I just got back from a four-day media trip to Quebec’s Outaouais region, located around Gatineau (next to Ottawa). For four days, I’ve tweeted, Facebooked, and wrote about the region…and yet I absolutely cannot spell it. I’ve been agonizing over it. This is worst than the whole “occasion” fiasco – a word my brain fails to understand. IS IT TWO C’S OR TWO S’S, OR BOTH? No matter how many mnemonics I create, nothing gets through. Nothing.
(I DID get the pronunciation down path, though. Say it with me: OOH-TA-WAY.)
Autumn is an unreal time to visit this part of Canada. We had warm sunshine at our backs for the whole trip, and deciduous leaves of gold, orange, yellow, and red to complement our photos. I travelled with a handful of other bloggers – Anne of Fannetastic Foods, Julie of Peanut Butter Fingers, Jenn of Travellinlady, and Kate from Eat Drink Travel mag – and we bonded over food and phobias and surreal spa treatments.
I plan on getting MUCH further in-depth with these places, but for now, here are some highlights from an area that completely took me by surprise.
1. The food is mind-blowing.
I’ve spent enough time in Quebec to know that the province does food really, really well; however, I didn’t expect even the tiniest of villages to have the kind of food experiences that simultaneously make you love life but hate yourself for the volumes consumed.
Particular favourites: the six-course Discovery Menu feast at Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa; my vegetarian burrito at Café Soup’Herbe in Chelsea (GET IT? SUPERB?); the nine or ten refills of red wine at Nordik Lodge, the homemade apple crisp at Coronation Hall Cider Mills; AND the totally-weird-but-yummy panini au jambon et Jarlsberg, avec confit d’oignon au chocolate at ChocoMotive’s café in Montebello. Yes, ham with caramelized onion and chocolate. SO WEIRD.
2. Caving and treetop obstacle courses at Arbraska’s adventure park
I hadn’t really known I was in for a treetop obstacle course at Abraska. The evidence of my terror is still marked by the deep bruises I have on both arms from clinging to the safety cables while screaming “I HATE EVERYTHING!” at the top of my lungs. But it was hella fun. I did skip the ziplines, however, because my knees were knocking together and my fear of heights had exhausted me.
They also do tours through this incredibly damp and muddy (and awesome) cave that just goes on and on forever and up and down passages and through narrow spaces. At one point our guide Brenda made us turn off our hardhat lights and sit in silence. You could basically hear our hearts hammering.
3. Parc Omega and ALL THE ANIMALS
I’m always wary of parks like these. But with over a thousand acres of free-roaming wild animals, driving through here on a safari bus was probably the best part of the trip. I fed a wild elk with a carrot. An ELK.
Only the bears, Arctic wolves, coyotes, and the moose + goat duo are penned, but in massive enclosures with all the space in the world. It’s a reserve, not a zoo. Bison and fox freely roamed the park, a baby deer climbed aboard our bus, AND you’ll get to meet Brume the moose and his sidekick, The Goat.
Brume was found next to his dead mother some years ago, so Parc Omega took him in and raised him. Since moose are social creatures, he was paired with a little black goat that quick became his best friend. Now they wander around together, like two peas in a pod.
4. Eco-Odyssee’s water maze
This maze of water canals running over 6.4 kilometres long through a marsh was a fun place to go paddle-boating while completing a “adventure” challenge with only a guidebook and compass in hand. Jenn and I failed miserably, but I have some great footage of our Blair Witch-esque experience that I can’t wait to share.
5. North America’s largest spa, Nordik Spa-Nature.
I’m really, really not a spa person. I find the whole thing awkward and bizarre. I don’t like my pasty white flesh flapping around in a cold shower, and I’m not fond of suffocating in saunas. But this place? It’s like a big social free-for-all. I sweated and shivered and relaxed and my body felt SO GOOD by the time I was done.
There’s also Källa, a large saltwater pool dug deep into the rock and filled 12% with Epsom salt. You get to float around here like you would in the Dead Sea. It’s the second pool of its kind in the WORLD – the first being in Sweden. Quebec. Who knew?
6. The accommodations
I stayed in an old grain silo at Wakefield Mill Inn & Spa, rested my head in a massive log castle at Fairmont le Chateau Montebello, and had a gal slumber party at the Nordik Lodge. This was my first real trip which combined adventure travel + luxury. I could get used to this.