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Vive “La-Petite-Nation”!

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By The Gremotraveler

When you ask a foreign visitor to describe the images that come to mind when they think of the Canadian wilderness, the answer is pretty much the same: Fur traders portaging through the dense woods, buckets of maple syrup being steamed into sugary goodness, geese flying above a hill covered in brilliant orange and red trees in Autumn, a family snowshoeing through a field with snowmobilers in the distance, or kids jumping off the dock at a cottage into a crystal clear lake. You may think it is hard to see all of these scenes in one region, given the size of Canada, but believe it or not, these scenes are pretty much the standard in la-Petite-Nation, a magical piece of Quebec located between Ottawa and Montreal.

Many people know la-Petite-Nation for its famous resort, the Chateau Montebello, and less as a foodie tourist destination. But the reality is that this region is home to several hamlets, villages, and rural roads filled with some of the most interesting food producers and artisans within what could very well be the most beautiful region of Quebec.

First off, la-Petite-Nation is an historical gem. The region was formerly known as "Reserve de la Petite Nation", a 100 sq. mile, 65,000 acre protected wilderness domain originally granted by the King of France in 1674. Non-native settlement, along with the name of the region really began in 1801 when the land of the Petite Nation Seigneury was purchased by a Mr. Joseph Papineau. Sixteen years later, Louis-Joseph Papineau inherited the property and built the Manor of Montebello (now known as the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site) in 1846. Louis-Joseph is credited with giving the name "Monte-Bello" to the location in 1854. It was his tribute to Napoleon-Auguste Lannes, who was the Duke of Montebello between 1801 and 1874, whom he had acquainted during his exile in France from 1839 to 1845.

Today, the region is part of the Outaouais, a mountainous lakes region north of the Ottawa River. The iconic Fairmont Chateau Montebello, renowned for reportedly being the world's largest log "cabin", is an ideal setting to base your adventures while exploring the region. In the late 1920s, Harold M. Saddlemire, a Swiss-American entrepreneur, purchased land along the Ottawa River to build a resort to service the getaway needs of the Montreal and Ottawa elite. Opened in 1930, the resort was considered an architectural marvel of the day using Scandinavian log-construction techniques. A spur of the Canadian Pacific Railway was established to bring visitors from Montreal and Ottawa for rest and relaxation.

The centrepiece of the new log-château was the hexagonal rotunda which contains a six-sided stone fireplace rising more than 20 meters to the roof. The ceiling features soaring rafters made of logs 18 metres long. Two mezzanines completely encircle the rotunda and provide access to the 186 guest rooms branching off into four wings with additional wings added for the dining room and the ballroom. The building itself required 10,000 logs, 500,000 hand-produced cedar roof shingles and approximately 166 kilometres of wooden moulding. When you visit the resort, you are blown away by the sheer size and the craftsmanship of the building and there is no better experience than sitting in the rotunda with a beverage and absorbing the beauty of this historical resort.

Dining opportunities abound at the Chateau Montebello. When the Chateau Montebello was first built, it was a private club. This changed in the 1970s when it became open to the public as a destination resort. The Dining Hall is now known as Aux Chantignoles, a fabulous restaurant offering sweeping views of the Ottawa River. Here, they specialize in local delicacies like Caribou with sweet and sour Cranberry sauce, Quebec Artisanal cheeses, and other terroir fare from the region. If you are visiting for a weekend, the Sunday brunch is by far the best way to experience the local bounty of La Petite Nation, albeit a little on the expensive side.

If you want to experience the true wilderness of the region, the adjacent Fairmont Kenauk at Le Chateau Montebello may be your best bet. The resort is one of North America's largest and longest-established private fish and game reserves, boasting more than 70 lakes within its borders. Fairmont Kenauk at Le Chateau Montebello employs its own biologists to ensure preservation of the spectacular resources, and naturalists are available for guided exploration of the property. Here, you can stay in a series of private log lodges with your own kitchen and sleeping quarters on the lake. Guests can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and hiking through a wide network of lakes and trails. If you need a cocktail, the property is a stone’s throw from the Chateau Montebello. Think of it as Paris Hilton-style camping for the jet-set crowd.

Once you have your place to rest your head, it is time to start exploring the region. While the town of Montebello is quaint and full of shops catering to tourists, the real gems of the region lie north of the river. Your first stop should include Saint-André-Avellin, where a wide range of Quebecoise artisans have gathered for hundreds of years. The streets are lined with galleries, crafts shops, and theatres providing great local crafts and performing arts opportunities. Le Cafe du Bistrot, located at 198 rue Principale, is a California inspired restaurant featuring locally-sourced ingredients and is an ideal stop-over for lunch.

In and around la Petite-Nation, several agro-tourism opportunities abound. Everywhere you look, road-side stands offer fresh local produce and artisanal meats and cheeses. In Mulgrave-et-Derry, Compagnons Huron produces and sells a wide assortment of local herbs and garlic. In Ripon, Ferme Moreau (191 Chemin St-Andre) is open to the public from Monday to Saturday and produces charcuterie from their lamb and local venison alongside locally produced maple syrup, artisanal cheeses, preserves, and teas. Nearby, Ferme fée et fougère produces and sells organic lamb, beef, duck, rabbit, and pork fresh from their farm. They are located along Route 321 Nord and are open Thursday to Sunday.

Further north, Chénéville and Lac-Simon is the centre stage for retailers specializing in local food. One of the best places to experience the bounty of the region would probably be Boucherie David. Proprietor Jacques David and his wife are two of the most famous residents in the region. During the busy cottage season, vacationers from Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto call ahead to place their orders for their terroir meats and cheeses. The shop carries a selection of locally sourced meats, cheeses, and preserves along with homemade jams and jellies picked and packaged within 10 miles of town. When you step inside, you quickly realize the bounty of this region and the artisanship of the producers. Their signature delicacy is their renowned pate, which is ordered in bulk by fans throughout North America. Looking for a great take-away for the friends back home? Try some of their strawberry or four-fruit jam made from hand-picked berries in season.

If you happen to be in the Lac-Simon region during the summer, the local farmers market is a must-stop. Held every Saturday between 9:00am and 5:00pm in Lac-Simon, the Marché public de la Petite-Nation (477 Route 321) offers a variety of fresh local meats, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and specialty baked goods as in season.

After a day of provisioning your terroir meats and cheeses, it is time to head back to your chalet or suite. But as the sun sets, Gremolata recommends a truly Canadian experience. Grab your basket of pate, bread, and cheese, a bottle of good French wine, and some fresh picked local berries and park yourself next to one of the many lakes to watch the sun set. The views are stunning no matter where you decide to have your picnic and you will be guaranteed to hear the sounds of loons echoing across the lake or geese flying overhead at least once during the evening. It is a once in a lifetime experience and a great finale to a visit to this gem of Quebec. Bon Appetit!


My family's country home is in the Petite-Nation region and I HIGHLY recommend a stop in at Boucherie David. The proprietor studied in France where apprenticed as a butcher and acquired the talent for making pates. Pates are all made on site with terroir meat and produce. My favorite is the Goose and pistachio pate. It has the same consistency and similar taste to fois gras but at a fraction of the price. Whenever I go, I bring back at least 6lbs with me to Toronto. You can ask to have pieces individually vacuumed sealed and freeze them.
Post Reply By Yves in EAST YORK on 11/10/2008 4:52:54 PM

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