world of plants with piano music providing a soothing background, you can enjoy everything from canapés to your favourite single malt scotch.
Luxury. Romance. A sense of living history. The CP hotels resonate with these qualities and we cherish them for this.
Another delightful getaway spot for us is the unforgettable Château Montebello. Whether horseback riding along trails in the snow-free seasons, or skiing or dogsledding along them come winter, we love this spot.
For us, the Château Montebello is quintessential Canada. The largest log structure in the world, this star-shaped hotel looks its best surrounded in fluffy drifts of snow. Stepping inside its rich-looking foyer you cannot miss the imposing stone fireplace and surrounding cozy armchairs just perfect for cuddling (we know!). You’ll want to find your room as quickly as possible, deposit your luggage and return to find your own little harbour of repose.
Because we enjoy sports, Château Montebello draws us back to its charms repeatedly. Try curling, cross-country skiing, dogsledding, go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride -- or swim in the beautiful indoor pool. The wooden beam ceiling is richly painted: doing laps of back crawl or backstroke allows you ample time to take in its beauty!
We took a tip from friends who also operate a home business, and took our income tax forms and year-end accounting with us to Montebello. At no extra charge, a table was put into our room, upon which we spread out our dreaded forms, slips and computer. Yes we did our taxes … made infinitely more palatable by rewards of cross-country skiing, swimming, massages and fabulous meals. Not to mention the single malts by the fireplace...
All to say that we highly recommend this historic, romantic and affordable chain of hotels. Whether it’s high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, hobnobbing with the elk at picturesque Banff Springs Hotel, or enjoying the maritime air at The Algonquin, at St Andrews in New Brunswick, the CP hotels offer exciting getaways -- whatever the season.
If you go
Enjoy your very own “CP moment” at any one of their great getaways. Go to www.cphotels.ca to discover the CP world across Canada. Here’s how to contact the Château Laurier and Château Montebello for your very own Ottawa-based retreat. (Note: The toll-free number for the entire Fairmount/CP hotel chain is: 1-800-441-1414.)
The Château Laurier, 1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 8S7; Tel: (613) 241-1414; Fax: (613) 562-7030.
The Château Montebello, 392 Notre-Dame, Montebello, Québec, J0V 1L0; Tel: (819) 423-6341; Fax: (819) 423-5283.
Rates vary with the room and package. Remember that if you are not spending money on airfare, a more expensive room may well be affordable. For instance, the Château Laurier’s “Love and Romance” package is perfect for Valentine’s day: it starts from $199 per room and includes one night in a Canadian Deluxe room, a split of French champagne and chocolates, two etched keepsake champagne glasses, buffet breakfast for two at Wilfred’s (or room service), and valet parking.
Why not reward yourself? Book yourself an oasis of time and luxury at one of these great, romantic hotels. If you’re like us, you will never regret it. We are eager to try the newly renovated Manoir Richelieu in Québec’s picturesque Charlevoix region... or perhaps Château Whistler, north of Vancouver!